Father’s Day Reflection

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The Littlest Tree

 

Today I honor the father I loved so deeply.

 

My dad was an absentee father, and when he was home he was a tyrant who seemed to prefer interacting with machines to being with his daughter. He was an aeronautical engineer by profession. I never felt I measured up to his standards of perfection, which included being good at math, learning to drive, and being practical – the former I couldn’t do because I was severely dyslexic with directions and numbers; the latter was simply not in my nature. I was a dreamer whose love for beauty and Nature directed my life. In addition, my father’s impatience and fiery temper resulted in daily explosions that also helped to destroy my nervous system through mind-bending fear (my mother finished the job with chilling silence). By the time I became an adolescent I believed I hated my father, and everything he stood for. Sadly, my father and I seemed to be terminally mis-matched.

 

Secretly, all I ever wanted from him was to be loved and cherished but as I grew older I lied to myself turning my intense longing into hidden rage and depression.

 

I don’t know just when I owned that I had developed the same explosive temper that he had, but when I did and began to see him as a man who cared deeply for his family even though he was incapable of demonstrating that love on an emotional level until I was well into mid life. I forgave him.

 

The first time he apologized to me I was stunned. Once he sent me flowers, but I had to promise him not to tell my mother.

 

Memories surfaced during this imperfect period of reconciliation (which I initiated). I recalled the times he took me to the zoo, the statue of Liberty, the circus, the tiny umbrella he gave me, the way he carried me in his strong arms when I was half asleep, held me when I threw up all over him. These snippets coalesced into a whole as I realized with astonishment that this first generation Italian immigrant really loved his daughter. The last words he said to me just before he died were “here’s my girl” when I entered his hospital room. During our entire lives together I had never heard such a sentence spoken. To this day, just the memory makes me weep.

 

It is easy in retrospect to acknowledge that my father probably didn’t have a clue about good fathering. His own father was also a tyrant who beat his wife, my grandmother in addition to screaming at her. I do know that my father defended his mother vehemently, and he was the favorite of her sons. Now I applaud and deeply respect my father’s loving behavior towards my grandmother. Caregiving was an ability he developed as a child, and although he worked incessantly, (we would call this a work addiction today) he always provided financially for his family. He adored his wife, my mother – and that was another problem because I couldn’t ever compete with her, so I didn’t even try.

 

After my father’s death a dove came to live with me, and because Lily b was such a good father to his own young I began to glimpse what good fathering was all about. Today, almost 29 years later Lily b is still with me and continues to acts as a spirit bird guide, validating my thinking in the same way a loving parent would. This peculiar connection between this bird, my father, and myself keeps my dad alive in ways that all other members of my family, with the exception of my little brother are not. Whatever it is sustains me, although I seem to suffer from a crippling sense of lack of direction that is no doubt a result of lack of personal fathering. Not his fault. My father couldn’t give me what he didn’t have himself, and whenever I think about him this thought comforts me. The only really important thing at this juncture is that this man loved his only daughter, perhaps as much as she loved him.

 

Today the tree frogs are singing from the trees and I am feeling protected by the forest that is thriving all around me. I am not sure when trees took on this male protector role, but trees of all kinds seem to possess this element for me. When I dream the trees are bare, stripped of bark, or chopped down, I know that a frightening time is ahead.

 

Because it is full moon I went down to the brook (where my dad is buried) to bring some water to the house for a body blessing, for me, for my animals, and for this house made of logs. When I saw the tiny cedar seedling sprouting out of the ground I immediately dug it up knowing the deer would demolish the tiny evergreen. Potting the tree in a small clay pot it now sits on the table where I will be lighting one candle for my body-soul retrieval from the underworld of illness and fear, as well as asking for a body blessing for us all.

 

This is the second cedar I have uprooted and potted in two years. Up until now all cedars have been female, but this little one might be a male; perhaps he’s a “mother’s son” like my father was…Perhaps I will light a second candle for him.

 

It is these men, the men who are protectors like my father was who hold the future of Woman, Animals, and the Earth in their hands.

 

And surely this tiny tree is the male offspring of the towering mother cedar that torches the sky nearby.

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Cardinal Homecoming

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I first heard them in Virginia when I stopped in a forested glade to walk the dogs. There must have been two or three pairs singing from the leafy lime green canopy. Even though I was in the northeast, I was still a long way from Maine. Yet I experienced this symphony as a distinct welcoming ‘home’. The scent of wild honeysuckle blended with the songs so completely that I can’t separate the images from the sounds in my mind.

 

It has been almost two years since I last heard the cardinals, the most beloved bird in my life. I had missed them so much in the desert. When I finally arrived at my log cabin I filled my bird feeder and was somewhat bewildered when grosbeaks, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, even one grackle arrived almost immediately, as if they already were expecting me.

 

When the male serenaded me with his whistle that second morning I stopped dead in my tracks astonished. Cardinals are forest or edge dwellers and although this place is heavily treed I assumed that the cardinals had long ago disappeared because of lack of food. When the male flew to the ground below the feeder, I was overjoyed.

 

Now every morning when I step out the door I hear the Cardinal’s welcoming whistle. The female calls from the trees and yesterday I heard three conversing simultaneously.

 

Perhaps like the bears that visit, these birds know that there is a very lonely aging woman who craves deep companionship from her closest friends who are woven like precious jewels into an edge person’s life.

The Resting Place?

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I am writing from land that loves me as I am.

 

Inside, the log cabin’s walls weep, as do I. We have both been abandoned.

 

Outside, diversity reins as royalty – this forest helps me breathe more deeply. Every leaf glows, waving translucent hands. A multitude of shades of green. Sweet moist air fills my lungs, the music of rushing water calms my fears. The brook meanders towards the sea through unfurling ferns and wild sprigs of lily of the valley that are springing up under a woodland carpet, a pine – needled floor.

 

With each deep breath I pray to be re-united with the terrified body I left behind almost two years ago when I escaped into thin dry mountain air and fierce and deadly west winds to survive the snow.

 

At dusk last night for a timeless moment I became the snowy crabbapple while a few pearled petals drifted towards the ground – an early summer benediction.

 

When the baby bear lumbered up the path my heart split open. A few days earlier I listened to pitiful wailing from the white pine, the bear’s grief spilling over into my own. Eventually, the baby’s heartrending cries were answered by a casual mother who approached her youngster briefly. The yearling scrambled down the tree only to be left behind again as the mother strode across the grass on a quest of her own. I thought I was observing “family break up,” a normal black bear process, albeit a brutal one to witness.

 

After a four day absence the mother appeared with another adult bear, perhaps a future mate. The yearling was gone as I expected.

 

Tonight, the little bear I named Rosy Marie ambled up the path much to my bewilderment. She approached the seed can but seemed unable to open it, returning to the bird feeder to feast on sunflower seed that I had also scattered there.

 

I felt such relief seeing her. Perhaps the too little yearling would stay around to feed while mother and male companion were otherwise occupied mating?

 

It was almost dark and suddenly there were two bears feeding on scattered seed. Although one was larger than the other, both were yearlings. Shortly thereafter an adult, obviously the youngsters’ mother, appeared and opened the can before striking out on her own. No other adult bear emerged. I was baffled.

 

I wrote to bear biologist Dr. Lynn Rogers about this behavior and his response reassured me that “Family breakup can happen in many ways. Each bear has a different personality. I’m still learning. Your example is good to know.  Looking forward to seeing you here. Lynn”

 

At this point I am grateful to have a bear story unfolding, just as I am thankful for these glorious fruit trees into whose blossoms I can almost disappear.

 

Trees and Bears – Wild Nature incarnates still.

 

The last three months have been psychically brutal; I have been walking on air. Perhaps the earth is round so that we don’t have to meet the future, face to face, except through dreams? Mine forecast the story I am presently living.

 

Two violent weeks of traveling across country, returning to ‘my’ beautiful land in crisis and in betrayal left me reeling. Like Rosy Marie who I hope will stay to be nourished by supplemental feeding so that she can develop into a bear who can survive fall hibernation (if she survives the hunter’s gun), I hope to find a place on this patch of earth to rest and re-attach myself to this abandoned body before moving on from here.

Falling Down and Going Under

 

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TASHA – Upside Down

(photo credit North American Bear Center)

 

I have been traveling across country during the past week from New Mexico to Maine, leaving one “home” for another wondering what the word even means for me these days. I suspect the word doesn’t refer to a place, but a state of mind/body that continues to elude me.

 

In a forested glen in Virginia I first heard the cardinals singing from the trees and smelled fragrant mounds of trailing honeysuckle that cascaded over every bush and lichened granite stone. For a while I seemed unable to soak in enough of the fully leafed out deciduous trees – trees dressed in miraculous shades of lime, deepening to dark spruce. My endless hunger for emerald green was finally appeased by endless rolling hills and blue tipped mountains.

 

Arriving in Maine brought rain, a second spring, the joy of peepers chiming by the thousands in the bogs, a million shades of unfurling greens, muted maple flower reds that veiled the trees, and willowy emerald grasses waving to the hills. The rich scent of forests, ponds and brooks allows me to breathe in rich moist – laden air with an appreciation for humidity that I have never had before l moved to the desert. The North Country woman has come home to cobalt blue skies without a harsh summer white out, and the brutal west winds of the desert have been left behind.

 

Last night, the bears came. First a small yearling who climbed bb’s pine after feeding a few minutes on the ground – oh, the sound of pitiful wailing and moaning broke my heart. Where was the yearling’s mother? After about 45 minutes she arrived, ate a few morsels, tipped over the bird feeder for her yearling’s pleasure and strode across the lawn with the confidence that comes from knowing her territory and accepting recent non – threatening human/dog arrivals. Disappearing down to the brook she finally re appeared behind her little one. Suddenly, startled by some strange sound, she sprinted down the hill with her youngster trailing close behind. This mother behaved so casually towards her offspring that I wondered if family break up was immanent. When the female comes into estrus she will leave her yearling on its own… a normal process, though heartrending to experience. Yearlings are often very afraid to be left alone. After they left I stayed by the window staring into the night, and sent a silent prayer of gratitude and prayers for the safety of these bears to Venus who was perched in high the night sky over the eastern horizon. If any experience would help me find ‘home’, I thought, an experience of seeing beloved wild bears would.

 

Yet I am still walking on air.

 

Upside down, backwards, sideways. No wonder we feel dizzy and nauseated much of the time. Legislators discuss ”consensual rape,” presidential spokespeople insist there are ”alternate facts,” and lies become beyond brazen since there are written, photographic, video, audible, publicly witnessed records and testimonies exposing the lies. Crowd size, for example. What was said in an un-doctored videotaped interview or speech. What crime was boldly committed and baldly denied. When enough of these accumulate—and they come in an avalanche daily—they leave tiny pits, then dents, in a citizen’s self confidence about recognizing reality, until the blizzard of pebbles becomes a pelting of stones and finally a hillside of boulders roaring down to bury the self, the truth, the real…This happens through language and action both, via short-term tactics and long-term strategies. It’s so blatant it bewilders the rational mind…It’s so continual it exhausts attempts to select one discrete example and analyze that constructively… It’s so absurd that in lighter moments we liken it to Wonderland or the looking glass, with ourselves as Alice–shrinking, swelling, lost, being bullied, even being sentenced to our own beheading. There is fear, and worse: the massive combination of all this seems so encompassing as to feel overwhelming, it evokes despair.”

This morning Robin Morgan’s words burned through my bear haze, reminding me that along with all the wild creatures I cannot inhabit this planet in peace. Just like the haunted, hunted bears, I too am on the run. Because ‘the personal is political’ no place is home because most of the humans on this planet have gone insane and there is no safe place left to go…

Postscript:

What I didn’t realize until I wrote this post was that on one hand we are being assaulted – the Earth and her peoples, and on the other side we are faced with a wall of personal and pubic denial of what is…there is no way through. We are stuck in a crack in between.

The Seeds of Friendship

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(Andrew doesn’t like his picture taken so I added one of me, loving the Earth as a mountain with my pockets full of rocks! Thank you Iren for taking the picture.)

 

I have a friend who carries a precious seed for a very different kind of future. He really cares about trees and people and is genuinely attached to the word “community”. It is a pleasure to be around this young man who knows how to be a man and gives his own mother credit for helping him become who he is.

 

I’ll never forget the day Andrew told me that the first thing he noticed about me was the power of my light. I was stunned. How was it possible that this almost stranger half my age could see who I had become so clearly? Many months into this friendship, I still don’t know, but Andrew has followed this remark with others that reflect that although we are separated by generations he can actually see the woman I have become.

 

He defines himself as an outsider, and this is probably true because he is a visionary thinker and multi-valenced artist, as well as being a person who is able to navigate seemingly impossible odds in a very grounded/concrete way by writing proposals that result, for example, in the procuring of food stamps so that people who do not have the money will still be able to buy fresh vegetables at his outdoor market.

 

He has been able to garner emotional (and financial) support from others, who like me, also long for a relationship oriented culture, one in which the mechanized Iphone/FB isolation of ‘the family of man’ is finally replaced by a paradigm that puts caring and community at its center.

 

If this model can be adopted by even one community, then all is not lost. Of course, Andrew is facing a host of challenges – steep mountains to be climbed. He stands at the beginning of his own winding road as a different kind of leader…but because he embodies his own light, that inner light will guide him. As I have told him on so many occasions my belief in him and his ability to manifest a life sustaining community based reality strengthens with each passing day.

 

Andrew and others like him embody hope not just for humans, but for all non –human species and for the Earth, the planet we call home.

The Sound of Silence: a mother’s day reflection

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Here in the high desert it has been raining off and on for the last few days. A giant puddle sits in the driveway and all the trees range in color from subtle shades of sage to emerald. Fringed Chamisa, spun gold and salmon wildflowers are bent low but stems are luminescent. Seedlings are sprouting in unlikely places.

 

I can’t think of a better mother’s day present for the desert than these ongoing cloud-bursts that are nourishing the earth with water and minerals from the sky. I am profoundly grateful for this year’s spring greening.

 

The earth is experiencing a sense of renewal. I wish I could say the same for me with respect to mothering and mother’s day. I approach this cyclic threshold with the same feelings of dread and grief that overpower me each year. Neither of my children acknowledge me as the mother who once loved them so fiercely, but oh so imperfectly in her own confusion and despair.

 

I was such a young wife, barely twenty when I became pregnant with my first child. By the time I was twenty – two, I was a mother of two sons. Two years later I was divorced and on my own.

 

Although I tried to repair the damage as soon as I was able, neither child was willing to join me. I desperately suggested counseling – many times. As adolescents and young adults both Chris and later David, responded with chilling silence and apparent indifference to every frantic attempt I made to bridge the gap.

 

It was decades before I began to understand that after my brother’s death I surrendered my children to grieving parents whenever they wanted. I had no idea my behavior was rooted in survivors guilt (My 50 percent). Later, after my father’s sudden death, my mother co opted my children for her own reasons, making certain that both would shut the door on me, just as she had. She demonstrated the power of silence/absence as a means of soul destruction, and cheerfully passed the torch onto both my children.

 

It was too late.

 

Yet, I kept trying for another 25 years. Two years ago, after yet one more aggressively abusive phone call from my youngest son I snapped, and gave up the ghost.

 

I struggled then – mightily – to find a way to accept incomprehensible truth. That I had two 50 plus year old children who couldn’t see me for who I am, children that don’t care about, or respect me. Love is not part of their equation. This reality seemed so extreme that I couldn’t digest what was.

 

I still can’t.

 

I suspect the stomach issues I am dealing with today with have everything to do with the fact that a person can only live with so much emotional suffering before physical collapse becomes a reality.

 

As my body continues to weaken, most of the time I retreat further and further from that which I am powerless to change.

 

But around mother’s day I can’t help but think about my relationship with my children and my mother because I am both mother and daughter and because my life is permeated by the suffering that comes from being silenced, rendered invisible and unloved. An intergenerational pattern of harsh judgment/rejection lives on and I wonder who will be damaged by it next.

 

My mother is dead and my children are well past mid –life and responsible for their own choice -making. I no longer make excuses for either of them. I hold each son accountable for mother betrayal, just as I learned to hold my mother accountable (after her death) for her betrayal of me. I don’t know my grandchildren well enough to make any judgment. Like my mother, my oldest son, their father, made sure they were never able to see me until they were already 18 years old. They were taught how to use silence as a weapon of destruction too.

 

If I am willing to be accountable for the mistakes I made as a parent knowingly and unknowingly, and I am, then so are the other members of my family. It’s that simple.

 

I am aware that my story is not unique. Families twist realities and create their own cruel and distorted stories. We are all are living through dark times; cultural and earth destruction are ongoing realities. Some days I can barely imagine a future that embodies hope on either a personal or a collective level.

 

And yet, when I walk out the door I see the seeds that I did not plant sprouting new green. When I lovingly water them I am catapulted into the Field of the Living Earth… S/he too has lost children, millions of non – human species, and will lose so many more before the story ends… Yet, she continues to align herself with Life. I choose to join her. I hope that before I die I will find a few more seeds to plant and nurture even if they did not emerge from my own body.

 

The prophet Gibran once said that our children do not belong to us but are life’s longing for itself. The Earth demonstrates the truth of this statement; I want to believe it too.

 

 

Lise Weil

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Lise Weil (L) and me on the right. Photo credit : Iren Schio

 

Requiem:

For the Visionaries of the Women’s Movement and Beyond.

 

“I glimpse lines crazing my face in the windowglass,
crone’s bones emerging. My eyes are growing larger;
soon they will perch on stalks and swivel, crustacean.
The better to see how others do it:
this last chance at living…

The message is we’re too fatigued to change the myths
of ourselves at this stage, preferring to die, unmake
the world, in the familiar. Understandable. Yet I persist
in lusting to be seamless with the universe while still aware
of it—so I suspect a future darkly bright, kaleidoscopic
as symmetries glittering beneath eyelids rubbed dry of tears.”

 Italics are my own.

Robin Morgan “Reading the Bones”

 

 

Yesterday I attended a reading for the memoir In Search of Pure Lust written by my friend and former professor Lise Weil, a woman who has dedicated her life to visionary thinking and teaching by inviting anyone to enter who has ears to listen and an open heart.

 

When I first encountered Lise’s radical feminist ideas my hair caught fire; and the flames between us continued to rise higher and higher. Our friendship remains as tempestuous as the fire that binds us still – fire and air are the two mediums of communication that flow between us – one a lover of women, a lesbian, internationally known translator, editor, writer, lifetime visionary activist and teacher, the other, a dedicated Earth centered heterosexual woman, a naturalist and mystic whose lifetime of writing had been confined to her journals up until that point, a woman who returned to school only after her children were grown.

 

We couldn’t have been more different.

 

When Lise introduced me to feminism and the women’s movement through Visionary Lesbian thinking I was hooked, recognizing that until this point any woman’s way of thinking and being in the world had been totally absent from my life, and that I was starving to death as a result.

 

After being told to read Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature; The Roaring Inside Her I was able to create a bridge between who I was and women who loved, and that was only the beginning – Mary Daly, and oh, so many others, followed. My years as a student were some of the happiest of my life; not only were ideas flowing but I began the process of discernment; I was wed to the Earth’s body, albeit unconsciously; her rhythms were my own. As I began to bring this bodily relationship with self/Earth into my conscious awareness, I was able to begin to name who I was. In short, my life began to make sense to me because of the influence of this remarkable visionary, teacher, writer.

 

Although she once lived through the world of ideas and I initially came out of the Earth somewhere, gradually, our perspectives began to merge. After graduation I began to teach Women’s Studies, continued my work as an abused woman’s advocate and began to take myself as a writer seriously. Lise initiated her program of Embodiment Studies at Goddard College, and began to have unusual experiences in Nature eventually coming to create and edit a courageously honest journal that focuses on the plight of Nature and the frightening loss of species. (Dark Matter; Women Witnessing).

 

Yesterday after only a few minutes of conversation I learned that the whales are dying of starvation before Lise’s voice cracked. “Not now” she said, or something to that effect when my hunger propelled me to ask for details.

 

We are now standing at the same crossroad together.

 

All during the reading I was remembering the many years we visited, the times we didn’t, our mutual excitement, visionary overlap, fury, disappointment – how our lives were intertwined and how proud I was to witness for this woman who had evolved into the whole person she was meant to be.

 

In closing, Lise remarked that her poignant memoir chronicling one Lesbian woman’s story in the visionary context of the Women’s Movement was also a requiem for these times, and I believe she is right.

 

Someone disagreed, apparently unable to handle such a stark reflection, using as an example young women who protested Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. From where I am standing it appears that even the most fervent protesting doesn’t make much difference.

 

Authentic visionaries and mystics are absent for the most part, and I believe that this is the core of the problem. In their place stand millions of women and men who live their lives through a form of cheerful, even forceful denial. It isn’t realistic to continue to believe that without woman’s solidarity there is hope for authentic change, just as it is not realistic to believe that the Earth can continue to lose more species without dire consequences for all.

 

We don’t know what lies ahead, but both Lise and I have learned how important it is to bear witness for women (and some men) and this precious planet even at the edge of non – human species’ extinction.

 

Thank you Lise.

 

I am profoundly grateful not to be standing here alone.