Transform

Greetings! As I shared a couple weeks ago, I have moved my writing over to Substack. A new post, “Transform”, is up on the blog. An excerpt follows. Wander over to considereddays.substack.com to read the full post and subscribe to receive future posts to your inbox.

Excerpt:

A shift of light. A cloud slides away from the sun and, quite suddenly, the air fills with motion. Wings of gold flutter as at least fifteen Monarch butterflies alight from the garden bed in front of which we stand. Flutter. There is no more apt word for the movement. It is delicate and delightful.

My one year-old daughter begins to shout, “Bubba! Bubba!” I scoop her up and we chase after the objects of her enchantment. We find them all around us as they glide and then settle on new blossoms, sipping, fueling, recharging their bright existence.

….

I watch my daughter watch the butterfly and I am overwhelmed with admiration. Transformation is not easy. And yet, when I consider the future we share, I think: we all must transform. 

Transformation is exciting. It’s also scary. To fully dive into the creative goo from which we can collaboratively rise anew, we must be willing to shed that former self, prior understandings of who we are and our place in this world. We must allow ourselves to be transformed, this time by love for the earth and our fierce need for one another. 

Moving to a new host

Hello all!

Thank you for following Considered Days. I started this blog four years ago, shortly after the birth of my first child and the election of Donald Trump. I looked back at my first post yesterday, and the way I described the impetus for sharing my writing (and my discomfort in doing so) both still resonate strongly with me today.

I am moving Considered Days to Substack. I’ve been impressed with the way Substack honors the work of writers. All the old posts have been transferred (along with accompanying images) and all future posts will now be made on Substack. The address is considereddays.substack.com. You will see a subscription invitation at the top of the site, and subscribers will receive each new post delivered directly to their inboxes. And please share your own thoughts in the comments section under posts, whenever compelled to do so! I love hearing from you and would very much like the comments to be a place to connect together.

Thank you for considering with me. I hope you’ll jump with me to the new platform. These days are rich with subject for reflection and slim on time to do so, but I continue to find writing to be a space where I settle into deeper meaning. When I’m writing more often, I notice my experience of the world shifting, filtered through sharper attention and, yes, consideration.

Be well!

Close Kin

My son and I stand in front of the great japonica bush. Bare branches break our view of the grey winter sky. Nearly every other branch is occupied. Chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches and the rare flash of a red or grey-and-orange cardinal: the birds have come to feast at my parents’ feeders. 

And my son and I have come to behold. We feast with our eyes. My son is a mover and explorer. But even he has been caught in the spell of the small creatures. His little body stands still; his eyes are wide. 

I watch as the birds flutter from branch to feeder and back. My eyes sharpen and focus, a rarity for a mother of two children whose attention is constantly divided. I listen as wings beat through air and the birds dart around my head. 

My heart swells with affection for the little bodies, the soft feathers and dark eyes. I know that they are eating, that their activity is practical, but there is such joy in the way their wings beat, beat, beat back the air and then glide. Or perhaps it is simply the joy I associate with the ability to soar. Either way, it is contagious, and I feel my spirit lift, buoyed by both love and delight. 

And then, right next to the affection, right alongside the joy, comes a deep pang, whispering of threat, change, loss and my role in it all. The Audubon Society found that, in North America alone, two-thirds of bird species are threatened with extinction due to climate change.

I speak of grief with increasing frequency these days for two reasons. First, because I feel its presence riding with me often. I see the loons swimming with their babies on their backs and I feel it. I watch as the fox pauses in our yard, paw lifted, eyes on mine, and there it is. I witness my children in a moment of supreme joy and a familiar pang occurs around my heart.

And so I speak the grief and then notice the response. Some listen and resonate. I feel their reaction like a pebble dropping into water; they ripple with me as we take up the larger mourning together. Others squirm in discomfort or urge me to keep up hope, as if the two cannot coexist. I feel their response like a pebble hitting ice; I bounce against the sharp surface and skid away, no soft landing available. 

It is that discomfort with grief that also drives me to voice my experience of the threat and loss I see all around me daily. We are so eager to welcome the joy of the little birds’ flight, just as we embrace the joy of love. We are not as open to the complex mix of emotions that comes with truly taking in the current status of the Earth’s ecosystems and our role in creating the Sixth Mass Extinction.

I would like to say this: I beg of you, listen to the world right now. Sit still, don’t run, don’t explain, don’t push away. Let the birds and the trees and the many, many other beings who know, who have noticed, speak. See the subtle shifts, and the great ones. Read the advance notice of all that is to come, written in the movement of species, the droughts and floods, the fires and fleeing. Don’t avert your gaze and don’t rush past what you are feeling.

Grief is not an absence of hope. It is not to be avoided. It is the most appropriate, most resonant response to a loved one threatened. 

I was five when my grandmother was diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma and eight when she died. I remember the ferocity of feeling that surrounded those years of my life. I was young and while I might not have grasped the specifics, I understood the greater loss that was unfolding. 

And so, when I sat beside Grandma in bed in the morning, head against her dark green bathrobe, watching a game show on her bedroom television, I sharpened all my senses because I wanted to absorb her presence fully. My heart swelled with love and, right alongside that deep affection, filled with grief. 

When I looked out my bedroom window at rest time and saw her bending over her garden, long legs in trousers, bandana tied around her bald head, I watched and watched until rest time was over, my little body flooding with love and loss. 

The feelings of those years, held both individually and collectively by the members of my Grandma’s family and community, were our way of honoring her and our connection to her. We loved her. That love pulsated through every moment with her, and, right alongside it, the honest truth of loss as disease took hold. 

I loved my Grandma (still do), and I love this Earth. I love the chickadees and cardinals, the loons and trees, the fox and my children, and the great, wild web connecting them all and extending far into the future. And so, because I know the truth of what’s happening to that web, when I fill with love these days, grief is not far behind. It’s the best way I know of honoring the presence of each bright being and my connection to them all. 

It’s also a great source of inspiration for action. Which I why I beg this of each of you, of all of us: may we possess the strength needed to go to the heart of our mourning. As we watch the world ache, may we ache too. May we ache so deeply that we cannot help but transform that love (for what else is grief?) into powerful action. Because while it was too late to save my Grandma, it’s not too late to save the birds (at least some of them), or the fox or the children who are barreling together towards the future impacts of what we do today. 

We talk about this past year, the year of 2020, the first year of the global pandemic, and some speak about “a lost year”. But if we cannot learn to be with the grief that comes with loving, and not just the joy, then I fear we will lose much more. We will lose the future. 

May we be brave enough to feel the fullness of our love, now, more than ever.  Perhaps love is our greatest language. Perhaps it is the only force transformative enough to drive the action needed to meet this moment, to truly feel our way into an answer to the question extended in the challenge of climate crisis: what do we mean to each other?  

Reveal

Music vibrates from my phone speakers as I dash around our small kitchen, serving lunch while making dinner. 

Dashing. There are moments, these days, when I wonder if I remember another pace. Home with two young, very active children, with my entire “professional life” squeezed into a handful of hours each week and with limited daylight similarly squeezing our time for outside play, I’m always trying to do too much at once. 

Suddenly, my phone switches to a recording of the Boston Christmas Revels, music particularly beloved from my childhood. Music that defined every Christmas season and the many traditions my family celebrated annually. 

It’s as if a great hand suddenly grasps my whole body and says: “Stop”. An ache spreads from my heart up through my throat and into my eyes, which flood with tears. I’m transported from our kitchen to the expansive hall of the great theater at Harvard to which my family traveled each year to watch the Revels. I’m holding my Granny’s hand and we are dancing. 

Every intermission at the Revels began in this way. As Act One drew to a close, the performers would link hands to dance out of the hall singing “The Lord of the Dance.” And the last performer would take the hand of the first audience member and audience and performers alike would make one giant, seemingly endless chain that slowly curved its way out of the theater and into the entry hall. Under the arching ceilings and tremendous chandeliers, we all danced and sang. Together.

The memory gripping my being as I stand in my kitchen in Maine, miles from my family of birth, is of the last year I attended the Revels. Before my grandfather’s death. Before my own marriage or the birth of my two children. And Granny and I danced together. I remember watching her, eyes alight with joy as she kicked up her heels, thinking she looked like she might take flight, expecting her to let out one of her great, room-shaking “Whoopee’s!” at any moment. 

And as I remember my Granny’s joy, and how the sight of it filled me to bursting, I stand in my kitchen in the afternoon light and cry. My children do not notice. They are hungry and devouring their lunches. As I return to the present, I watch their little heads bend over their food and my ache spreads and deepens. 

This Christmas season, we are not joining hands to dance and sing together. We are not pouring towards each other in delight, celebration and love. We are careful and so very distanced. 

And while I long for my work and community and moments where I don’t have to accomplish five things at once, the majority of my ache around this time often settles on those two little beings eagerly enjoying their lunch. I want something so very different for them. I want joyous, carefree moments with other children. I want their father and I not to be so consistently tired and overwhelmed. I want dancing together with many others, holding hands, singing our joy to the ceiling and beyond. 

My son is still fairly oblivious. He is 18 months old, after all. He’s pretty focused on himself and his endless love affair with exploration and discovery (and, thank goodness, with his sister). 

But I know this time has impacted my daughter. She watches me too closely, tries to help lift the burden of this moment too much. And as I notice her shoulder responsibility, I ache even more. We talk about it, of course. It is okay for Mom and Dad to be overwhelmed sometimes, or sad, or frustrated, or stressed. It is not her fault. But she feels what she feels. She wants to help. We humans tend, after all, towards compassion. 

And as I watch her and ache, I think so often about innocence. It’s as if we’ve all lost a lot of innocence this year. And I think that loss is a good thing. 

So much has been exposed. The extent of our connection to each other and, therefore, our responsibility. The depth of inequality, prejudice, selfishness and greed. The way we have neglected systems of care. The heroic spirit of many who have risen to meet this moment. The utter failure of many others. 

And as we draw close to the threshold between this year and the next, and as Christmas music fills my home, I realize I’m not feeling much joy. Sure, there are moments of celebration. Yes, I still experience the thread that ties me to all I love about this wildly imperfect world. 

But often, these days, a lump sits in my throat very close to the surface and I realize it is grief riding along with me as I change diapers, set up paints and paper, hold little hands as we walk through the woods, and serve lunch while I make dinner. 

I’m not grieving for the innocence lost. Good riddance. The time to wake up and smell our responsibility has been long overdue. Within that responsibility lies so much potential. Potential for a world shaped by care and equity, reparation and justice, learning and leaning in, again and again. 

I’m grieving because this is not my daughter’s work or the work of the countless other young people who are feeling this deeply. It is mine, and the work of many of us in older generations. My daughter already reflexes to compassion and care. But too many of us have dissociated from our more tender tendencies. Too many of us have met this kicking and screaming. Too many continue to kick and scream. 

I have not hugged my Granny since last Christmas. She lives alone now, in the old farmhouse that my great-great-grandfather (her grandfather in-law) purchased in the early 1900’s to transform into a family summer home. What was once a sprawling summer playground is now a creaky old house. My uncle, one of the many heroes of 2020, has moved in with Granny and serves as her primary caregiver. We visit her outside or from her doorway. We do not hug. She is 92. The virus would probably kill her.   

My Granny moved across an ocean when she fell in love with and married my Grandad. I’ve watched over the years as she has let go of that old world, bit by bit, as her Scottish family and friends die. I can’t imagine how painful it is to be so far, especially now. She tells me that when she is lonely, she thinks about her home in Scotland. 

We are all letting go of an old world. We must assemble something new. Maybe it won’t happen through the pandemic. But it will happen, whether we consciously participate or go kicking and screaming. I feel the most grief when I think about the opportunity we might miss, the opportunity to make something really beautiful, to take the pain of this time and lean right into it, right through it, to the heart of what is possible. To create something together where no one is lonely—whether because they are physically isolated or because their rights or needs or existence have been discarded—not ever again. 

What would you do?

“What would you do if you saw a gun?” the doctor asks my daughter, who turned four two weeks ago. I watch as a quizzical look crosses my daughter’s face. She is not sure what is happening. Is the doctor being funny? Telling a joke?

I am fairly certain my daughter does not understand the moment because she does not know what the word “gun” means. I cannot be completely certain. There are words she has discovered before I realized. “Princess,” for example. But I’m pretty sure “gun” is not on that list. 

“Do you know what a gun is, sweetie?” I ask. She shakes her head, the quizzical look expanding. 

And so the doctor turns her attention to me, explaining that this is a good age to start teaching my daughter about guns. My daughter, with the soft skin echoing of infancy and the wisps of baby hair, needs to learn about guns so that if she should happen to see one, she will know how to respond safely. 

The doctor is right, of course. And yet everything about me – aside from that part of my rational mind that recognizes that yes, this is sound advice – revolts. Guns and my daughter, these two entities should not combine. 

She has just learned that animals eat one another. She is in turns fascinated and terrified by that discovery. How will her father and I explain that long, long ago, people made weapons with which they could end the lives of other animals? Yes, including other humans. Importantly, including other humans. That in recent years, those weapons have become so sophisticated that the fastest can fire 1 million rounds per minute? 

And then, of course, the mind wanders, as the mind does, and I realize that someday, when she is still too young for such news, she will learn that children occupied with nothing more than the desire to learn and discover and make new friends have had their lives ended by guns. No, not just once. Many times. 

I don’t want these facts in her life. I want to build a fortress around her awareness and let in only the beautiful, enchanting parts of the world. Look at how the ferns unfurl every spring. Feel the softness of that moss. Lie on your back with me and look at the moon in its bright fullness as we listen to the loons haunt the night with their cries. Stay here, your soft hand in mine.

But that is not this world and that is not her life, or mine. Or any of ours. We take in all of it. Hopefully the beauty keeps us coming back for more, day in and day out. Hopefully the enchantment points us like a compass, aligning our work, our words, our very being. But we need to let it all in. She needs to know. 

Would that I could give her the world just as I want it to be. But she is here, now, for all of it. 

An invitation, a beginning

For months now, I’ve experienced daily life as riddled with paradox and even dissonance. Perhaps you feel it too.

 

Initially, I attributed this sense to the rough, jagged clash between moments of incredible sweetness shared with my family and the pervasive challenge that had settled over the world, driving the very intensity from which many of those moments of sweetness arose. There was also the dissonance between those cherished moments and the moments in which I felt about to break with the weight of despair and fear.

 

While both of those experiences are real and remain vivid, I’ve come to realize a deeper dissonance bubbled beneath my experience of the pandemic from the start and has now grown to demand my attention and action.

 

I speak of the dissonance between what this moment asks of us – and by us I mean both individuals and the systems through which we come together as collectives, our many forms of community – and how we are currently responding. I feel this dissonance in myself and I see it all around me (with some very pertinent and powerful exceptions).

 

Throughout the pandemic, most of us have looked outward for a quick fix. I’ve experienced this grasping on the individual level – including within myself – and I’ve seen this on the collective, societal level – including within my community. We are looking to a cure, a treatment, a vaccine, safety guidelines, proof of negative tests….the list goes on.

 

What if all those things, important as they might be, won’t actually fix the root of this challenge? What if there isn’t an external fix? What if we are being asked to dive inward, rather than outward, to significantly shift our understanding of ourselves and the systems and structures of our societies? What if any quick, external fix is just that – a temporary bandaid, held in place until the next global challenge rips it away, exposing a still-open wound?

 

For many of us, the pandemic revealed the deep and thorough inadequacies in both our individual and collective approaches to daily life. Perhaps, like me, you were already dissatisfied with the dominant narratives and understandings, aware that they fall far short of capturing the work of being in this world, as individuals and as part of the community of living beings – human and nonhuman alike. But the pandemic has accelerated and sharpened this dissatisfaction for many, casting a bright spotlight on the chasm between how we are living and what we really value.

 

I hear rumblings for change. These rumblings contrast with the continuous chant of citizens’ health and safety vs. economic health and stability. That false dichotomy issues from a stale mindset, fueled by thinking from within the current system, the same one that has been exposed as so grossly inadequate.

 

I want to shed that system.

 

I speak these words daily. Sometimes they come in a whisper, as I drift to sleep in my husband’s arms. Sometimes they come in a wail, as I break down with exhaustion once the kiddos are finally in bed and I turn to the piles of dishes and laundry and reflect on how much I miss my work, my extended family, my friends, physical community.

 

Community. To truly achieve the healing we so desperately need, we must develop a more profound understanding of that word. We are meant for each other. Through the pandemic, we are finally beginning to appreciate the many intricate ties connecting us. Yet the structures governing our daily lives do not reflect the robust truth of our belonging. These structures prioritize individualism, not interbeing, and reward competition and exploitation rather than care and fierce respect for one another’s dignity.

 

I yearn for the collective dive inward to discover a new way. We are so overdue for a great shift. For years, I’ve researched, written about and sought meaningful action on climate change. The climate crisis is heating to a boiling point. We hear this repeatedly, but it’s not jargon. It’s the harsh, terrifying truth. There is so little time left to avoid catastrophe. In many regards, it may already be too late, a fact that haunts me as I brush the hair out of my daughter’s eyes and kiss her forehead, as I hold my sleeping son and feel his warm little breath against my neck. But I also know that the same deep awakening and shift that just might save us from catastrophe will also help make us stronger as we prepare for the many challenges already assured through climate change.

 

As the pandemic unfolds and I see us still floundering for a solution from within our current systems, I experience growing despair. If this moment isn’t waking us up, isn’t shaking us into a new, better way of being with and for each other, what will? As so many questions flood my being – “Why can’t we all cut our own hair, if we must, and send checks to our hairdressers to help them stay closed and safe?” to “Why can’t we redistribute wealth, now that we see who within our communities is actually working ‘essential’ jobs?” to “How can we better fund a prioritization of care?” to “What creative means could we find to help children not feel isolated right now?” – I long to see us rising to meet those questions with real, substantial, impactful answers.

 

I’m tired of feeling like a captive to the old, stale narrative. And I’m tired of waiting for a wise leader to illuminate the necessary new way. What if that work belongs to all of us? What if we came together as we can right now – across state and even national lines, joining together virtually but with full presence – and gave voice and heart to our deepest hopes and greatest ideas for how we might move forward propelled by a way of life more befitting of who we are.

 

Hope is still present. But only if we take up its invitation and dive into deep, transformative work.

 

I know we cannot gather in person. But, because we cannot gather in person, we can gather across wide geographical spaces. I’ve long wished to bring together the many wise, creative, transformative people I’ve been so fortunate to know who live scattered around the world. And now seems like a good moment, perhaps the best moment, to do so.

 

Here’s what I’m envisioning:

 

Monthly virtual meetings that dive into exploration and the creation of new narratives and systems. Essentially, work aimed at collectively unearthing possibility. We each have strengths to bring to the table. I have a lot to learn when it comes to economics, but I have a lot to share when it comes to climate solutions and educational models. Working together, I believe we could weave the story of a way of life driven by respect, care and dignity for all.

 

But I don’t want to simply create a lovely story. I want to collaborate on the next step, on how to realize that story in our many communities around the world.

 

I’ve experienced this process before, on a smaller and more focused scale. Starting in 2015, I participated in gatherings of community members who were concerned about climate change and eager to contribute to meaningful solutions in any way possible. Together, we learned, each bringing different experiences, knowledge and skills to the table. From those gatherings, A Climate to Thrive (ACTT) was born. Now, in 2020, ACTT is a model for local, grassroots action on climate change, realizing the incredible potential that lies within each of us to face the great challenges of our time and transform how we do things, opening up possibility and hope.

 

Would you like to join me?

 

Here is my plan for step one:

 

If you are interested in participating in a meeting of minds and hearts focused on collaborating to create a new narrative and way of living that translates the priorities of care, respect and dignity into concrete action steps for communities, let me know. I will then poll the group to identify a meeting date in August. I will also ask those interested to submit topics they’d like to explore and the top questions they are mulling over right now. From this feedback, I’ll identify a place to start the discussion and will send around the first discussion topics with a google spreadsheet of accompanying readings, which all participating will be invited to add to.

 

Prior to the first meeting, I will also send around a format for the meeting, crafted to develop a sense of safety and trust and to maximize our capacity to support each other in bringing forth our greatest ideas, our most pressing questions and our deepest hopes.

 

At the end of our first meeting, we will discuss how to proceed. I envision small working groups breaking out to focus on specific topics between the full-community meetings.

 

In his reflections and writings on community, the Quaker leader Parker Palmer emphasizes his belief that community is something we receive, not something we manufacture. We receive community, Palmer writes, by cultivating our capacity for connectedness. We are always profoundly connected. But we are not always conscious of those connections. When we cultivate consciousness focused on connection, we drop into a deep sense of community. From that sense of community, we can make more informed choices about how we want to move forward – together.

 

I look forward to receiving a profound sense of community together. I look forward to cultivating a space that deeply honors connection and in which we draw forth each other’s wisdom and resourcefulness. I look forward to collectively engaging in muscular, fierce hope and transformative action.

 

If you are interested in joining or have questions or ideas, send me an email or facebook message or leave a comment on this post. I will reply to get the ball rolling.

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Listening

I’m listening for the sound of hope. Or perhaps it is the sound of the past.

 

My children and I make our way through the woods behind our home in Maine. The day is warmer and with fewer clouds than anticipated. Sunlight streams between tall pines, illuminating vibrant clusters of mosses, multiple specimens climbing and spilling over one another in a patchwork simultaneously less-programmed and more enchanting than any quilt I’ve ever seen.

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We’re making the most of the fine spring morning. My daughter traipses ahead, propelled by her newfound fondness for long walks and the accompanying sense of adventure. My son occasionally pats me on the head from his perch in the hiking backpack, a gesture that in turns feels affectionate and reminds me forcefully that he is much stronger than his size would suggest. The moment brims with joy and aliveness.

 

And then, out of nowhere, I tune into a dissonance.

 

The woods are quiet, I realize. Too quiet for such a brilliant spring morning. The treetops should echo with the sound of birds piping their song to the sky, a celebration of the day. In particular, I suddenly realize that I am not hearing the call of the thrush, my special favorite, a sound that sends a thrill straight to my heart and means spring as surely as any daffodil. A sound that typically fills our spring walks.

 

Every year, the many voices of the natural world grow quieter as the sound and pace of industry increases. The road past our house is busier and louder earlier and later. More planes fly over more frequently. Simultaneously, I cannot remember the last time I heard a loon trilling its call as it soared above our rooftop in the predawn sky. Just two years ago, such an occurrence provided at least a weekly dose of wonder where we live.

Version 2

Much has been written and spoken about this great “quieting”. In recent years, so many people have noticed the decrease in bugs splattered across their car windows that the term “windshield phenomenon” was born. (We are right to take notice. Bugs of all types make a pretty critical contribution to life on Earth, as pollinators, recyclers and the food source for many, many other species.) Others have reflected on how quiet the woods have become and so many others will do so that sitting here sharing my own reflection feels a bit cliché.

 

But it shouldn’t. The grief and fear that well within me as I notice such dissonances are deeply important and should demand my attention just as much as the dissonances themselves. Both feelings form a powerful compass, pointing me towards what I value, no, towards what I love. And that love, in turn, asks for action worthy of the beloved.

 

Grief. I grieve for my loss, and, much more so, for my children’s loss. It is a loss they cannot fully appreciate, never having known the woods as they were before, filled with a choir, not soloists.

 

Fear. It is the fear that we will not realize what we have lost – and how much we valued it – until it is too late. “Don’t wait to say ‘I love you,’” we are told. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Version 2

I walk the woods and I want to scream: I am sorry, this was a terrible mistake, I care much more about the song of the thrushes and the trill of the loons than I do about any of those mid-winter flights to Florida or Costa Rica or lord knows where that I felt I just had to take.

 

But it doesn’t work that way. We must recognize what we truly value now, before those lives disappear. And then we must take up the mantle in honor of those beloveds and translate that love into action.

 

We do not say “I love you” to a thrush with words. We say it with the choices and actions that fill every single day, whether we are physically proximal to the bird’s flutter or half the world away. Some of those choices and actions are the big ones, like how we orient the systems of our communities, states, and nations – our very way of life as human society. Those are the daunting ones, but critical to dismantle, investigate, and build anew, better aligned with the priority of respect for all lives.

 

Some of the choices and actions appear more individual but are no less important. Choices like how often we fly, how we spend our dollars, and how we spend our careers build together into the system of human society that currently threatens to take down the natural world as we know it (humans included).

 

And some of the choices and actions are the blocks we place together now, the brush strokes we make on the canvas of the future, through how we fill our hours with the young people we love.

 

And so I walk the woods with my children, one ear tuned to each new dissonance, another tuned to the story my daughter spins as her young legs carry her into the next new adventure. They are both so eager to meet the world as it is, these two bright beings I’ve birthed into this most questionable of moments.

Version 2

It is all true. Many members are missing from the canopy choir of the woods. And some still sing. Grief and fear tickle the edges of even the most delightful of days spent between the trees. And delight still abounds.

 

We dive straight into the center where the grief, fear and delight meet. From where else will our salvation come?

Version 2

The lesson

We are at the edge of the pond in a patch of sun, seated between bare huckleberry branches. My daughter and son sit in front of me. Their heads bend towards each other, the pom-poms of winter hats touching. My son, just ten months old, shows my daughter a piece of bark. His face alight with discovery, he lifts his gaze from this most enchanting of finds to his sister’s face. “Look at this,” his expression seems to say. “How magnificent!”

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My daughter, at nearly four, is more worldly. In just a few short years, she has touched many pieces of bark and explored the woods outside our home nearly daily. She “knows” so much. And yet, as her brother shows her his prize discovery, she marvels at the bark as if it were an exotic new creature. She has accepted his invitation to see with new eyes.

 

Get them outside. It’s been my mantra these past four years, since the birth of our daughter. Leave the walls of our home, leave the manmade items – some beautiful, some necessary, some both. Touch, watch, feel. Learn.

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And so we don layers or bugspray, sun hats or rain boots and I usher them through the door. Some days, it’s effortless and I’m chasing small bodies that have already flung themselves into the world, heeding the call of adventure. Other days, grumbling abounds and the physical act of carrying at least one child is made ten times as exhausting by the mental game of trying to add inspiration. But, whatever the mood, whatever the weather, I bring them to the outside. I brought them into the world at this wild moment. I figure the least I can do is gift them a profound sense of love, belonging and communion with this place.

 

After all, while I am their mother, it is truly thanks to the earth that they have life. Their bodies, so beautiful and beloved to me, are made of water and minerals and twined together by deep breaths of pine-scented air. The soft, sweet parameters of their physical being are so familiar to me. I cannot count the times I’ve held those bodies, bathed them, fed them, kissed boo-boos, wiped salty tears. But deep down, the fibers of their being are woven by the wild.

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Am I truly bringing them to the places where they are best able to hear, see and learn from the Earth? Or are they bringing me? As we make our way between trees, scramble over rocks, and plunge feet into icy brooks, they bend low, close, and behold. A sense of profound wonder radiates from the small bodies so eager to commune with their true mother, their most primal provider of life.

 

The words about to babble from my lips – names of species, descriptions of photosynthesis or evaporation or migration – fade before spoken. All are enchanting bits of information, to be sure, but they are ways of intellectually “knowing”. That type of familiarity has a time and a place and this is not it. This moment radiates with a more essential type of knowing, one that makes up the truth of their – of our – existence.

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And so I follow their lead. I bend down, nose nearly touching a cluster of moss. Suddenly, the world beneath my feet explodes into enchanting detail. Colors and textures wind around each other as different mosses and lichens tumble together. My senses come alive in my own moment of discovery. A forest in miniature spreads across the ground.

 

But it was always here like this. My attention is the only new component. And for that, I must thank those two little beings bending their heads together to marvel over a piece of fallen bark. Thanks for the lesson.

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Who You Are

Never forget who you are.

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We crouch near a rock covered in several types of moss. I support your body as you lean over the vibrant layers. Your pudgy little fingers explore, gently weaving between fern-like fronds, slowly plucking dried pine needles from the soft green bed. I see the fascination in your eyes and I want to tell you that, like the moss, you are made of raindrops and sunrays and damp earthen minerals. I want to beg you never to forget it, but I bite back the plea and let the moss and the rock and the old pine needles tell you instead.

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Cold seawater swirls around our bare ankles as we slowly progress, step by step, bent at the waist, watching for movement. Suddenly, we see it. The sideways scuttle from one patch of seaweed to the next. Your little hand plunges and then emerges, carefully clasped around the small body. You cup your palms as I have taught you, cautious so as to avoid crushing the fragile life within. The crab’s legs fold and then extend and I know they are tickling your palm but you remain still. We bend closer and see two little eyes. A tiny creature in a vast ocean. You beam in delight and I want to tell you that, like the crab, an invisible web weaves between you and the sun and the seaweed and the gulls crying overhead and the whales majestically massive further out at sea. But I close my mouth and open my eyes and watch as you release the crab. The moment of delight carries the truth through your body far better than my words ever could.

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For days, we follow the tracks in the snow. We imagine the journey taken at night while we sleep in our beds. The prints wind between pines, scamper over fallen logs and we follow, noses bent to the ground, hearts leaping with each new pawmark. And then, one winter afternoon, we see her. She races across the lawn and I gather you up in my arms and follow from one window to the next. We stand behind the last pane and watch as she pauses, one paw lifted, nose to the air. And then she turns. With a flash of bushy red tail, she disappears into the dark of the forest. In my arms, you are rigid with wonder. I want to tell you that you, too, are muscle and hair and graceful, dashing aliveness and, like the fox, at the mercy of weather and shelter and the need for the next meal. But I stay silent and feel my own heart pound with wonder. I let the howl of the wind and the disappearance of the fox speak to you instead.

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Whether the wide, arching flight of an eagle, the dance of waving pine branches or the new white flower of the water lily, petals forming a perfect cup – let each remind you of nothing so much as this: you, too, soar. The wind moves through your veins. Your body is designed for a purpose. And like the eagle and the pine and the water lily, you depend on the grace of each ray of light, each drop of rain, each mineral in the soft, moist earth and the many, many creatures that make these essentials possible. You are wild, but you are not independent. And why would you wish to be? With that invisible web comes the greatest truth of all, as whispered by the moss’s soft curl, the crab’s gentle tickle and the fox’s alert pause. You are never, ever alone.

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For the sake of noticing

It had been quite a morning. I’d attempted to squeeze in exercise, computer work and cleaning. You – well, you had not wanted to let me out of your sight. Every moment felt a bit like a battle against the situation at-hand. Finally, as the midday light warmed the wood floors, I bundled you up and strapped you to my chest. Together, we headed out the door.

Your arms and legs began to move immediately, full of excitement. Our dog brushed against my legs as he raced ahead, down the narrow path between trees. In the midday warmth, last night’s snow – early, even for Maine – fell from the branches all around us in thick, glistening drops.

As we walked, I chattered to you, pointing out different trees, a squirrel, our dog’s journey as he scampered after scents.

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Eventually, we reached the edge of a nearby pond. Small waves jostled over one another. Dried grass swayed at the edge, golden in the late November sun. Across the water, bare trees reached into a bright blue sky, like skeletal hands remembering a deeper warmth.

My chatter stopped. So did your movement. We stood, still and silent, and looked and looked. After the rush of the morning, my mind finally grew quiet. All ridiculously paradoxical thoughts of “Will I ever get time to myself?” and “Am I giving my baby enough attention?” ceased. A much larger drama played out before our senses, one filled with a great sense of purpose.

As we stood in silence, I wondered what you were thinking. While you are not yet speaking words, to say you aren’t communicating would be laughable. From cries to shrieks to many, many gurgled sounds, you talk to us often. But in that moment, you were quietly absorbed in the world around you. Your attention was palpable.

What does that world mean to you? What do you feel as you watch the sun and water dance and the trees brush the sky?

I watched the wind move the water and the grass and I felt a deep sense of peace wash through me. It was as if the breeze blew through my body, my bones, with a whisper of: “There. There.”

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There, all around us, was what really mattered. And as we feasted with our senses, I noticed hope flood into me. I hoped for your relationship with the natural world around you. I hoped you would know the gifts of that world, how it can nourish you, provide you with purpose, and fill you with wonder. I hoped the struggle that is seeping into that world, a struggle against the growing negative impacts of industrial human society, will not negate your love for the natural world or its capacity to bring you peace.

I craned my neck so I could glimpse your profile, facing out from around the position of my heart. How fitting. I birthed you and hold you with the greatest of loves even as I send you outward, into the world. You two have an intertwined future. Eventually, if the fates are kind, you will both outlast me.

Your soft round cheeks were rosy in the November air. Your great blue eyes were open wide and darting. And as I watched you watch the world, I realized that you two are already forging your relationship. For all my hopes, all my chatter of plant names, you are most guided in this fresh new phase of your life by quiet observation. Your filtering of the world is untainted by facts or species identification. You are absorbed, as you were on that November morning, in pure sensation. You are noticing for the sake of noticing.

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A new wish flooded me. I wished I could see the world from your perspective. I wished I could set down agenda and move between the earth and sky with no preconceived notion of my place in that great dance of life. What would I learn if my only teachers were the ones still most connected to the true rhythms of that world? What would I know about what I really need and how best to fill a life?

We walked the entire way back from the water in silence. Over moss brilliantly green after all the recent rain. Under chattering squirrels, busy in the branches above. And all the while, the great, shimmering drops of melting snow made their journey from trees back to earth. Just one glistening moment in water’s never-ceasing cyclical journey.

Back inside, I snuggled you into a nap and then sat in front of my computer to write about how best to foster a connection to nature in young people. I poured over studies and jotted down notes, but all the while, the look on your face as you gazed over the water echoed in my mind. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that perhaps I’m asking the wrong questions. Perhaps we all are. Perhaps it’s not a matter of how we can foster right relationship between humans and nature in young people today. Perhaps, instead, it’s a question of how they can remind us how to begin again ourselves. Perhaps our best work is to take a walk together, without agenda, undefined by names or facts, our only objective to notice and be taught anew.

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