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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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These days

The stories are coming faster and more furiously these days. “What If We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped?” reads a most recent headline. Of course I want to turn away. I don’t want to dive in, to really consider the words in front of me. But I read on. I read as much as I can. I try to let the meaning sink below my defenses, try to open my mind and heart and whatever wisdom I can muster to what this all might mean for yourself and your sister and the wild future towards which you head.

I read. I consider. And then, when your cries tell me you have woken from your nap, I put aside the articles and climb the stairs, bare feet on hard wood. I open curtains and peer over the edge of your crib. We have a routine, you and I. I let in the light and you greet me with the widest of toothless grins. The world is bright and opening for you.

I pick you up and we settle in to nurse. I open Mary Oliver’s collection of poetry and let the words wash over me like a waterfall. They don’t eliminate the emotions that echo after all I just read. Instead, they thread between that reality and deepen its meaning. I ache and love and hope not only for you and your sister, but also for the wild geese, the grasshopper, the summer day.

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I cannot turn away from the truth. Do I wish it otherwise? I don’t know. It’s not a question I spend much time considering. My days, these days, encompass a wild juxtaposition. I hold you and your sister, I love you, I watch as you meet the world, ready for each new discovery. Together, we are enchanted. And then I tuck you both in to nap or place you in the arms and care of another and I read the articles. I write grants for local, solutions-focused action on climate change. I research, consider and write about how one might best parent in these times. How to give you the tools you might need? The question reverberates. I connect with others who are seeking action, solutions, trying to gift a livable world. It’s imperfect. But I try.

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And then I return to you and your sister, to your soft new bodies and deep, soulful hearts. We gather together in the woods with your father and our beloved pup. We eat a picnic lunch, pausing to examine mosses, hold pinecones, and watch the light shift between the trees. We sit in a rare moment of silence. Enchantment.

It’s all true. Just as death and life, love and grief are inextricably linked, I cannot fathom how I could love you and your sister as I do and not let in the truth of your world. Heartbreaking, yes, it is. And thank goodness. May my heart break open wide every single day that I’m fortunate enough to spend with you. May it break with the enormous challenge of your future and with the way your dimpled hands slowly consider each new rock. I cannot imagine another way to spend each day.

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It’s time.

I see it in your eyes and the way your little body moves through your days. Your relationship with time is so different from my own. To you, time is endless. Yes, you recognize as each day starts to draw to a close. The slanting light of late afternoon often prompts the question: “Mama, is it evening time?”

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But time as a whole, as a massive, mysterious, unfolding proposition? To you, it is without boundaries. And with that openness comes the gift of limitless possibility.

My relationship with time is different. Time now filters through my maturity. I am increasingly aware of the sense that a great clock is ticking. Much as I might wish it otherwise, your hands will not always be so soft, your eyes so innocent. And I will not always be here to hold those hands and provide comfort after each fall.

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This growing sense of a finite span of time is something I’m navigating. Some days, I follow you. We immerse ourselves in unstructured wonder and I feel the ticking fade. Other days, I push and prod an agenda. And sometimes the ticking grows so loud, I cannot ignore the accompanying grief.

Sad as the finite nature of your youth and my life might make me, there is a greater ticking clock, one that I also can no longer ignore. The gears in this clock were wound by a perverse relationship to the earth, driven by greed and ignorance. Incredible and inspiring individuals are working to unwind this clock, to slow it, to change the nature of its chimes. But when it tolls, if it tolls, the unfurling challenge to your life and to the lives of so many of the living beings that fill your eyes with wonder will be incomprehensible.

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I am glad that you know not of either of these clocks – yet. When I feel overwhelmed by their speed, one of the greatest medicines I find lies in your dance with your days and the eyes of your little brother. I sit back and breathe and watch you move. You are not driven by fear, panic, or the need to accomplish certain goals before it is too late. Possibility, imagination and delight propel you. There is no rush. I look into the eyes of your brother, so little he does not even ask: “Mama, is it evening time?” He just looks and looks and is not afraid. He is opening up to the world. Everything is possible.

Someday, you both will learn that this is not, in fact, true. Time is finite. Possibilities are finite. We each must make choices. These choices determine how we fill the numbered hours of our lives, yes. More importantly, these choices determine whether or not that greater clock will chime, the one that signifies the future of life on this planet.

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When you become aware of both of these clocks, I hope you do not lose your sense of wonder. I hope you continue to move propelled not by fear, but by love. Yes, I feel grief as I notice my years passing with increasing speed. And yes, the ticking of that second clock often feels like a hand gripping around my heart, especially when I am looking at you or your brother.

But I do not let the grief stop me, nor do I allow that hand on my heart to close tight. My days are numbered, yes. A great shadow looms over the future of life on this planet, yes. But within the fact that we each must make choices lies the greatest antidote of all – we each get to make choices. We can choose fear, paralysis, and despair. Or we can choose to let the ticking of time serve as our best inspiration. We can engage in each moment fully. We can use our finite days to honor life, both our individual allotted time and all the beautiful, powerful life churning around us on this planet. We can change the toll of the second clock by moving through each moment with conscious celebration.

The two greatest sounds I have heard in my life were the first breaths taken by you and your little brother. If the fates are kind, I will not hear your final breaths, or at least not in the form I now take. You will outlive me. But in this wild time, this time in which each moment is laden with meaning and in which our actions will determine the future of life on this planet, may my choice to celebrate life and continue to move from hope live on in you.

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At the end of a little dirt road

I grew up at the end of a dirt road. My family has lived on that particular road since the turn of the century, when my great-great-grandfather purchased an old farm, driven by the dream of a vacation retreat. Over the years since, generations poured time, care, memories and love into the fields, woods, stonewalls and buildings surrounding the winding little road. When my grandfather retired from the ministry, he and my grandmother made a permanent move from the suburbs of Boston to the family land in the country. Shortly after, my father, mother, myself and my sister moved there as well, my father building us our own little house, the first new house on the road in decades.

To live at the end of a dirt road on land steeped with family history is an increasingly rare treat. My days were filled with wanderings, both of the body and the imagination. Every day, and in every type of weather, our surroundings beckoned to us. There was something seemingly magical about the place. We traipsed along wooded paths, bare feet treading over sunbaked pine needles. We abandoned shoes by the brook to feel the sharp chill of water and the softness of moss compressing beneath our toes. We explored old family gardens and climbed over stonewalls and up sprawling beech trees. In the winter, we snuggled between hay bales in the old barn attic. In the summer, we picked cherry tomatoes and grapes from the vine, chomping into tangy juiciness.

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To this day, when I smell fresh thyme, I am transported to that place, to a particular patch of the herb that grows behind my grandparents’ house. I cannot count the times I’d seek out that spot, tucking myself away from view. I’d lie on my back, feeling the sun and smelling the thyme. A large hedge on one side and a sprawling old apple tree on the other gave the place the simultaneous feel of a grand English garden and a wild meadow.

Our family was not wealthy. But my childhood days at the end of that road were characterized by a feeling of abundance. My senses feasted on my surroundings and I was filled to overflow.

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It all felt so magical, as if fairies might spring from the expansive hydrangeas and gnomes might peak out from under the old stone bridge spanning the brook. But what I now know, as I return to the place with my own family and watch my own children bask in the enchantment, is that hard work and an abundance of love made that place what it is.

Even before my ancestors walked and cared for the land, trees were cleared and strong arms lifted stones to build the many walls that criss-cross the property. The old farmhouse and barn were built and maintained.

My family lovingly and laboriously created gardens, terraces, and places for quiet reflection or play as they transformed the farm into a getaway from the noise and pace of the city. When my immediate family built our house there, my parents began to put years of labor into creating vegetable gardens and homes for various farm animals while helping maintain my grandparents’ property. Uncles have bent backs to restore stonewalls and the old buildings and gardens.

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While the land echoes countless time and labor, however, the magic comes from something more. Memories reverberate between the trees and tall grass. They cast a glow that can only spring from deep respect and love, for the land and for each other. I was raised, more than anything, by that combination of love and respect. And it is modeled by the inhabitants of that bumpy dirt road to this day.

My parents’ home, my childhood home, is unrecognizable from the new clearing upon which our house was erected 33 years ago. The land is lush. The hours of labor are obvious. My parents produce much of their own food. Chickens roam between apple trees and blueberry bushes and raspberry vines bear vibrantly colored abundance. It’s all organically grown. And, driven by their respect for the earth that sustains them and their powerful love for their children and grandchildren, my parents cleared a new patch near their house to make room for a large installation of solar panels. On a recent visit, the panels seemed to glow, surrounded by dahlias and black-eyed susans. They stand as a beacon of a new kind of enchantment: hope for the future.

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Whenever I visit, I once again am filled to overflow. Yes, with the beauty of the land, but also with the love that threads so tightly through that beauty, the two cannot be separated. When I leave, a part of me aches for my home, for the history of the place and the lessons provided about how we might preserve such spaces for the future.

And so I tend to my own home. My husband and I put hours of hard work into planting fruit trees, establishing new garden beds, spreading wildflower seeds and making paths through the woods. We install solar panels on our roof. And, just as importantly, we make sure we take time to wander those paths with our children, creating new memories driven by love and profound respect for the land. A new home, where we make our own magic for generations to come.

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Your Home

Your first home was my body. From nothing more than a knowing you were there to pounds of aliveness churning, kicking and hiccupping, we rode together. You transformed me. As I expanded to fit your growth, the way I experienced life shifted to fit you as well. Every moment of every day and night, we were together, inseparable. My nourishment was your nourishment, my breath feeding into your life.

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Your second home was our arms and a sweet little hospital room. You came into the world with a gasp. I heard your breath before I saw your body. For three days, we existed together in a space between the womb and the world, colored with light gently filtering through rosy curtains, the hours as soft as your new skin.

Next came the space between the walls of our house. A home to bring you into and up within. We negotiated the slightly growing space between us and our need for one another. As days passed, we started to gaze outward more and more.

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Your truest home, your most lasting, permanent, forever home, is the one we fling ourselves into for peace. First, there were the long walks when my mind couldn’t comprehend the enormity of your upcoming birth. Then, after we traversed that threshold together, there were all the times I strapped you to my chest and propelled us both into the forest when nothing else could ease your cries. We’d wander between trees and as the smell of mosses, the touch of sunlight and the call of birds washed over me, my calm became your calm.

I have watched as you have found your way in that truest, most lasting home. As your body has grown, so has your attachment to the wide, open space beyond walls and “comforts”. Your hands explore plants, thread through soil and reach to follow the flight of butterflies. Your questions come fast and furious and so I have searched for answers.

Propelled by your curiosity, we have learned together, you and I. And something I didn’t believe possible has occurred. As we talk about pollination, as we identify species on our walks, as we spend an entire winter amble with noses to the ground, tracking the path of a fox, my own love for the natural world that births us and sustains us has grown.

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This truest, most lasting home has held my whole life. My mother assuredly carried me into the woods in the womb for reflection and comfort. My photo albums overflow with images of both my parents touching trees, bent over ferns, or ankle deep in the ocean, a little tow-headed toddler right alongside. I have loved, cried, hid and sought inspiration in the natural world time and again.

I don’t think I have a hope for you more profound than my wish that you know the same powerful, everlasting connection to that world. You grow up in extraordinary times. It has never been so critical that we realize that we are a part of and completely dependent on the natural world. We have very little time left to wake up to the truth of our existence, the truth that we need to preserve that most fundamental of homes in order to survive.

But it comes down to more than just need. Yes, we need the natural world. But action based in obligation lacks inspiration. And this is about so much more than obligation. We don’t just need the natural world. We love it. And if we don’t recognize that fact, I truly believe we are suffering a disconnection from our deepest nourishment.

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From the plant on an office desk in the heart of a city to the dance between fireflies on a summer night to the way we look at the moon and the stars to the drive to get “out in the countryside” on vacations to the way words fail when we stand on top of a mountain, our connection to our truest home runs so deep, to deny it is to deny a fundamental truth about ourselves. And to disrespect that world is to disrespect the core of who we are.

And so I hope you continue to run between tall grasses, climb rocks even more than jungle gyms and sit silently before wide expanses of water. I hope your eyes and heart and soul continue to light up as your lungs fill with the freshest of air. I hope you never, ever forget the home that will always be there for you, if we only honor it fully.

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Tasting Spring

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Last summer, my daughter fell in love. She was two years old at the time. If you think that is too young for a love affair, I urge you to set down this reading and immediately find a child occupied with nothing more than wandering, uninhibited, in the natural world. Watch how they look, listen and touch. Witness their little beings moved by the flooding of the senses with all this good earth has to offer. They are overcome with love, and rightly so.

For the now nearly three years of her life, I’ve watched my daughter as she traverses this deepening love affair. It is both steady while also displaying distinct moments of deepening affection, moments in which a new discovery or a new experience leads to a specific new love amidst her general, growing love for nature.

Last summer, it was the huckleberries. We are fortunate to be blessed with a path right at the edge of our driveway. This path leads into the woods and connects to a whole network of paths. It is just the type of path that promises the very best kind of adventures. Strewn with fallen pine needles and other forest debris, the ground is delicious under bare feet when warmed by the sun. As you wander this path, and especially as you let it lead you deeper and deeper between the trees, your companions are many: squirrels, all sorts of bird life, deer and even the occasional fox or porcupine.

We are doubly fortunate that a particular leg of this path travels along the shore of a large pond, or a small lake, depending on how you look at things. Before you see the water, you can hear the haunting cry of loons, a call that somehow simultaneously captures the joy of life and the ache of death.

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Where the path meets the pond, they begin to spring from the earth – the huckleberry bushes. Their thin branches tangle and tumble towards the path as the patch thickens. In the spring, bright new leaves tickle our arms as we walk. In the fall, the patch bursts into vibrant shades of orange and red, a startlingly gorgeous visual against the blues of the water. And in the late summer, the branches are prolific in berries. Darker and glossier than a wild blueberry but about the same size, the huckleberry has a distinct flavor – simultaneously sweet, sour and somewhat nutty. And last summer, my daughter experienced that flavor for the first time.

Importantly, though, I think her enchantment has much more to do with the experience of finding food in the woods. On late summer mornings, instead of starting our day with breakfast, we’d begin with the path. Often, we wouldn’t even bother with shoes. We’d open the front door and step out of the cool of our house and into the warmth of the morning sun. Our dog would scamper ahead, disappearing around a bend, knowing exactly where we were headed. My daughter would walk for a while, bending occasionally to examine a leaf or collect an acorn. Sometimes we would stop to watch a squirrel busy at their morning breakfast, sitting remarkably straight and alert on a tree stump, a pine cone clutched between paws, munching and staring at us, ready to bolt if we made any predatory move but not wanting to prematurely abandon the feast.  “It’s okay, little one, we won’t hurt you,” I’d say and my daughter would be fascinated. She’d want me to explain over and over why I said those particular words, why the squirrel might be afraid of us.

Eventually, I’d hoist her onto my shoulders and we’d catch up to our dog, traipsing down a short hill towards the water and then around a bend and there they would be. “I want to get down!” my daughter would exclaim as she started to wiggle with excitement. I’d plop her onto her feet and hand her the little cup we had brought along for gathering purposes. And we’d begin to pick. One for the cup, one for immediate consumption.

It quickly became evident that my daughter would pick without end, each berry more enticing than the last. “We need to leave some on the bushes,” I told her, early in the huckleberry season. “Why?!” – total incomprehension at this nonsensical suggestion. “Because, we aren’t the only animals that eat these berries.” And sure enough, we’d watch as birds darted between branches, occupied with their own morning snack. A lesson in harvesting honorably, in a manner that acknowledges our true place within a complex and interdependent web. We do not own this huckleberry patch; we are exceptionally blessed by its presence just a short walk from our house. I like to believe that the concept of this shared blessing only increased my daughter’s love for the little black berries. She did learn to modify her harvest, picking to fill her cup and then stopping.

We’d sit just beyond the bushes on a moss-covered rock and eat the berries as we gazed at the sparkling water below. The only thing that could motivate us onward in our morning loop of the path was the knowledge that, just a few minutes further along, we would come into full sunshine at the very edge of the water, standing on a rock that slopes into the cool depths. If we were lucky, we’d see the loons, calmly gliding further out, serenely surveying the new day. Assuredly, we’d abandon clothing and slip into the coolness, my daughter in my arms, her breath catching just briefly as her little body was surrounded by the water’s embrace.

It was a sad day when my daughter’s hands reached for berries and found only dried, shriveled remnants. A lesson in change, in the cycle of the seasons, in plant life. We still had a swim to look forward to, but even that eventually ended, as the water grew too cold.

“It will all be back next summer,” I promised. But through Maine’s long winter months, that must have seemed hard to believe. Bundled nearly to the point of immobility, we’d pass between the huckleberry bushes on our walks and my daughter’s mittens would brush the branches. Sometimes she’d ask to be reminded about the cycle of the plant’s life and when the berries would be back. Sometimes she’d just look, longingly, missing her beloved fruits.

It was early April before her patience began to pay-off and my story became more than just a story. We had nearly passed through the patch – me dismissing the bare branches for any sign of new action – when suddenly I saw it. I bent for a closer look and then called ecstatically for my daughter. She came at a clip. “Look!” I exclaimed. “Look at that!” At the end of many of the little branches – not all, but many – were buds. Beautiful, tiny, delicate pink buds. “Those are buds,” I explained. “They will open into leaves. That’s the first sign of the plant getting ready to make more berries.”

We were fortunate to be walking with a dear friend, an “auntie”, who is a student of botany. She and I worked together to describe how plants use leaves to make food, how that energy is put into making the flowers that, once pollinated, become the berries we so love. My daughter did not take her eyes from the little burst of pink as we relayed the science lesson with great enthusiasm. When we were done, she slowly lifted her hands and removed her mittens. She then extended one hand and oh-so-gently took the bud between her forefinger and her thumb. She held the little packet of life for a moment, then released it and licked her fingers. She looked at me, a huge grin spread across her small face. “I taste them, Mama,” she said. “The huckleberries.”

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