Category Archives: Bioregionalism

Pairs of Rattlesnakes, Kayaks, and Beloveds

Mr. Rattlesnake just hanging in his pillow case (outside of course) before moving to his new home.
Mr. Rattlesnake just hanging in his pillow case (outside of course) before moving to his new home.

It was a weekend of unlikely pairs. First, there was the matter of returning the pair of rattlesnakes our friend Hank caught right against our house a few days ago. The Mr. and Mrs. had  just a little too close for comfort, pretty much on the other side of the wall of our bedroom, and although they were docile, because we wanted to welcome another pair–a pair of kayaks–to that area and didn’t want to accidentally step on rattlesnakes when loading or unloading, something had to give. After Hank drove around with them (contained of course) and housed them (he said Mrs. Rattlesnake rattled whenever he played the piano, but please know she was in a plastic tub with lid the whole time), he and Ken decided to put them back in our area, but far farther from the house.

The wrangling of snakes is not for the weary or timid. As I watched Hank open the tub where Mrs. had been angrily living for a few days, then hold her head gently down with a stick and reach in to grab her around the back of her head, I couldn’t help but scream. A lot. An experienced scientist and snake handler, he lifted her with ease, then dropped her in one of our pillow cases for the trek up the hill with Mr., already in his

Frank and Sandy say goodbye to their kayaks
Frank and Sandy say goodbye to their kayaks

pillow case. Ken, Daniel and Hank went on a great walk to find the perfect place near a rocky outcrop with the kind of habitat the rattlers prefer, and let them loose. They said Mr., a rather laid-back character, went straight into a hole in the ground. Mrs. coiled up and rattled at them until they were out of earshot.

The snakes out of the picture, we turned our attention to picking up the kayaks we were buying from friends Frank and Sandy, an endeavor that turns out to be almost as complicated as relocating rattlesnakes although not nearly as dangerous. After finding out weeks ago the cost of a car carrier, we set out to make our own, or rather Ken did while I drank tea on the porch. It took, as all home projects take, more trips to the hardware store thanIMG_4264 anticipated and a whole lot of “hold this while I hammer the nail” moments. Finally, tied into place on the CRV, we trekked to our friends’ house, and loaded up the kayaks. Let’s just say the tying of the kayaks into place would have earned most eagle scouts advanced badges. Frank and Sandy said goodbye to their old kayak friends, and we said hello.

We also said hello to a new pair, Dave and Marcia, ready to make the leap into marriage after four years of loving one another. It was my first time officially doing the marrying of a couple (I married another couple with my friend, Danny, who was the official Universal Life minister, and I married Courtney and Denise long before marriage equality was a glimpse in our Kansas eyes). We hauled a vase of sunflowers, a whole lot of black-eyed susans, a crystal bowl for a Buddhist water blessing ceremony, and accorded gadgets to make this computer loudly play Mannheim Steamroller’s “Sky” and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Marcia and Dave just before the wedding
Marcia and Dave just before the wedding

At the foot of Wells Overlook tower, we gathered in a crescent, starting with a smudging ceremony once Ken managed to light the sage they brought from their California home and the cedar for their Kansas roots. Their vows shined like a full moon on a summer’s night, full of beauty, steady light, and overwhelming awe in ordinary weather. The wind blew surprise gusts, tossing the little table we set up for wedding ingredients. The shade and sun mingled also, and when it was over, everyone hugged everyone, especially the new pair.

Now I will rest my pair of feet, drink a pair of glasses of water, and feed the pair of insistent cats, and later perhaps dream of kayaks, rattlesnakes, and a pair of beloveds happy in their new homes.

Stomping Fire: Everyday Magic, Day 838

How close to the house? Very.
How close to the house? Very.

I wanted to eat pizza with friends. Instead, I stomped fire. Maybe that’s a strong narrative thread in my life, but in the here and now of a Saturday night, it was simply what it always is: a necessity.

Ken, Daniel and Forest were planning to burn the field near our house, and I emphasize the “near” part of that phrase. We realized, thanks to me ignoring a prairie burn several years ago because I was too engaged in talking with a pal about growing up on a kibbutz, we discovered that when we burn the brome field, native grasses emerge. To reclaim more prairie, burn more brome.

For weeks, the guys, especially Daniel, plotted and planned, assembling a line-up of water sprayers, shovels and rakes, calling people to join in, and rushing to the computer to check wind speeds while also ensuring that the ground wasn’t too damp. Saturday was perfect, they were were sure, until the wind picked up. With a wise county rule that no burning is allowed until the winds are 8 mph or less, it seemed likely no burn could take place. So we confirmed our plans for the most exquisite of pizza (yes, Limestone Pizza, I’m talking about you) and got dressed to go.

IMG_2383That’s when Daniel announced the winds were down to 6 mph. Dinner! I proclaimed. Fire! they proclaimed louder. In the end, like it always does, fire won. I retreated with the crazed dog, who wanted to light things on fire too, watching my guys make a lovely line of fire, fairly easy to do if you wind dry grasses like spaghetti around a pitchfork and drag it.

All was well until I heard the screaming. I couldn’t make out what they were yelling about, except for “Right now!” So I went out to help. The fire had jumped ship, leaping from where it was supposed to do its business in the field of native prairie, which we weren’t planning to burn until April. With daylight fading, and the native prairie very large, we had to get that fire out. By the time the guys accomplished this, it was near dark, and the county also has a ban on nighttime burning.

So I joined them in stomping fire. It’s a little like dancing, but with more desperation. Ken walked in front of me, spraying water at the line of flames. I followed up, stomping on all the droplets of fire. If you stomp hard enough and keep stamping, it’s amazing how much fire you can extinguish.

In the end, they burned half a field, we missed our friends, but there were enchiladas. There was also the satisfaction of making something that got out of control, then saving the day.

Jerry: Everyday Magic, Day 829

10858376_10152644835063208_4719828656362117011_nWe were unlikely friends. He talked slow, walked slow, thought slow and deep. I tend to run fast. I can’t even say when I met him, although I know it was through the Kansas Area Watershed Council, our local and long-lived bioregional community, and sometime, somehow, we became great pals. By 2001, we were doing the lion’s share of the work to organize the Continental Bioregional Congress on the Prairie — Jerry in charge of bookkeeping, travel arrangements and registrations, and me in charge of the program, publicity, and the overall coordination. For the next two years, we spoke on the phone or emailed often 4-5 times each day, just about finishing each other’s thoughts about how to handle any issue that arose.

10858644_10152644832843208_4356927544652366850_nHe went from Jerry Sipe to Jerry to Jer, aka #7 (his and my favorite number) on my speed dial. He was around us often, and quickly became the only adult my three children — through teenage years and beyond — always hugged. I hugged him a lot too, both of us close to the same height, as I felt his heart beat in mine.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, I discovered what many already know about wandering through the world of serious illness: some people fall away, and some people run toward you, ready to help in any way possible. Jerry just about moved in with us, joining us so often for dinner that when I fetched groceries, I aimed for his favorites along with our own. He was quiet, patient, and utterly present. The night before my final surgery, he called to find out what time I was going to the hospital. “But don’t you have to work?” I asked, knowing he had taken off a lot of time already for my previous surgeries. “Work? There’s no way I can go to work tomorrow,” he answered, and sure enough, he was there with other close friends and family, praying, singing, chanting and lifting me through surgery and its aftermath.

From there, he built our front porch with Ken. The project that was supposed to take a few months took over two and a half years, and although it was slow-going, the craftmanship is superb as was his installation of our pellet stove, which kept him hanging out at our place for months. There are signs of Jerry everywhere, not the least of which are the photos he gave us over the years,IMG_2135 each visionary and perfect in what he shows us of wind, spider webs, the moon and sky.

Jerry seemed quiet from a distance, but up close, he could be a regular chatterbox, although not in the conventional way. When he started to tell a story, like the time he went AWOL in the early 1970s because he no longer believed in the Vietnam War, it was advisable to get comfortable because he had a lot to say. When it was his turn in the circle — at KAW Council or other bioregional gatherings — he often had a lot to say about what the earth and sky were saying to him. It was obvious he had long conversations with the natural world. He often told me of fields, including the field just south of our house, that he was friends with, and how, in the presence of such places, he entered into deep communion.

10858388_10152644834493208_8539725373344188220_nEach morning, at least for many, many years, Jer would step outside, lift his arms overhead, close his eyes, open his heart and then his arms out wide, asking the living earth to tell him what its will was for him today. “Thy will be done,” he answered the call.

For many years, I counted him as one of my besties, yet in the last three or so years, we were at a bit of a distance. To be honest, I was pissed at him for not getting all possible medical and other healing help for what sure seemed like major memory issues to me. I wanted him to put up a good fight, reach out for support, and be relentless in his own healing. Like others close to him, I was also worried about him living alone and how, in time, he might be found close to death in his apartment. I didn’t understand that he, being himself and not me, was making his own choices and/or that his health issues may well have precluded him from choosing differently. A man close to the earth, he basically, as one dear one of his remarked to me recently, went to the woods to die. He was found last Sunday in his apartment, profoundly dehydrated, having lost close to a third of his body weight, and suffering from double pneumonia and other issues.

This last week, any distance dissolved. I’m eternally grateful to Jerry for this gift of forgiveness, intimacy and friendship. He held tight to my hand while, in his hospital room, I sang prayers and chants, off key and scratchy-throated, to him. One night, I sat close to him for a few hours, sharing song after song from my phone. When I got to James Taylor, particularly “Blossom” and “You Can Close Your Eyes” — music I knew he loved — he opened his eyes, lifted his eyebrows, and looked for moment, even while on a ventilator and in ravaged body, peaceful. He also looked into my eyes as well as into the eyes of many of us who visited with a kind of intensity I’ve only seen in the eyes of my son Daniel right after his birth and in the eyes of my father a few months before his death.

I remember telling Jerry about that moment with my father, and how my father asked if I recognized him. “Yeah, you could have said, I finally recognize you,” Jerry told me. With Jerry, it wasn’t an issue of “finally” recognizing him or being recognized by him. Jerry was born to see, evident in his photos of the prairie as well as his friendships and family connections.

10347556_10152644834623208_7289269370764009355_nHe was also born to make it rain. He once told me that according to a native person he knew, each of us had to make it rain at some point in our lives — we had to save lives and land in some small way. Jerry said that shortly after learning this, he was marching with others to save the Haskell Wetlands when a car sped through the intersection toward the marchers. Jerry saw that the car was about to strike a woman and her baby, riding in a  stroller. He left his slow ways behind and raced into action, positioning himself right in front of the car to save the mother and child. Then he stared into the eyes of the driver, who hit his brakes in time. “I made it rain,” Jerry told me.

Tonight, a little over a day after he died, he may be making it rain again, in the hearts of many of us who love him and also all around us as a very unusual December thunderstorm moseys on in, slowly. It hurts so much that he’s gone, but I’m so grateful for this rain, feeding the parched earth and and reminding me that love heals, always.

In Memory of Pete Seeger: Everyday Magic, Day 762

I grew up on Pete Seeger, his music and his voice coming to me through the radio, the television, and perhaps just in the wind. Of course there was the Beatles, the Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, Tom Jones, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel and many songs coming through the small transistor radio I held to my right ear under my covers at night, but folk music and show tunes were my first love. Pete Seeger, as everyone knew in the 60s (and 50s) and every decade since knows, was the sea from which so much else seemed to evolve.

I was so inspired by Seeger’s rendition of “This Land is Your Land” that, at age nine that I performed it in a summer camp talent show. In a tutu. Twirling a baton badly (simply turning my wrist one way, then another). Marching back and forth. The other campers were unduly quiet during my performance. I won a special talent show award, not for singing, twirling or pacing, but “the guts award,” something they made up on the spot for me. Hugging the trophy, which was a plastic train filled with candy, to my chest on the way home, I knew Pete would be proud.

I knew every verse of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer”, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” (Pete is 93 in this version) and especially “We Shall Overcome,” all of which we sang in the massive peace marches my wise mother took me to in New York City when I was a kid. Singing “Forever Young” to myself at hard moments in high school was a refuge. After college, when I worked in the union movement, I thought of Pete often when we belted out “Solidarity Forever” and “Union Maid” at the end of meetings before drinking copious amounts of beer. In the bioregional movement, “Somos El Barco” became a central song we sang often in opening and closing circles.

One of Pete’s new verses for “Turn, Turn, Turn” has the lines, “a time to get, a time to give/ a time to remember, a time to live,” reminding us what time it is. As for Pete being dead? Arlo Guthrie said it best in his Facebook post today: “‘Well, of course he passed away!’ I’m telling everyone this morning. ‘But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.'”

A Quiet Moment in the Morning: Everyday Magic, Day 746

Again, the dogs and cat sleep, some curled into a ball on worn-out cushions, others stretched on sofa arms in the sun. The light, caught in the wind between its source and the front of the dresser, waves across a blown-glass drawer pull. Cottonwood Mel, finally shed of all leaves, moves its higher branches up and down against the steel blue of the shining sky.

Lately, I’ve been savoring these quiet moments, the in-between times, when I’m not working, watching, cleaning, dressing, moving or waiting. Here we are, almost mid-November, just as the first week of cold has spilled into our lives. Here we are, thinking of bringing up the box of scarves, hats, down and fleece from the basement. Here we are, realizing those afternoons working on the porch or evening walking barefoot to the car, are mostly swept away by the season.

It moves so fast. It comes so slow. Always, it lands so completely as itself: this moment, quiet or not, when one cat suddenly wakes, jumps down and walks through the light and shadow to find some mischief. Happy quiet moment, whenever you can find it, to you.

Beauty, Balance, Forgiveness, Forgiveness: Everyday Magic, Day 726

Swimming across the blue-green quarry pond in Vermont last week, and lately across the turquoise city pool in Kansas, I’ve found myself moving to a new chant with each breast stroke: beauty, balance, forgiveness, forgiveness.

Beauty is for all the beauty around us all the time, including the beauty of the water holding me up and yielding to let me pass through it. Beauty speaks to what I live to experience as a body in a body of water held in the body of earth and air. The light turning this way and that on the surface of pond or pool. The clouds scattering apart slow motion. The tops of trees only slightly tilting in a wind above that’s not yet below.

Balance speaks to what I experience when held lightly and freely in the water and also to what I seek in dry land living too. The balance that has to readjust itself when running uphill in the wind or trying to lie still enough late at night to catch the sleep train. The balance to perceive whatever is or isn’t happening two ways at once: as I experience it in the moment, habitual responses charged or not, and as it unfolds when viewed from another, and often wider, perspective.

Forgiveness twice. Why is that? I’m not sure, but I know it has to be twice, and I wonder if it’s because I want forgiveness for myself and all others, or forgiveness from self-imposed stupidities as well as the kinds of missteps that cause any harm to others. Or maybe it’s about asking what we ask for during Rosh Hashana — to be inscribed in the Book of Life — and also what we ask for during Yom Kimppur — to be sealed in the Book of Life.

So I swim into beauty, balance, forgiveness, forgiveness — each stroke a way to pull myself forward and thank my body and all the other bodies of this earth that make such grace possible.

 

A Long, Slow Spring With Lots of Quick, Fast Travel: Everyday Magic, Day 696

DSCN1022A week ago, I realized I was trying to pack for three trips happening within one week, having laid out two little suitcases and an oversized bag on my bed. As I pulled my dress shoes out of suitcase #2 because I would need them in suitcase #1, I noticed, once again, the weather of this long, slow spring. What’s blossomed has blossomed in slow motion, except for what was browned on the edges by the surprise frosts. What fell from the sky, despite our long drought, also fell often as I rushed from porch to car to load a suitcase of books, a bag of fruit, a change of clothes in rain, snow and sheet, sometimes all at once.

At the beginning of March, I trembled when I looked at my calendar. With the end of my poet laureate term ending, I basically stopped thinking criticallyDSCN1090, or maybe just stopped thinking. Add to that our daughter’s senior recital (in March) and graduation (in April), a bunch of big events in this area, and a weekend visit that entailed almost more travel than non-travel to see our son Daniel’s life in Knoxville, TN and hike in the Smoky Mountains some. Did I mention it’s poetry month and Holocaust commemoration time? My calendar was a vivid example of how what’s written neatly or scribbled in metallic pink doesn’t translate so neatly or shimmery into real life.

No surprise then that I coped my usual way: sleeping as much as possible, rocking a sinus infection that resisted treatment for stretch, working out somewhat regularly, and of course, turning to cheetos and dark chocolate when all else failed. Yet like most overcommitted times in my life, I also was moving too fast, worrying about having the right directions or if I should have packed a sweater, to notice very often the green world exploding in slow motion all directions. Simultaneously, it’s been a blast much of the time: posing with a posse of poets in front of the world’s biggest ball of twine, sharing tea with an old friend after a912889_4756139663066_431789520_n reading, discovering strange museums and stranger thrift stores, listening to poetry so good it could (and did) break my heart in a room where everyone was previously a stranger.

Today, finishing packing the last suitcase of this time (the one that holds our clothes for flying to St. Paul, MN tomorrow for Natalie’s graduation), I stopped. Looked outside. A squirrel was holding onto a small board with one hand while eating something with the other. I watched long enough to discern that board was part of a small birdhouse, fallen apart with the aid of said squirrel. The air brightened. Cottonwood Mel leaned one way, the leaves just starting to bud out.

For a long time, this spring has been moseying through its pre-vernal unfolding, almost on the edge of big change and yet suspended just before all the leaves that will change our views for months to come. My pre-vernal unfolding may have been more frenetic and certainly less grounded than the trees’, but I’m so grateful that somehow we arrive at the same place at the same time.