Category Archives: Bioregionalism

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.

The Gift of a Navajo Blanket at the End of An Era: Everyday Magic, Day 695

P1000797At the end of Kaw Council’s Prairie Roots: Thinking Like a Prairie event, Nancy stood up, and said that as an elder, it’s her prerogative to honor people within the community. Then, to my surprise, she explained that this person was me, for my work organizing for the Kaw event, and everything else. Or something to that effect. I was so moved that I’m not sure what she said, only that it ended with her giving me a Navajo blanket, which weaves not just yarn into art, but prayers and chants into the warp and weft.

So much lately — from radio interviews to poet herding, plans from all directions coalescing to plans just glimmering on the coming horizon — signifies that it’s the end of an era. In my last month as Kansas poet laureate, plus many other projects fruiting and flowering, receiving such a gift dazzles me into a contented stillness, the kind that says, “It is done.” What comes next, if I’m lucky and ready to recognize it, is “Relax,” or even, to quote many Buddhist teachers, “Rest in the alaya,” which is the essential of everything.

So I’m resting under, upon and against this blanket. For the next four renga readings — in Downs, Beloit, Salina and Manhattan, Kansas — I plan to drape the blanket over the back of my car downsized_0416132307seat, and lean into this gift. On cold nights, such as right friggin’ now, I’m sleeping beneath it. I put it around me on cold mornings and lean against it in my work chair. The cat also has her time napping on it.

When I’m staring into space, at increasingly frequency, I turn my gaze toward the blanket. I look at the shape, the colors, the consistencies and inconsistencies. Ken and Forest look into the rug also, counting the tiers of the gray tree at each end to find the purposeful mistake which, according to tradition, is necessary. Pofessional weaver Ron Garnanez explains this in an article in the Native American Times, “It must be done because only the creator is perfect. We’re not perfect, so we don’t make a perfect rug.” Which makes this rug even more endearing to me although I don’t have to purposely make make mistakes in whatever creations come through me.

dsc08616“Are you sad your poet laureate term is ending?” well over a dozen people have asked me in the last two weeks. Not at all because it has been a beautiful, lively (too much so at times) and outlandishly satisfying time, so much so that I’m not burnt out either (although I am tired). Community in so many forms has wound itself around me, allowing us to co-create good work. Generosity has astonished me at many turns. Wrapping the rug around me, awake and sleep, over these coming weeks makes the ending even sweeter because I’m literally embraced by prayers and chants, poems composed of texture, color and time that are leading me to whatever is next. Thanks with all my heart, Nancy.

When the View Changes: Everyday Magic, Day 677

downsized_0212131645Pack animal on the move — that’s my today. Awake at the ghastly hour of 5:45 a.m. (apologies for morning birds — I admire you, but I will never be one of you), and off to the airport, I hauled myself and about 57 pounds of luggage (carry-on, backpack and purse, all stuffed with 10 days’ worth of everything) from Kansas to Vermont. Well, actually, Ken’s car, two planes, a little bus shuttle in between, and Daniel’s taxi did the majority of the hauling, but I did help with the pushing, pulling and carrying of my stuff.

Now, as if it’s an ordinary day, which it kind of is, I sit in Capitol Grinds, my coffee shop hangout in Montpelier, Vermont. Ahead is a yoga class, dinner with fellow faculty at Sarducci’s, where the volume is loud and the food is luscious, and then unpacking said stuff into drawers and the closet of my dorm room. Then sleep. Then more of my Vermont life.

And it is my Vermont life. On the way here, Ralph, who I’ve taught with for 17 years, talked about Goddard being one of his homes, and I feel the same way. Although my Vermont home isn’t nearly as luxurious as what starlets refer to when using the same phrase (no hot tubs or ski lifts), it is mine: a corner dorm room with a view of the woods, a trek to the cafeteria on campus, an occasional foray into nearby Montpelier to visit my favorite places, and mostly time with my Vermont friends, co-workers and students.

Strangely enough, despite the view out the window being different — probably because of the snow, mountains, evergreens and politics — the experience of being here always feels like an extension of my Kansas life. What I care about, what the people I hang with care about, what work and art we do, and even, to some extent, how we dress crosses over. The hardest part of adjusting to this other view of my life is the transition between worlds, not just all the vehicles, winged and wheeled, that transport, but the switch from one home to another, one part of life to the other part (although these parts vastly overlap). I dream I’m in Kansas, I dream I’m in Vermont, the people I know and love in both places show up in the merged dreamscape of my biplacial life.

So despite missing the Mardi Gras parade in Lawrence again, I’m focusing on the view here: light snow, overcast skies, and the warm lights of shops and cafes, reminding me how much two opposing places can be part of the same home.