An Abundance of Cicadas, Hackberry Butterflies, and Rain: Everyday Magic, Day 853

IMG_4071So much comes so thick and fast sometimes, like this June when the 17-year cicadas hatched at the same time as the unleashing of thousands of hackberry butterflies. Walking from the car to the house, I have to close my mouth so a butterfly doesn’t zip in and avoid stepping on some of the dead cicadas, strangely enough, fed on by the butterflies. Meantime, the rain: a deluge so often that we’ve lost track of inches. Garden beds I weeded two weeks ago are buried in invader species, mosquitoes abound, and the rolling roar of the cicadas engulfs everything in the rising buzz.

IMG_4074Sometimes life is so outrageously abundant it’s hard to know what to do to keep some semblance of order or peace of mind. I clean the pantry, weeding out stale nuts and moth-invaded pancake mix. I bend over on the way to the car to pull weeds out of a small triangle of dirt where, a month ago I planted flowers now buried in green. I haul away stuff we don’t need anymore, only to return home to see so much growing and piling up inside and out while I bat away butterflies, walk through rain, and breathe in time with the cicadas.

Abundance shows itself in magic aIMG_4046nd delight too. This weekend, I went with friends to see Lily Tomlin live in Kansas City, all of us immersed in the rich dazzlement of her characters, the poignancy and humor of their stories, and her improvised jokes. I sang “Both Sides Now” and “You Are My Sunshine” with friends in an open-air out-building deep in the country with stand-up bass, guitar, accordion, hammer dulcimer, and of course, cicada accompaniment. I sat on this screened-in porch during a thunderstorm and listened to Pema Chodron, via my computer, talk about shenpa, what hooks us for the good and for the bad, and how we might try reacting differently next time to see what happens. I bought paddles for the kayaks we’re buying from friends and will bring home once and if it stops raining long enough. My work is rich, friendships full of humor and joy, and talks with Ken still surprising after all these years. Fawns walk close by, rabbits criss-cross each other’s paths, and everywhere, there’s birds singing happily of humidity and worms.

Not a very clear photo, but yes, foxes!
Not a very clear photo, but yes, foxes!

When there’s so much, there’s also so much opportunity for strange things to happen, some hooking us into joy (like seeing four foxes by the side of the road last night), and some hooking us into angst (like our water mysteriously stopping working this morning). Everyone I talk with has stories of strangeness to share, and through it all, cicadas, hackberry butterflies, and rain, reminding us to pay attention in a time when all comes at once.

Brooklynisms, Lower-Manhattanisms, and Other Things Heard on the Street: Everyday Magic, Day 852

Roaming around Brooklyn and the city for about five days yields not just astonishing things to behold (two Chinese multi-generational bands jamming in a park where dozens of people play table-top games at high speed in between yelling in Catonese at each other) but also snippets of things people say to each other. Not knowing Catonese or any of the probably 22 other languages hummingbirding past us as we walked, I could only catch these intriguing phrases in English, some of which Ken, Ruth or I may have actually said but most of which we heard:

  • They’re taking over an area that used to be HORRRRible!
  • In Dublin, Van B and Van C are far superior to Van A.
  • I basically made it sound like you’re the only reason the city could sell the company, so you should thank me.
  • He’s turning into you.
  • ….Or like a passive aggressive British woman.
  • The thing about her is that I could actually feel her aura vibrating. It was that intense.
  • The Paris Metro is far superior to this subway.
  • Waiting for the bathroom is a fucking nightmare at this theater.
  • I could sell him anything if he’d just answer the phone.
  • They do the voices really good, but it felt bad anyway. I didn’t get anything out of it but squeaks.
  • It wasn’t just that the penis was elevated.
  • They’re great at growing rocks here.
  • Bagels are for losers.
  • I loved him but not really.
  • I’m like the healthiest person on the face of the planet because all I eat is Chinese food, that and some salad.
  • Person 1: Watch it! Person 2: I don’t have to watch it. You watch it.
  • The rats all know about the third rail. It’s passed down. It’s in their DNA by now.
  • Father to 5-year-old daughter: What did you see? Daughter: Money!
  • The olive oil cake is sublime.
  • You have to go down to go up.
  • Don’t open your mouth. The devil is going to trick you.

So I’ll close my mouth now and go find some Chinese food, that or salad.

For the Love of Animals and Community: Everyday Magic, Day 851

Vigil for lost animals
Vigil for lost animals

When we found out about the fire at Pet World, so many of us in and around Lawrence rushed to the scene or to the many scenes in our minds of this sacred animal-human wonderland. When my kids were growing up, I took them there weekly or more often if I needed to hold a bunny to deal with the stress of big messes, not enough sleep, and all manner of infant, toddler, young child and older child mayhem. I carried my children in front packs, back backs, strollers, then simply held their hand as we rounded the display of ferrets, or delighted in the love birds singing.

I wasn’t alone. Many families did the same, including families of myriad shapes. I often saw people in wheelchairs or with developmental disabilities in the store, being led from furry thing to furry thing by their caregivers or family members. Dogs, even my own who had a habit of peeing on the dog treats near the cash register, frequented the store as often as humans. Bus loads of school kids came as did elders in the neighborhood. For my own family, these trips morphed into pet-obtaining excursions too, especially for my daughter Natalie who fell in love with amphibians. We had lizards of all manner, Australian and then red-eyed tree frogs, newts, and expanding to mammals, dwarf hamsters.

I didn’t realize until recently how I took for granted that we were allowed to hold the animals at Pet World, something I realize now isn’t common for pet stores. In Pet World owner Sherry Emerson’s very moving statement about the fire — which tragically killed almost all the mammals, all the birds, some snakes, reptiles and fish — she writes of her co-owner husband:

Tim can never forget how he felt as a child when he and his young friends were refused entry to their local pet store and not allowed to hold the animals. He knows that the total separation of humans and animals will ultimately lead to the disconnection of humans and nature. We truly believe in our mission.

Marilyn's photo collage of the scene
Marilyn’s photo collage of the scene

So does our community. Last night, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil for the animals lost. The crowd was anything but vigil-like: there were scatterings of baby strollers with shrieking babies, many people with disabilities being wheeled or led around, piles of kids of all ages, some laughing with friends, and some standing quietly, crying. The community support throughout the week has been mind-beautifyingly powerful, from the veterinarians who rushed to the scene alongside past and present employees, friends, and even employees at a nearby store, as Marilyn Naron writes so eloquently about here along with what Pet World meant to her and so many of us:

When Greg and I went to Westlake Ace Garden Center this afternoon to buy tomato cages, we did not know that a fire had broken out at their neighbor across the street, Pet World Lawrence. Pet World is a beloved institution here – a caring, 27-year-old business that is more animal education center than retail store. The staff will talk to you passionately about the needs of tiny tropical fish. An ancient double yellow-headed parrot, Fletcher, hangs out overhead. People bring their kids to watch the rabbits play and to watch the giant python, Goliath, eat (not the rabbits).

Today the firefighters tried to save as many animals as possible, but the news was awful – none of the guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, parakeets, cockatiels, or other birds had survived, including Fletcher. But the reptiles did. Pet World staff began running across the street to the garden center, each of them carrying soot-covered turtles and lizards. I watched the garden employees drop everything to create a sort of reptile triage; they rushed to pull planters and pots off the shelves, filled them, and then used their hoses to spray each stunned turtle back to life. Staff from both stores were crying and hugging and doing what they could. It was a sad day in Lawrence, but still. Good neighbors. (And Goliath made it out.)

Pet World will, thankfully, and thanks to so many children who encouraged the Emersons, rebuild. Sherry writes in the official statement:

We have been blessed with the ability to connect children to nature. That’s what matters most to us. We feel, as responsible stewards, that this is our calling and we will continue to answer it. We have two choices in life: surrender or fight. For us, surrender is not an option. We thank you for your patience, kindness, and support, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

I’m so proud of my community and this business for upholding the essential connection we human animals have and need to have with other creatures. Thank you especially to Pet World.

Jerry on the Prairie!: Everyday Magic, Day 850

IMG_3741On Saturday, we scattered the ashes of Jerry, called the “cremains,” on the prairie with family and close friends. Gathering mid-day on the Akin Prairie — a place Jerry loved intensely — we followed the Kansas Area Watershed (KAW) Council water ritual that Jerry had participated in dozens of times over dozens of years. This ritual, which ends most of our KAW Council gatherings — whether on the prairie Camp Hammond (between Lawrence and Topeka), where we’ve held weekend gatherings every spring since 1982, or beside Castle Rock in Western Kansas or other places we’ve explored — is a way to honor where we’ve traveled, where we’re going, and most of all, where we are. We stand in a circle, begin with chanting three Kaws (kind of like om but to the tune of Kaw), and then each person, as he or she feels moved, can step into the center and offer up a prayer, song, gesture, poem, memory or wish.IMG_3749

Along with what people say or do, we invite everyone to bring water from their travels to pour into the center, and this time, we had the water from Jerry’s travels. Danny found several bottles with water that Jerry had collected from the Southwest, his home state of Minnesota, and within and beyond Kansas. His daughters brought a box containing baggies of his cremains we could scatter right in the center, out in the prairie, or in other places.

The skies danced panoramic of storms to come, and the prairie was alive with blossom and sharply-green grasses. Jerry’s family, superb at both speaking from the heart and self-organizing, instantly started coming into the center, from the oldest to youngest siblings and their families, then his oldest to youngest daughters and their families. Then friends and other family member stepped into the center. One sister invited us to turn to the person next to us and dance for a moment since she had promised Jerry they would go dancing soon when he took a short-lived turn for the better in the final days in the hospital. One of his daughters asked us to open up our arms to the sky as she had seen her father do countless time. Some people told stories, like how he attached a camera to a kite, bringing together two of his passions, to get some aerial photos. One friend sang out the word that speaks to her most of Jerry: sweet.IMG_3754

At the end, many of us scattered ourselves through the prairie to leave some of his ashes or say our own goodbyes. I didn’t realize how incomplete his leaving was last December until I watched his family and friends fan out across the luscious green and blooming prairie, and earlier, right at the end of the circle, how we all called out, “Jerry on the Prairie!” This is where he is, and he’s also right here with us, alive in the stories we told later at the Unitarian Fellowship for a celebration of his life and spirit, the next day on our porch that he built, and for many days to come.

Our porch that Jerry built with a heaping portion of his sibs and friends.
Our porch that Jerry built with a heaping portion of his sibs and friends.

Jerry loved the wind, and as I write this, back on the porch, I’m surrounded by wind, birdsong, frogs are chirping, and one owl just called out, just like the one owl we heard while in the water ritual circle on Saturday, singing to us despite it being the middle of the day. We’re now in the after of Jerry on the prairie, landed in beauty, loss, sweetness, and something beyond mere knowledge that my friend Kat Green wrote so perfectly about in this poem:


Sometimes knowledge is not enough.

Nor is knowing in your bones.

We make our choices.

We live or die.


We scattered Jerry’s ashes at Aiken Prairie,

The crest of a hill by the Aiken family cemetery

but not in it.

We encircled his large family with unfamiliar ritual,

his ashes in the center.

We cawed, three times.

They looked a little uncomfortable.

But then we began the water ritual.

Dan had found a bottle of water

Jerry had collected on his travels

throughout the Great Plains:

Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico,

The Texas gulf and other places.

We took turns stepping into the center.

We spoke from our hearts

took a little of his ashes

and poured a little of the water.

His brothers and sisters stepped into

the circle with their families

from oldest to youngest.

Did I mention many of them wore cameras?

His daughters and their families spoke next.

Two of Jerry's sisters and one marvelous brother-in-law o top of the world, or at least Wells Overlook near our place to see the aerial view Jerry loved.
Two of Jerry’s sisters and one marvelous brother-in-law o top of the world, or at least Wells Overlook near our place to see the aerial view Jerry loved.

We wept.

We listened.

We remembered a stubborn, kind man

noted for leisurely and complete story telling

and exquisite photographs of the natural world.

We surged into the center of the circle and back

out, three times

And scattered.

~ Kat Greene

Thank You, Wyatt, and Hello, Eric!: Everyday Magic, Day 849

The fabled four (out of five) past and present poets laureate: Denise Low, Eric McHenry, Wyatt Townley, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (photo credit: KHC)

Last night Wyatt Townley, outgoing Kansas Poet Laureate, bonked Eric McHenry, incoming Kansas Poet Laureate, with a sunflower as is our tradition in these parts. Although the Kansas Humanities Council officially launched his term earlier this month, nothing’s official (at least to me) until the sunflower hits the head.

Wyatt’s term, as she told KHC, was full and expansive:

We laughed, we cried, we got chills. We put over 10,000 miles on our 16-year-old van, never breaking down and managing to dodge all blizzards and tornados…..Internally, I found a path from private to public that I could travel, and made new friends along the way. It was all poetry, all the way down.

10408668_649256315179408_3148655472865763695_nOver the last two yeas, Wyatt gave over 70 presentations, helping a myriad of communities explore home from what she calls “the mobile home of the body” all the way to the cosmos as home. She also curated the Homewords project, encouraging Kansans to submit American Cinquains about home as body, house, land, and sky, and out of the submissions, she created columns featured in newspapers around the state. In the end, she featured 105 poems for the 105 counties of Kansas. Here is one of Wyatt’s Cinquains, a form that invites us to write poems five lines long, with two syllables on the first line, four on the second, six on the third, eight on the forth, and two in the final line:

The sky

the silo and

I, a set of nesting

dolls with a surprising poem


Wyatt’s generous, tender, wise, and deeply contemplative ways inspired many of us not just to start writing Cinquains (my friend Danny has now written hundreds), but to more deeply consider how we dwell here — in community, on the land, within our bodies, as part of the swiftly-changing skies, and of course in poetry. But any gratitude for Wyatt also goes to her partner in crime, First Dude Roderick Townley, himself a very accomplished poet and children’s book author, who accompanied her all over Kansas. Having taken some poetry road trips with both Wyatt and Roderick, I’ve seen firsthand how much his presence and help can turn a crazy challenge into a walk (or drive) in the park.
Now we mosey on forth with our fifth Kansas Poet Laureate, Eric Henry. Here’s one of my favorite poems of Eric’s, published in 150KansasPoems:

Here’s what I remember: Coleman Hawkins

and I are sitting at a mahogany table

in the Village Vanguard, quietly talking.

He’s finished a set in which he was unable

to summon even one unbroken tone

from the bell of his once-clarion saxophone.

But now that’s over and he feels all right.

He’s smoking because he’s wanted to all night,

drinking cloudy cognac from a tumbler

and coughing ferociously; his voice is weaker

than his cough; he’s barely audible, mumbling

to me because he knows I’m from Topeka.

He says, “That’s where I learned to tongue my horn.”

I know, and that’s the only thing I hear.

It’s 1969; in half a year

he’ll be dead. In three years I’ll be born.

A professor at Washburn University, and a poet published far and wide, Eric recently told the Kansas Humanities Council:

There’s nothing I love more than sharing poetry with people, and I look forward to doing that in every corner of Kansas over the next two years. I think we’re all grateful when we encounter language that’s equal to life’s richness and complexity. Poetry can provide that.Eric_BW_headshot

Listening to Eric recite poems he memorized — something he does frequently to show us the value of getting that language into our bodies and psyches — I have no doubt that he will shine the light on a lot of poetry — and moreover, what poetry can do to spark magic and insight — throughout and beyond his poet laureate term.

So thank you for the wild, beautiful, and vivid road trip through poetry, Wyatt! And Eric, we’re now riding shotgun with you for where you take us.

Poetry, Miracles, and the Path to the Beloved Community: Everyday Magic, Day 848

With poet therapists and community beloveds Nick Mazza and Perie Longo
With poet therapists and community beloveds Nick Mazza and Perie Longo

Toward the end of April, I had the honor of giving a keynote presentation at the National Association for Poetry Therapy national conference in Black Mountain, N.C. Thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for us to craft a beloved community throughout our lives — an endeavor that brings into being “a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential” — and the power of writing, reading, and living poetry as key to that reconciled world, I wrote this talk in six parts, exploring ways to find and join our people on this path as well as the path’s mythic, healing, and ecological dimensions.

IMG_3427Poetry is the phone line between the surface of our lives and our deepest callings, a lifelong conversation full of confusion, clarity, trespasses through fear or delight, and a whole lot of divining for water with some sticks out in the wilderness. It’s our flashlight in the dark woods, showing us where and how to step next.

Here is the full talk: NAPTTalk2015pdf

Listening, and Getting Rid of Stuff: Everyday Magic, Day 847

Thunder, then a long stretch of wind shaking up Cottonwood Mel outside my window. A plane overhead from faraway heading faraway. The dampened drone of the highway in the distance while my sons sleep, the dogs snores, and Miyako the cat performs another one-act play about killing a mouse cleverly disguised as a hair tie.

It’s been too long since I’ve been able to listen to the sounds in between and around rather than the sounds coming straight at or straight from me. Not surprisingly, this replenished ability to stop and enter the clearing — instead of focusing on the trail — comes more easily to me after I’ve been moving things out of the way, specifically lots of little and big things in drawers and shelves. Yesterday, I cleaned out my desk, which doesn’t sound like much work, but indeed it was. I sorted hundreds of objects: coins, paperclips, stamps, greeting cards, and so many pens, markers and pencils I tested to see who was still up to the challenge of making marks on paper. Hauling bags to the car — what’s to find its way to the city dump, what will end up on some thrift store shelf, what’s to land in the home of a friend or family member — I felt quieted, also tired.

Everything I’ve been reading about clearing clutter lately rings through my body with a kind of freedom. Freedom to give up waiting to fit into something that, at the moment, makes me look like a multi-color stuffed sausage. Freedom to acknowledge I will never use the piles of holiday cards I never send. Freedom to say, “I have enough” to the worlds of colored paper. Freedom to release myself from the not-reading of books I bought by mistake and the not-fixing of broken flashlights. For weeks, in between travel and presentations, I’ve been hauling out the old stuff not to make room for the new, but just to make room.

In the end and in the beginning, there’s room for this listening that makes me feel like I’m just a cleared-out drawer of treasures in one of the many houses of the universe, and all I hear is a kind of music.