Local Lore

IMG_0065 I love to travel.  I love to dwell in one place in a different country, then take day trips to explore new vistas and adventures.  Most of all, I love to find a local bakery, cafe, or gathering place where I can overhear the news. (The driveway paving job is outrageously overpriced!  Farmers are finally done with the fields for the season. Did you hear that Millie is sick again?  Foul weather is coming! Hunting season starts today.  The platform being built in the town hall will never get done the rate those guys are going.  We can’t believe there was snow north of here while we have warm sun–it’s going to be a hard winter, mark my words.  Did you hear what the [U.S. president] said yesterday?)

Tiny towns are a wonderful reminder to me that life is both difficult and simple.  Gathering places serve the function of making sure no one is isolated in any circumstance.  Important (and perhaps less-important) news is brought to the table.  Men gather in groups and women gather in groups.  The news differs at each table, but  weaving together all the stories provides a pretty comprehensive picture of goings-on. Even beautiful landscapes outside the window pale in comparison to the generous camaraderie over a cup of tea and a sugar cookie.

Best of all, these gathering places remind me that humanity is not doomed to have relationship only with electronic devices despite all the editorial claims otherwise. The social ways of community are not lost completely.  I never thought I would enjoy the downright gossipy nosiness of small village; perhaps I wouldn’t if I were the subject of the conversation.

Uh oh. They’re sending me furtive glances.  I am the subject of their conversation!  Stranger in the midst with the only laptop in the whole bakery.  (Who is she? Where is she from? How long is she staying? Where is she staying? Is she listening to us? Why is she smiling? — sotto voce) Ah well.  Yes, I am listening. Time for another cup of tea.   It’s a small price to pay to hear the local take on politics, the state of the season, joys and concerns, and what makes the world go ’round.  I wish I could take pictures.  Sotto pictura.


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Autumnal Equinox


It is the first full day of equinox (9.23.18). Where I live in the U.S., I see that the day/night are not equal lengths quite yet.  But the sun is passing, to our eyes, over the equator to the Southern hemisphere until the end of its trek, winter solstice.  Then it appears to move north again until June, when it reverses its travels.  March will mark the passing over the equator again.  Back-and-forth, back-and-forth, giving us the delight of our seasons.  I saw quite a sunset last night after two days of high winds and a drastic change in temperature, along with a near-full moon–a most appropriate way to mark the equinox  and to welcome autumn.

The mechanics of seasonal change for Earth are elegant.  No matter what environmental degradation we inflict on this spinning and rotating ball, the sun-earth-moon relationship will continue whether we are ultimately here to see it or not.  Such is true for solar systems everywhere, though with different time intervals, magnetic pulls, and different suns and moons.

As I grieve and mourn and protest all the ice meltings, the massive pollution, the overpopulation and forced migration, the wanton trophy-killing, greed and terror gone wild, the destructive “isms” and human and animal slavery on this planet, I take some little comfort in the seasonal change mechanics.  The sun, planet, and moon continue on their way, quietly witnessing our deadly dance.  This knowledge makes me stop and be quiet in my mind.  We are small.  We are deadly, but we are small.  Perhaps this dose of reality can humble us enough to get off our own path to destruction.  Perhaps not.

Whatever the end of humanity, if an end occurs, I suspect living organisms will survive.  And the cycles of spin and rotation will quietly continue.  Something new will arise after we have left a toxic soup.  Back-and-forth, spin and spin.

Ultimately, life isn’t all about us.  Strangely comforting somehow.  That doesn’t mean I give up though.  Grief and protest and living life fully continue.  It’s the perspective we carry that counts for every human being, and with it, humility can go a long way to counter greed and quick-fixes.

Blessed equinox, my friends.  Be humble, truthful, and aware.  And move steadily, back-and-forth, spin and spin, to keep weaving seasons of kindness and love.



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0103c25574850f92dbf70d285cd96cab4b7186dcad I have been working on a leadership book for a number of months now.  Its guiding metaphor claims water in all of water’s manifestations as behaviors of leadership in liminal space:   movement, solid stance, or freely dissipating.

Water as an element is rather amazing.  It flows (liquid), it blocks (solid/ice), it vaporizes (steam).  Depending on the pressures and temperatures water encounters, it behaves differently.  Even within each of its three configurations, water functions contextually like it does in its other configurations: the glacier still flows (ice sheet floe), water still is contained in some formation within river banks or lake/ocean beds, and steam still can be directed to cleanse and heat.  In each configuration, water can be sustaining or devastating.  Ultimately though, all life on earth life depends on water, whether it is a controlled substance (!) or not.

Today, it’s raining and the temperatures are cooling from summer to autumn at long last.  Where I live, this change is a relief. I think about the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melting, and the increasingly uninhabitable lands where heat rises in equatorial regions.   I sense a mass migration coming from mid-earth to north and south extremes, where things will no longer be icy, but will have water.  Our refugee crisis on the planet is mostly political at the moment, but it will become dire as environmental shifts change habitats – and quickly.  These shifts will depend on water availability.  And those who migrate will be living in the liminal space, the in-between space between home and new reality.  Can we share our water? Our land?

Today, it’s raining.  I’m grateful.  The cadence of gentle, consistent rain soothes.  It supplies the water system I depend upon for life.  And I am mindful that I am very, very lucky to live where I live.  My luck does not preclude my concern for others – and a desire to pay attention and do what I can to preserve, conserve, and supply water in a world drying out or being flooded out where its greatest populations live.

Watch Greenland.  I suspect its population is about to increase immensely in the coming years.  And Canada.  And Russia.  Perhaps Antarctica.  All where the ice lives now, but not for long.

It’s raining.  Gently.  I’m glad.  And sad.

How can we share water?  And land?  This is the heated, burning, steaming question of our time.

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I am not fond of summer.

I love the long evenings and the fireflies, the machinations of clouds as they form elegantly daunting thunderheads, beautiful and threatening at the same time.  I love the plethora of growth for the color and the fine dining right out of the garden.  I love the pace that seems to turn toward laughter and fun rather than groan and grind.  I love the backyard barbecues and the freedom children feel to be their playful selves. Despite my introversion, I love the extroversion of summer.2013-08-22 15.03.20

But I hate the heat. And relentless sun, baking soil and skin without relief.

Heat renders me grouchy, physically swollen, and cowering in the shade–if I must be outdoors at all.  As a water person, I can think of no better time than to be IN water.  The heat fires up all manner of aches, pains, and sluggishness.  My brain slows to a glurp.  I sweat without effort.  I sleep restlessly even in air conditioning because I can feel the heat and humidity leaking through the walls.  Sticky. Icky.  I feel deep, physical malaise for three solid months.  I count the days to Halloween as a distraction and pray for breezes from Canada, the Extreme North of Canada, God please.  How do heavily-furred mammals deal with this stuff?

And then the monarch butterfly, so rare these days, finds the milkweed in my garden, and I know that without summer, small, divine showings such as this would never happen.  The birds go wild flopping around in the bird bath without any care about their use of water.  The lightning bugs/fireflies punctuate summer evenings to the point of strobing; they must multiply in my tree line because the light show is a popcorn-popping-fest without sound.  Only in summer.  These sightings and experiences are my relief.

Relief is what we seek when we are in extremis. The natural world keeps me from complaining too brazenly, because the cycles of the seasons, even in places where temperatures don’t change much, offer gifts in each phase.  To receive the gifts is to make the suffering less.  So I learn that survival is a matter of focus, and thus survival can be pinpointed with moments of light (butterfly finding home), alight (birds bathing boisterously), and delight (popcorn-flashing bug light).

One piece of advice:  don’t pick up a cat in summer when one is sweating.  Sticky. Icky. I attempt to express my appreciation to them for their contributions toward my summer fur coat, but I never sound genuine.  I also never desire to be furry, and I have learned to keep my distance until shedding season passes.  But they are determined to share, generous souls that they are.  Run. Run away.

For those who are relieved that summer is in full-swing, let it be said that I share (some of) your joy.  My relief comes from witnessing the antics of those who love this time.  Thank you for the gift in the midst.

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SONY DSC  Discipline is not my middle name.  I like flowing with the go, going with the flow.  A deadline structures me but is not a thing of joy.  I meet deadlines as a point of responsibility, and I do like basic structures to contain my flow, but I want the license to play with those structures.  That’s my leadership style too: giving room for play within the structure – and if the structure doesn’t “give” anymore,  then the structure must change. Play in the structure makes for flexible, liminal living.

Protectionism, walls, polarities, enemy-creating, propping up egos all provide structures in a different way.  Some call it safety.  I call it fearing the fear.  Or denying the fear – same thing.  Discipline that provides structure as a container for work and play is one thing. Discipline that upholds tight circles of like-minded people so that no others or nothing new can get in – or out – is tyranny.  Such tyranny leads to toxicity, which leads to death.   Strange isn’t it, how we fear death and set up the structures that lead us right into it.  Morbidly ironic.  To be more gentle, we fear the other, so we keep the other out with increasingly tight walls and laws in local institutions, churches, synagogues, temples, businesses, and governments.  The tighter we hold to these walls and laws, the more feverish the battering against them at their weakest points, until we find ourselves escalated to the point of no return.

Discipline.  Not my favorite word. I don’t have disciplined rituals, I am bored easily with routine, I don’t even eat meals at disciplined times.  Yet, there is a kind of discipline that I believe is best suited to all human beings, no matter what our styles of interacting with life, work, and relationships:  discipline of thinking through the scenarios.  What happens if I choose this path? What happens if I say these words?  What happens if I don’t?  Can I actually control myself when I’m angry or hurt?  Can I be disciplined enough to be healthy in my emotional and spiritual life by not burying things so that I explode later?  Can I let go of my need to blame so that I’m free?  Can I cut off what I don’t need anymore?  Can I let go of people who are not life-giving altogether?

Those are disciplines well-worth working through, thinking through, living through…and I’m willing to do the work.  I know that if a majority of humanity does this work, the tides will shift, the walls will not be needed in the way we pursue them now, the diplomatic conversations will be different, the state of planet will improve.  Holier-than-thou-ness will slow down from the fundamentalist right and the fundamentalist left.  We will tend to our own gardens and lend a hand when others ask for it, rather than trying to correct everyone else’s approach, technique, or seed choices.

That kind of discipline is worth the work.  Are you in?  Tell me, I need the discipline of seeking solidarity in this walk!  Are you in?

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IMG_7894   Honor.  A word that most often appears in the military these days, or when someone receives an award for outstanding performance.  “Honor” as a noun has become the object with which one has been singled out, or “honored.”  Graduating with honors.  Serving with valor and honor. Then there is the verb:  we honor those who  perform great acts or show superior results.

I have been thinking about the adjective.  Honorable.  Honorable character, honorable behavior, honorable intent.  There is no award for these things in and of themselves.  Yet, they are essential for society to work well.

When I moved back to the U.S.  three decades ago after living a number of years in Scotland, I was jolted heavily on many fronts regarding U.S. dominant culture: politics, how relationships work, how language is used, the level of competition, the crassness of jokes that aren’t really jokes, lack of manners, lack of concern for the stranger, the fear-laced self-aggrandizement.  For almost three years, I hated my return into what seemed such a foreign environment, even though I knew it was the right choice to do so at that time.  I missed the Scottish ethic I had learned in my living environment there–putting others first, the built-in hospitality that was part of life, free showing of vulnerability when the context warranted it, the sense of being adopted so readily, communitas, the spirit of people who had lived through generations of political persecution as a country with guts and determination to be free, and so on.

These thoughts have arisen again three decades later.  And with them comes the ongoing reflection about what I miss and what I want to see evolve again here in the U.S.   “Honorable” is an old-fashioned word to many U.S. persons, at least in the dominant culture. I want that word to feature again.  I believe that the frequent use of the word “authentic” in our society now is replacing the concept of “honor,” and I also think “honor” is bigger than authenticity. Honor-ability includes a life-intention and becomes a deep foundation for character.

I watch our politics of winning by insult and overpowering others by false news or violence.  I watch how people treat each other daily.  I see children gunning down children and adults.  I see and participate in women saying “Me Too!” and being dismissed or ridiculed still.  I see the isolation of so many people who have become lost because there is little sense of community unless one “passes” an unspoken test of fitting in to a clique. Sometimes the sadness becomes overwhelming.

What of honor?  Honor holds the intention of always acting in ways that raise others up.  Honor does not compete for the spotlight.  Honorable living is quiet, steady, trustworthy, grounded.  Honorable behavior stays differentiated in the maelstrom of change.  Honor holds accountable, but does not blame.  Blame serves no real purpose; accountability has its place. Honorable character takes hits for others, acknowledges mistakes, feels real feelings, and learns where the friends and enemies are.  But it does not spread untruths or keep silence for self-promotion.  It bears in mind the greater good, and tries to play its part to the best of its ability, actively and humanely, with integrity.  It does not dismiss other ideas.  It does not give into small ego drives.  It does not betray intentionally, ever.

I miss honorable living as a cultural ethic.  That’s what I really miss.  When I catch a glimpse here and there in my own spaces and places, I am so grateful.  To notice it calls me to be my best self.  So I know this: honor, even in despair, never gives up.

Never give up.  Never give up honor.



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SONY DSC I can’t think of a time when I’ve known so many people who have some type of cancer.  It seems like everywhere I turn, I hear the story of another who is battling for life or preparing for death.  There is an ocean of it, wave after wave of voices saying “The ‘c’-word is now part of me.”

I understand why there are so many marathons and bicycling fundraisers for cancer research.  We’re trying to stay ahead of this ugly, devastating disease. Treatment works for some, not others.  It’s kind of a crap shoot with a life at stake. I look at statistics, and then compare with other statistics like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, the list goes on, and find myself falling down a very deep, very dark hole.  But not as deep and dark as those who are living with these realities. And therein lies the pain.  If I could crawl in that hole with the one already there, I would.  Just to be alongside for the life-and-death-re/life ride.  But I can’t.  There is a huge separation between those with the experience and those who would do just about anything to take it away from them.  Until the acceptance creeps in, in one of those grief-cycle stages gnawing away at everyone.

Some people say, “I’ve lived a good life, no regrets, it’s just shorter than I thought it would be.”  Some people say, “Bring it on, I’m going to win against this bastard.”  Others say, “How can this happen to me? I have too much to live for, too much to do!”  Still others, “I have no words.  It just hurts.”  There is no standard response.  And those of us who are not physical healers and who are currently cancer-free, stand by, bearing witness as best we can, wrong-footing it often, and trying to avoid horrendous platitudes that we never thought we would say or even think.

Like with all tragedy, the question comes – what is the purpose of this? Why does it even exist?  Non-smoking, healthy-eating, exercising people get cancer just like others who get blamed for the smoking, eating, not-exercising repercussions. Cancer is indiscriminate despite the risk-factor statistics.

All I know is to bless with healing light, pray for the passage to be smooth as possible whenever it arrives, and believe that there will be relief either here or over there – and then stand back and stand by as each person does her internal work in the midst of her c-world.

We all have to do that work, that reconciling ourselves to our lives.  It’s the untimely urgency that is the difference.

I have no words now.  It just hurts.

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