this sunny Sunday spring morning
it suddenly occurred to me
how grateful I am dear friend
that we can be together as “old ladies”
though more than a thousand miles apart
there are moments when the loneliness
is almost more than I can bear
the challenges of dragging a tired body
sometimes back aching or struggling to breathe
I wonder what life is all about anyway
there can’t be many women like us
mothers who crossed so many divides
with children of mixed heritage
heading off on our own to live on a commune
only to discover there’s no escaping
the problems of the world
even as the experience opened our spirits
to dimensions others cannot see
but we’re survivors, you and I
of the challenges that come with being different
not many would want to understand the cost
of the golden moments of deep connection we share
without a need to judge or compete – feeling heard,
understood, and loved for all we’ve become
as we reminisce on the phone with tears and laughter
May 7, 2022
Up before dawn to get ready for class. I planned on reading the final two student papers before class after I took a shower. But I knew that what I had prepared for the two classes today wouldn’t do. This has been an extraordinarily difficult semester for students. Yet the students kept trying to do their best. I wondered how I could honor their hard work and as I showered, words flowed through me – “the art of letting go.”
Even though we are scheduled to see each other again in the fall, one never knows what surprises life may bring. Each moment together could be our last.
A Courageous Red Poll – May 2, 2022
A Curious Squirrel – May 2, 2022
The Art of Letting Go
We spend a lifetime learning the art of letting go
when we begin there’s so much we don’t know
about the highs and lows, the good times and bad
perhaps in the end grateful for all the chances we’ve had
to know both joy and sorrow, failure and success
to love and lose, to laugh and cry, to blame and bless
finally learning we have only this moment today
to create memories that will help us keep finding our way
I know that words cannot express the gifts that come from students. Even though I have read the articles I’ve assigned many times, the papers students wrote during the past semester pointed out things I had never noticed or considered. Each point of view was unique, each focused on different issues, and each was written in a different voice. The lesson of research, really – to explore and consider as many vantage points as possible when trying to understand an issue.
But the most profound gift was their inspiration. No matter how overburdened their lives were, they showed up and tried – tenacious, resilient, and willing to consider uncomfortable truths. They wanted to learn all they could because they believe it’s possible to help make the world a healthier, kinder, more peaceful place for all. It’s not just wars that have been an enduring presence throughout history, though. There have also been never-ending acts of creativity, kindness, and heroism, many of which are not mentioned in history books, or these days, by mainstream media. We cover that in classes, too.
Each group of students inspires me to keep learning and trying new things. Who could ask for a better job even though it also means learning the art of letting go?
a cold gray day
not quite spring
feeding birds and
hearing them sing
A Common Redpoll Resting
grateful for the gifts
The Bird Bush – a White Lilac that hopefully survived the winter
The night after participating in a virtual political convention to choose candidates to endorse for state races, I awoke from a dream. The details remain a bit foggy, but I remember being in a car that I couldn’t steer. It was racing in never-ending circles, seemingly controlled by remote external forces. There was no clear purpose or destination in sight. Just unending circular movement in a dark, barren, asphalt-covered landscape.
It reminded me of the convention and my recent, though distant, involvement in the political process. The convention itself felt unwelcoming, focused on rules and the need to appear inclusive by making meaningful dialogue impossible. In fairness, though, I doubt there’s a way to effectively hold a Zoom meeting with 300-plus people, some of whom were seasoned political operatives with clear agendas, and many of whom were strangers and newcomers. All had different perspectives without any opportunities to connect. We were all just tiny faces and names on a screen. Those who jumped through the hoops to speak rarely seemed to care about focusing on things that would matter to the group or the state overall.
I couldn’t stay until the end, but there was one hopeful candidate with clear visions about what needed to be done – protecting clean water, building jobs through sustainable alternative energy initiatives, and supporting workers’ rights. She spoke with passion about hopeful possibilities and highlighted a successful track record for building necessary relationships to overcome political divides. Fortunately, two-thirds of the conference delegates voted to endorse her as the party candidate for state senate, the necessary threshold for approval of her candidacy.
I understand why many people are unhappy with politics and politicians. Why shouldn’t they be? I just wish more people knew at least a little more about US and global history before voting! And a little bit more about the dire situations the world is facing on every level right now from sources other than mainstream or social media. Maybe then people would be able to stand with others who stand for something positive, hopeful, and worthwhile. Until then, I fear we’ll continue going in circles as the world falls apart around us, unable to collectively act on issues that will affect generations yet to come.
I have noticed that community meetings are not really designed as listening sessions or opportunities to create a collective sense of dignity and belonging. Yet the choices are clear. One is the world we have now, where people are programmed to continue in a perpetual winner-take-all tug-of-war to impose their ideologies on others in two party systems that pit the 99 percent against each other for petty reasons. The other is one where the 99 percent work together to build a world where life, love, and laughter matter more than power, money, and things. Maybe then we could finally set a course forward toward a kinder, more peaceful world and steer our collective journey in the same direction…
you are special
I’m not telling you this to boost your ego
too often you discount your own gifts
it’s a way to shirk the responsibility
you agreed to carry this lifetime
by convincing yourself you’re unworthy
you will know when it’s your time to speak or remain silent
find strength in simplicity and moments of beauty and laughter
to help you stay the course in times of loneliness and doubt
when you walk into the crowded room today to testify
before strangers, friends, and foes,
media, spectators, and decision-makers
I will be there to help you find the words
to touch hearts and open minds to wiser possibilities
it’s not your job to make those changes
it’s just your job to help others realize
they have choices and abilities to lead
what they choose is not your burden
though it will weigh on your heart nonetheless
April 22, 2022
As mentioned in an earlier post, I realize there are so many things I don’t know, including information about songbirds. This spring, though, my attention and concern were already heightened because the sheer number of birds that arrived this March and April seemed so much larger than in past springs. I wished I had kept careful notes about my observations in past years as a comparison, but I didn’t. It seemed the birds were asking to be fed, so I did. And I told the story in a poem and prose, poking a bit of fun at the clumsy, well-meaning “watcher” (me) while taking a few jabs at capitalism.
The draft post was sitting on WP while my internal censor considered the message and tone from multiple vantage points. Before I felt ready to post it, I got an email from a friend about a crisis – Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was affecting the commercial turkey and chicken industry nearby. In the process of learning a bit more about HPAI, I decided to write and post something about that related issue instead – For the Birds …
The message of the draft post below, though, still seems important to share. So I decided to do so today.
April 12, 2022 – For the Birds
ah dear feathered friends
I hear your urgent plea
I’ll fill your feeders for spring
just be patient with me
the seeds I have here
are not very fresh
and while they’re not moldy
they’re not at their best
they’ll tide you over
‘till I can run to the store
I promise in a day or two
there’ll be fresh seeds galore
birdfeeders washed and dried
filled with “Better Bird” Premium seed
hanging back in their place
birds jostling for perches to feed
oops, I discovered a serious mistake
I didn’t read the ingredient list
instead choosing a bag with a liftable weight
it was only the bag’s chemical smell
that later caught my attention
the list of ingredients alarming
and much too long to mention
another trip to another store
to buy what I hope’s safer seed
wondering why “Better Bird” thought
artificial flavor was something wild birds need
but it turns out the birds are a lot like me
given a choice they sometimes prefer junk food
even though it may be unhealthy or nutrient-free
The past few weeks were filled with Zoom trainings, spring cleaning, grading papers, prepping classes, and helping students. Still, songbirds arrived by the hundreds, excitedly chirping at me to fill the feeders. I had allowed the feeders to stay empty during the past year to discourage the rats that moved into the neighborhood when the feral cats disappeared a couple years ago. I filled the feeders with sunflower seeds from a bag in the cellar that was left over from those years after checking to make sure the seeds were not moldy, funky-smelling, or discolored. The birds emptied the feeders in less than a day, and soon the bag was emptied as well.
It was time to go to the big box store for spring supplies anyway. Most of the birdseed bags were huge and too heavy for me to lift, so I settled for the 14-pounder of premium songbird food. The birds loved it. Only later did I notice a chemical smell emanating from the bag. (I always manage to somehow poke a hole in bags before I make it to my car.) The smell prompted me to look at the list of ingredients, something I learned to do for pets, and I became very concerned. The next morning, I headed out to buy new seeds, this time paying attention to the list of ingredients.
When I got home from the store, I noticed that the feeders were almost empty. I dumped the remaining feeder contents into a paper bag, thoroughly rewashed and dried the feeders, and refilled them with the new “just seeds” food. Only a few birds returned. Those who did return avoided the feeders and ate the seeds on the ground!
I wasn’t sure how to responsibly dispose of the chemical stuff but decided the landfill might be the best option. I grabbed the paper bag and the almost full 14-pounder and headed out to the waste bin just as the garbage collector was nearing my driveway. He waved and then emptied the bin into his truck and continued on his way down the alley.
To be honest, I was horrified to find chemicals in wild birdfeed. It never occurred to me that would be a problem. I was heartsick, worried that I had unthinkingly placed the health and survival of songbirds at even greater risk.
Given my sometimes-overactive imagination, I came up with a possible explanation for the absence of birds on the refilled feeders. I wondered if some birds had watched me put the almost full bag of premium food in the bin and then encouraged their flight-mates to follow the garbage truck and boogie on up to the city dump for the tasty stuff. (I think that’s what’s called “gallows humor.”)
5:14 PM – Aril 13, 2022
On a brighter note, there were a few birds at the feeders this evening during the next round of mid-April snow. Still, I learned a valuable lesson. I will definitely remember to read labels and be more vigilant about what I buy from now on.
Assigning blame to others, even corporations, is something I try to avoid without first carefully considering issues from a variety of perspectives. I don’t have any scientific evidence that the additives in Better Bird food are harmful. Perhaps, someday I will have time to look. It is reasonable, though, to suggest that corporations which claim to care about better birds should focus on efforts that directly affect birds’ survival, like working to eliminate the use of pesticides, reduce pollution, and remediate climate change.
Sixty years ago, Rachel Carson (1962) issued a warning in her work, Silent Spring.
“On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh…
No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new in life in this stricken world. The people had done it to themselves…
A grim reaper has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know.”
What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America? This book is an attempt to explain.” (pp. 14-15)
For now, there is evidence that Better Bird is among the corporations that support efforts to raise awareness about songbirds. They donate to Cornell Lab of Ornithology K-12 Education, enabling educators to download educational materials for free. Still, I prefer to use birdfeed that appears to be just natural seeds although they’re not often labeled to indicate whether they came from plants that were grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or GMOs.
Feeding birds is not enough, but it’s what I could do during this prolonged hungry spring.
Rachel Carson (1922). Silent spring. Fawcett Crest Books.
on this cold April morning
birdsong fills the air
instead of bringing joy this year
it seems to signal despair
a warning of dire times ahead
9:24 AM, April 14, 2022
birds appear to know something we don’t
trying desperately to tell us before it’s too late
flocking to places that they hope they’ll be safe
to fly free, find a sanctuary, food, and a mate
lives threatened by the cost of hubris and greed
by humans who think they can improve nature
by tinkering with seed
I wonder as I listen to birdsong and cries
if the world of the future will grow silent
and dreary with beauty’s demise
3:47 PM, April 14, 2022
“Amid outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center is urging individuals to help mitigate its spread by taking down their bird feeders and other apparatus that birds use to congregate.” Source: Kare11.com
“The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed several findings of the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild waterfowl in the Atlantic flyways in January 2022. On February 8, 2022 APHIS confirmed H5N1 HPAI in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana. Since then it has been confirmed in multiple states and flock types. The USDA updates the latest HPAI detections on its website.
“The first cases of H5N1 in Minnesota were confirmed on March 25, 2022.
“The virus has not caused human illness. According to the CDC, Recent Bird Flu Infections in U.S. Wild Birds and Poultry Pose a Low Risk to the Public.
Edited Screenshot to show Duluth in relation to HPAI outbreak areas – Source
Recently, it’s been difficult for me to post what I write or visit others’ blogs. And I’ve been reflecting about why that might be. I remember how I answered the question “Why do I write?” in a free course I took on WordPress years ago, Blogging 101. “I write because Mickey can’t.”
Mickey was confined to a life in a nursing home. A work accident had left him paralyzed and struggling to frame his thoughts in words. One had to slow down and listen carefully to make sense of his new, unfamiliar language. Too few nursing home staff had the time, interest, and/or skill to do so. As a mother with a young daughter to care for, I worked the “graveyard shift.” I had time to learn Mickey’s language and decipher what he needed. Respect. Soft hands. Kindness. Presence. And laughter.
I still write because Mickey can’t. But now I realize I write and teach for the sake of others who can’t speak, either. The earth, the trees, the lakes, and the rivers who give us life but are not honored for doing so. The plants and animals that feed us. The birds, butterflies and bees that give us beauty. What I write is shared for free with anyone who happens to read or listen.
The small salary I make when teaching comes from students who often assume debts they may have to carry for decades, so I try to make what I share worth the cost. With the trend of declining enrollments, it’s uncertain if this signals the end of my teaching career. But writing and teaching have never been about money, power, or fame. Sharing is just celebrating life.
Building and planting new gardens – June 24, 2013
These days, words and teaching are not enough for me. The things that I feel are important to say may be lost in a cacophony of voices competing for attention. I care about the world my daughter, grandchildren, students, and the generations yet to come will inherit. I find myself on steep learning curves to explore more direct ways to share. I’ve agreed to serve as a delegate for the political party that I find to be less toxic to select a candidate the party should support for the state senate. As a community and state, we’re facing uphill battles on environmental and social justice issues that need to be championed by the most capable, tenacious, ethical servants of the people.
There are no guarantees of success for those who are willing to courageously propose alternatives that reverse the corporate exploitation of people and the environment, but it’s crucial that those who want to wield power, or those who are forced to by default, honestly represent the best interests of people and the environment who not able to speak for themselves. But politics are always a gamble. There’s no way to predict how people will react to wielding power or how effective they will be when dealing with others who have conflicting views.
That means the state of the world is also up to each of us, too. I believe we have responsibility to do what we can to learn and act in ethical, well-informed ways. That belief inspired me to volunteer for several community-based initiatives to help explore what’s happening from many different vantage points. I’ll explain these initiatives in a moment because others might find these various opportunities intriguing as well.
Changing landscape after the willow was damaged in a winter storm – June 4, 2018
First, though, I feel it’s important to mention that I have been fascinated by the “natural” environment all of my life. As a little girl, I preferred the woods, stream, and pond near my house more than the company of children my own age. It was a place of wonder to explore and a sanctuary away from the noise and busyness of my home and neighborhood. As a teen, I preferred the company of elders and spending time on the Allegheny River that flowed in front of my family’s musty summer cottage. When I attended college, my goal was to study ecology, a subject that wasn’t offered yet. Instead, my world was expanded through the discovery of other cultures and literature I had not read before. Ultimately, I ended up working in jobs that applied ecological frameworks to human society and institutions.
Yet, I just passed the age marker that signals the importance of doing what I love the most while I still can – learning new things about the wonders of life and sharing them with anyone who will listen. When my mother was this age, 75, she was mid-stage in the painstakingly gradual loss of choices due to Alzheimer’s disease. As her legal guardian for fourteen years, I witnessed her heartrending transition from a gifted nurse to someone who could no longer speak a clear sentence, moving her from her lakefront home to congregate elder housing and then to round-the-clock assisted care.
So I decided to do something I love. Keep learning. There are so many things I don’t know. Recent patterns of drought and deluge have compacted the soil in my yard. I tested some soil last year because the blueberry bushes were struggling, and I found that the soil was extremely alkaline despite the surrounding pine trees. Last year’s extended drought meant frequent watering, so I’ll need to test the tap water, too, to see if the ph-balance of the water affected the reading. I plan to continue exploring how to achieve a healthy acid/alkaline balance and improve the overall health of the soil using natural, doable, affordable methods.
Gardens recovering after some rain – July 29, 2021
I also want to gain knowledge and skills that will help with significant climate transitions that will become more likely given ongoing environmental destruction, over-consumption by wealthier people and nations, and changing weather patterns. I’ve taken a few first steps.
I joined the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, CoCoRaHS for short, and took the obligatory “skywarn” training from the National Weather Service. I have become a “trained weather spotter.” The required “WeatherYourWay” rain gauge for CoCoRaHS volunteers to use for measuring precipitation is finally out of its box, waiting to be set up. Perhaps my grandson can help me put in the recommended 4” X 4” post to mount it once the ground here thaws.
Here’s a little bit more about CoCoRaHS:
“… CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow). By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. We are now in all fifty states.”
I also joined “scistarter,” an organization for volunteers who want to learn more and participate in “citizen science.” There are many intriguing topics to study. Here’s a link to explore possible projects: https://blog.scistarter.org/featured-projects/2022/03/five-spring-tacular-projects-to-get-you-outside-this-season/
The topic I chose to focus on as a beginning is “iseechange.org.” Following is the brief overview from the website:
GOAL Our climate is changing — so are we.
TASK Share your experiences and collect data to help our communities.
WHERE Global, anywhere on the planet.
What you see in your backyard, neighborhood, and city is important to our understanding of how climate change and weather affect our communities. Your observations and block-by-block insights can help cities, engineers and local organizations advocate for and create solutions to climate challenges.
We welcome and host observations from people in 118 countries around the world and counting. We are also currently working with partners in select cities on specialized investigations.
If you or your community has a question or hypothesis about how climate is changing your area, you can also use your ISeeChange account to collect data and answer those questions.
The only thing certain about the future is that changes will continue. It seems to me that the only way to prepare for change is to learn what we can now and share what we learn with others. I am grateful for the chance to do so and for all I learn from you when I have time to visit your blogs. Sending my best wishes to all.
Here’s a list of the links embedded above in case you are interested in learning more: