On a frigid dark evening in February, there’s a knock on the door I use during winter. “Come in,” I shout out. But the knocking continues as my little dog Pinto keeps barking. Then I remember. I need to unlock the door. It’s my daughter bearing a gift – a key to the house she’s just bought so we can live together as a family in what we all hope will be a safer and friendlier neighborhood.
An old saying comes to mind afterwards, “opportunity only knocks once.” Still, I wonder if moving is the wisest decision even though there are many things I can no longer do by myself, like heavy lifting.
I’ve lived in my little old house for almost 10 years – since October 17, 2011. It’s been a haven of sorts that I retired to, finally alone, after a long and difficult journey. Being here has given me a chance to begin the process of life reflection during a stage of life Erik Erikson characterized as “integrity vs, despair.”
I am grateful for the many opportunities life has brought my way. Sometimes I did open the door when they knocked, and sometimes not. In retrospect, I am grateful overall for the choices I made. Often, the choices to open a door brought daunting challenges, but those were the ones that presented the most interesting chances to grow and to learn.
February 22, 2021
A small part of what I learned has been posted on this blog which celebrated its 7th anniversary on February 11, 2021. I actually began blogging with a partner in 2013, but that partnership ended when I wrote a draft article she wouldn’t approve for “our” blog. After the third rewrite of the draft, “In Honor of Caregivers,” I decided to create a space a lot like my little house, where I could decide how to create and cultivate my own gardens both in reality and metaphorically.
It’s interesting to look back at my old blog posts and see how much I have both changed and become more of myself in the process. It’s also fascinating to see which posts have been viewed most over the years.
This morning as I greeted a bright but frigid morning, I found myself thinking of one of my many culture-bridging experiences. I was wondering why it is so difficult for us to listen to each other and find our common ground.
Maybe it was one specific job interview years ago that made this so apparent to me. In my younger years, I would often get calls begging me to take on a new project – Indian education, child welfare, or addiction prevention to name a few. I remember reluctantly agreeing to consider working on a federally-funded project to prevent chemical dependency in selected tribes. There was only one other Native American person on the research team, and he wanted to interview me to make sure I was “Indian enough.” He asked me about the research I was planning to conduct on Indian child welfare. When I explained that I was interested in learning how Ojibwe people defined effective and ineffective parenting and the systems and interventions they would recommend to address situations they saw as ineffective, my interviewer became impatient and agitated. …
One of my dear blogging friends, Nicki Attfield [who deleted her blog a while ago], asked a thought-provoking question in a recent post – “Can men be feminist?” Her discussion reminded me of a similar question I was asked years ago, and my experiences teaching courses in diversity at two very different universities.
More than two decades ago, I was asked to be part of a panel discussion at a university conference for social work students, practitioners, and educators. The question I was asked to address forced me to think critically about my past experiences and observations. “Can non-Native practitioners be effective with Native American clients?” At that point in my thinking, it was tempting to take the easy route and simply list the reasons why the answer was “No.” But the need to be honest and respectful made me go deeper. Ultimately the answer was really quite simple. Ethnicity and overcoming adversity in one’s life doesn’t necessarily make one more empathetic or a skilled deep listener. What matters most is someone with a kind heart who is willing to do the work to understand the world through another’s eyes. To listen deeply, to see not only the struggles but also the strengths, and to help clients see their strengths, connect to supportive resources, and develop necessary confidence and skills to be able to discover their own answers. To help clients discover they have worth and their own answer to the question – What is the best you can imagine for yourself in the future? …
The third post in line at more than 1,700 views is “The Fool’s Prayer” posted January 3, 2014 (and reblogged on January 13, 2020).
… Presentation day was one of nervous anticipation for me. I was excited to share what I thought was an important message with my classmates. But my anxiety grew as I sat through the recitation of nursery rhymes and “Twinkle-twinkle little star.” “Oops,” I thought, “Maybe I made a mistake, but it’s too late now.” When my turn came, I walked to the front of the class and began. I don’t remember how my peers reacted as I recited the poem, probably with exaggerated drama, nor could I see my teacher’s expression. She was seated at her desk behind me. All I remember is from that day forward, my teacher treated me as if I were a leper. The first time I talked to a classmate seated next to me after my performance, the teacher singled me out in front of the class. “You may not need to listen to what I’m talking about, but the rest of the class does. From now on when we are discussing reading, your job is to stand by the side blackboard and draw.” …
Years ago, I went to a national conference on Indian Child Welfare issues. It is typical for me to feel lost in large urban areas and packed hotels. I easily lose my sense of direction in cities and winding hallways. As I was hurrying to make it on time for a workshop I wanted to attend, I took a wrong turn and ended up in a workshop on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome-Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAS/FAE). This wasn’t the one I planned to attend. Because the speaker was just beginning, I didn’t want to appear rude by leaving, so I took a seat in the audience of 50 plus mostly Native American women. As the Euro-American speaker began, she let the audience know that her expertise in this area began when she adopted a child who was born with FAS. At first, she felt overwhelmed, until she remembered her grandmother’s saying, “When times are tough, put your wagons in a circle.” The audience let out a collective gasp, yet the speaker seemed completely unaware of the meaning of the audience’s response. She went on to describe her challenges. Accustomed to ignorance and insensitivity, nonetheless respectful and polite, the audience remained seated and silent during the workshop. They exited quickly at the end, without a word to the presenter. What would be the point of making someone feel bad? …
The one post that had the most views (almost 7,000), though, was written at a crucial moment in time by a friend and guest author, Miriam Schacht (RoteZora), “Open Letter to White People at Standing Rock.” I am sorry to say I lost touch with Miriam shortly after the former U.S. President took office and extinguished hope for a reasonable resolution of the controversy over the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Hope has recently been revived according the EARTHJUSTICE, although there is still a lot of uncertainty about the final outcome of this situation and additional challenges as other tribes join the fight against proposed pipelines that would carry the same tar sands oil threatening communities that depend on rivers, lakes, wetlands, and the Great Lakes for safe drinking water along the way.
I wrote this note while staying at the Two Spirit Nation camp within the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock about a week ago. I originally drove out there to help someone else out, but without the intention of staying, because I take seriously the critiques that suggest that white activists have been taking over the protests. However, I stayed much longer than I intended because it turned out that there was important work to do as a white accomplice–work that addressed precisely the issue of white activists at these camps and these actions. Part of the necessary work of white accomplices is to lessen the burden on people of color. At camp that meant I was asked by Two Spirit folks to give white visitors “allyship 101” or “Two Spirit 101” lectures; this letter is my attempt to keep that work up, and keep taking on some of the burden, even when I’m not at the camp anymore. As requested, I’ve sent hard copies to the folks at camp (there’s barely any internet access there), but I’m also re-posting it here.
Read this, please, with an open heart. If you start feeling defensive, take a moment to reflect on why that is before returning to reading. …
Like the decisions I made about blogging, first to give it a try despite the snobbish disparaging view of blogging in academia, and second to create my own blog when my attempt at partnership didn’t work, I have made a choice to leave the little house where I have lived since I arrived in Duluth, Minnesota, and willingly face a new adventure. After almost a year of COVID, I realize life is too short to live in isolation relying almost exclusively on virtual interactions. I don’t want to miss any more chances to be present in the lives of those I love.
No doubt I will miss my gardens more than some of my neighbors, although others were a gift – Chris, Maddy, Dawn, Shirley, Patty, Judy, Bill, Phil, and Linda and her little dog, Cheeto. They shared their stories and their love of beauty, learning, gardens, dogs, humor, and life. I need to be patient, though. I can’t move until the semester ends in mid-May. There are more lectures to plan, papers to grade, and students to support, so much I need to sort through, give away, or pack, and too much I need to do to get the house and yard ready.
I am so grateful for the years in this little house and for the original blog partner who inspired me to continue blogging on my own. Both opportunities opened up a time and place for deep soul-searching and healing. And I am deeply grateful for the blogging friends who have been part of the journey over the years. Thank you all.
to weather the winds that led to the passing of the two old willows
that once embraced her and nurtured her through her tender years
Still, they anchor her firmly and deeply between their stumps and roots feeding the abundance of berries that hang from her delicate branches as sustenance for her winged and four-legged relations when the deep snows fall and the cold winter winds blow strong
Although I have so little time to write and blog these days, stories and poems sometimes flow through me any way. They are meant to be shared with others because they are connected to others who inspire them. I am sharing this with gratitude to my colleague who insisted we use trees as a metaphor for the class we are teaching about community practice. Initially, I thought she was a little bit crazy. But the course has continued to inspire students year after year. I am also sharing it with gratitude to a dear blogging friend, Robyn, a gifted writer and poet who has inspired me to look ever more deeply at my connections to the land where I stand. And of course, last but not least, this post was inspired by the mountain ash tree bearing her gifts for all who come into her presence.
I am always willing to be the one to take responsibility for making sure we are properly physically-distanced from anyone else we encounter on our travels. I truly hope we will not need to do so in the near future.
Teaching online takes so much more time than it does in person. I have to rely on words alone to explain complex concepts and details rather than help students develop their ideas face-to-face through dialogic exchanges, marker in hand to draw diagrams on the white board to illustrate how things fit together.
It leaves me little time to write anything other than comments on papers, emails, and class presentations. When I do post something on my blog, I try valiantly to respond to comments and visits in the few moments I have but inevitably I fall behind and feel guilty. So, I don’t post often, and rarely write except on the mornings before our bi-weekly Zoom classes. I guess I should just call my bi-weekly posts – Class Day Reflections.
Class Day – October 24, 2020
“If the rivers and lakes could speak, or more aptly, if one took the time to listen and understand them, what would they say about the way humans have been treating them?” *
This is the question my colleague asked at the end of our classes today when we were consulting with the one student who remained after classes ended, eagerly asking advice on the best ways to approach a community project exploring water issues that excited her.
I believe they would tell us humans all need to do better. Humans need to pay attention to the danger signs all around them and learn how to listen.
Not surprisingly, it was so tempting to stay wrapped in the piles of cozy blankets rather than venture out into the drafty cold of another frigid early morning. Yet my waking moment musings impelled me to run downstairs to my computer to type “what I noticed.”
What I noticed this morning
In a hypnagogic haze, halfway between asleep and awake, I heard the sound of a train, echoing from the ridge to the west. It reminded me of an environmental disaster that occurred before I moved to Duluth – the train that derailed in 1992.
• “Superior [Wisconsin] is not a stranger to industrial accidents prompting mass evacuations. In 1992, a train containing benzene gas derailed just south of the city, covering the region in a bluish, toxic haze. The event, which has come to be known as “Toxic Tuesday” among many locals, forced the evacuation of nearly 30,000 people from the city.” (CBS News, 2018)
• I also remembered the Huske Refinery Fire that I did witness as I walked my dog on April 26, 2018. I saw the huge black toxic cloud filling the sky just across the St. Louis Bay to the east, carried south by strong winds.
• Two years later, the danger the plant still poses, along with dangers of the Enbridge tar-sands pipeline, rarely make the news. We take our access to safe water for granted and fail to be part of the efforts to prevent further threats for future generations.
I guess it’s not surprising that someone born on the cusp of Pisces (the sign of two fish swimming in opposite directions) and Aquarius (the sign of the water-bearer) would have an affinity for water. It is a gift to have a chance to find others who care about the rivers and lakes as well. I am deeply grateful for colleagues and students who are learning, as am I, to listen to the messages of the rivers and lakes in our beautiful homes in the USA and Canada.
I hope more of us can learn to listen and care before it’s too late…
What did you notice today that inspired you to feel gratitude?
What did you notice today that inspired your curiosity and sense of wonder?
My granddaughter and daughter inspired my answer for today.
These may be questions you ask every day. From my experience, though, these are questions that are rarely if ever inspired by mainstream media. Instead, mainstream media focus on events that promote fear and anger. We are programmed to live in fear of a virus, economic insecurity, and each other. We’re constantly reminded of the egregious harm and suffering of our ancestors and encouraged to blame the descendants of peoples who are no longer living, perpetuating violent divisiveness.
Another question follows.
What if we focused on what is really important for our collective well-being and survival?
I remember the work of Louie Schwartzberg, “Nature’s Beauty Inspires Gratitude” (TEDxSMU, December 18, 2012).
A passage from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s (2013) book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants, surfaces as I watch Schwartzberg’s film.
“Science can be a language of distance which reduces a being to its working parts; it is a language of objects. The language scientists speak, however precise, is based on a profound error in grammar, an omission, a grave loss in translation from the native languages of these shores.
“My first taste of the missing language was the word Puhpowee on my tongue. I stumbled upon it in a book by Anishinaabe ethnobiologist Keewaydinoquay, in a treatise on the traditional use of fungi by our people. Puhpowee, she explained, translates as ‘the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight.’ As a biologist, I was stunned that such a word existed…
“In the three syllables of this new word I could see an entire process of close observation in the damp morning woods, the formulation of a theory for which English has no equivalent. The makers of this word understood a world of being, full of unseen energies that animate everything.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 49)
Schwartzberg’s work clearly shows the magic of those unseen energies at play.
I sincerely hope you have a chance to notice something today that inspires gratitude and a sense of wonder.
Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teaching of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.
It has been impossible for me to keep up with blogging this month.
I have missed reading your posts and have been so belated with responses to comments. Occasionally I write, but I hesitate to post because I am so behind reciprocating visits and thanking people for sharing their thoughtful, lovely work and comments.
I began the spring with an ambitious plan to improve the quality of the soil and ordered a LARGE truckload of compost from a cattle farmer who raises his herd humanely without antibiotics, growth hormones, or chemical feed. Ten yards of compost, though, is a lot to move, shovel by shovel, wagonload by wagonload, from my backyard driveway down the winding, sloping path to the front yard.
But it’s good, honest work that helps me find moments of peace in these unsettling times. Gardening gives me a chance to reflect about life, traveling though time. Often, it helps me create something that I hope will lift others’ spirits, too.
June 3, 2020
ah, these trying times forcing me to go ever deeper to discover yet more unresolved woundedness
violence, cruelty, duplicity triggering old memories of my socially awkward years as a child, teen, college student
always curious about nature and others from different cultures preferring reading, discovery and solving complex puzzles
and always uncomfortable with superficial people who competed, bullied, and seemed so easily bored when alone
I honestly preferred being alone it’s confusing for someone who reads or feels others’ emotions never knowing which are actually mine
we see the world through lenses programmed by our past experiences expectations and assumptions influencing what we think we see our behavior, expressions, posture affecting how others respond filtered through their unique lenses we’re like marionettes pulled by invisible strings in a reciprocal dance based on assumptions unable to determine what is really “real”
June 15, 2020
Mid-June Reflections 2020
August dry has come early The earth baked and cracked Close-mown lawns brown and brittle Day after day dawns cold and windy Trees and gardens struggling, aching for life-giving rain
It seems a metaphor for the world these days of virus fears and in-your-face denial of state-sanctioned violence revealing cultures that clearly value property and profit more than people and the global ecosphere
So many are struggling to find reasons and ways for simply staying alive during this drought of compassion and intelligence
June 23, 2020
June Reflections – 2020 Visions?
The wisdom of elders seated on downtown benches watching the traffic pass by some measuring the souls of preoccupied walkers too busy to smile or say hello or stop and listen to what they’ve learned from years of living life invisible on the margins
My walks with my dog, Pinto, are often through unexplored territory. No two days are the same as he picks our path through the neighborhood for reasons I cannot discern. This morning, he took us deep into the business district of this part of town, making sure to sniff almost every lamp post and lift his leg to memorialize his passing.
As we neared the light at an intersection, I noticed the elder sitting on a bench smoking his cigarette. His presence brought insights and memories. These days I try to remember to be present and kind. It’s what I can do to counterbalance the alienating fear of others during the era of pandemic social distancing.
I reflect on the term “social distancing.” I remember reading a powerful insight shared by a dear blogging friend a while ago. She noted the difference between “physical distancing” required to slow the spread of COVID-19, and “social distancing.” Social distancing is a prominent characteristic I have often noticed in the U.S. Think about people’s behavior in elevators or on crowded city thoroughfares. People typically don’t make eye-contact or exchange greetings with strangers.
Yet it’s been my experience that elders on downtown benches often do notice others.
“Nice dog,” the elder we encountered said.
“Thank you,” I replied.
Does he bite?,” he asked.
Yes, he may bite,” I replied. “I adopted him seven years ago as a special-needs dog that was abused. He had to learn to defend himself. I used to have to handle him with leather gloves when I first got him. Now, he’s usually gentle with me or people he’s learned to trust.”
“I will never understand how people can abuse dogs.” The elder said. “People can be so cruel.”
“I agree. They can be,” I said. “It’s very sad and troubling.”
“It was good to speak with you. I hope you have a good day,” I said as Pinto and I continued on our way.
June 30, 2020
Gardening is one thing I can do during these crazy, isolating times. Neighbors and strangers stop by to visit when I’m working in the yard. They tell me the gardens make a difference to them and others they know. But it’s a lot of work!
Many trees, bushes, and gardens needed to be saved, repaired, or replaced because of damage from heavy winter snow, hungry rabbits, and the passage of time. Keeping plants alive has also been an increasing challenge during our two-month drought during May and June. Fortunately, we finally got rain for the last two evenings (0.19 of an inch of precipitation which brings our total for June to 0.66 of an inch, and 1.60 inches for May and June*).
The good news is that half of the compost pile has been carefully placed. The bad news? It’s much warmer now. Shoveling and hauling compost is even more work than it was in May and early June.
Gardens may not touch others’ hearts, but they do help me remember what’s most important in my life. I’m deeply grateful to be blessed with a little piece of land and the ability to kneel and touch the earth – to plant food and flowers that will perhaps feed me, my family, and some of my neighbors in the long winter to come. Of course, birds and squirrels demand their share even though fences make it more difficult for rabbits to claim what remains.
The greatest gift of this time, though, has been the opportunity to think deeply, to see more clearly without the distraction of having to relate to others. I’ve had a chance to explore the powerful outrage I feel that has deepened and intensified over the years about the wetiko spirit of this country, the mindless need for ever more power and stuff that has continued to destroy lives and the earth across centuries.
Reflection has led me to the equally deep certainty that this world does not need more anger if we are ever to heal the hubris and ignorance that keeps us from living in peace with each other and in harmony with the earth. All I can do is work on my own thoughts, words, and actions to transmute the power of those raging emotions into compassion, patience, and integrity no matter what others do, moment to moment. To look deeply enough to find the strength to hold center.
Kneeling on the earth with my hands caressing the soil has helped me find and hold center during these trying times. Yes, it’s hard work. It’s a job that carries no guarantees of success or permanence. So many forces are outside of my control. But shovel by shovel, seed by seed, I am grateful for the chance to do something that helps create a healthier world in my little space. It’s the legacy I can leave for the generations to follow, and the gift I can offer to virtual friends I may never meet face-to-face.
In the poem above, apostrophes ‘mark conversation.’ “Quotation marks” acknowledge words from a song that played through my thoughts as I began typing this story. The song is from Woodstock by Joni Mitchell.
Life is so challenging these days. As I greeted the early morning with the sweet scent of lilac and bleeding heart blossoms in the air, a thought flowed through my mind. “I have been to the mountain top.”
A memory long buried surfaced. I doubt that the mountain top I was on was the same one that inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famous speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top.” Instead, it was a high hill in Gill, Massachusetts, near the Olde Stone Lodge where I was living at the time. A member of a struggling commune.
Breathing in the stillness, I was transported to another time and place, to a different mountain retreat. I was surrounded by wise, loving beings who showed me the power of the communion of spirits. “Times ahead will be challenging,” the wise beings said, “but you can come here whenever you choose.”
I haven’t been able to go back there, though, for a very long time. The reasons are too many to recount. This morning, I remembered the visit, though, before Pinto and I left for our walk. Like the song, Woodstock, decades ago I set off as a young mother to “try and get my soul free.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I set off with my young daughter to live on a commune. It was the beginning of a long journey trying to find or create a loving community that finally led me to a simple life closer to my daughter and grandchildren.
This morning, I remembered the message, echoed in Mitchell’s song.
We are stardust. We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.