Repairing the World


My parents are part of a group of people in their retirement community who are doing their part to save the monarch butterflies. A couple years ago, they asked us to bring them some milkweed pods from the farm, and they planted them in their garden. Now, two years later, their back patio is lined with a wall of milkweed plants as tall as I am, and the monarchs have thoroughly colonized it. They’ve begun bringing the caterpillars inside and raising them in mesh cages. “Cats” is the term some people on their email list use, as in “I don’t have enough cages to house both the big cats and the tiny 1/4″ cats. Could someone take my big cats off my hands?” I’ve started to think of them as the Monarch Posse.

Today while several of us were eating lunch at their house, we were twice interrupted by the miracle of a cat casting its skin and becoming a chrysalis (the plural is chrysalides, we discovered). Young cats go through five growth stages between egg and pupal phases, molting between each phase. When a 5th instar-phase cat is ready to pupate, it climbs onto a branch and hangs upside-down in the shape of a J. After a short while in this position, it begins to rhythmically pulsate–it looked to me like labor. The J lengthens out, and the skin at the back of the head cracks open, revealing the jade green casing of the chrysalis. If this is labor, the cat is giving birth to itself as it pushes itself out of itself, jigging and wriggling until the skin has shriveled up around its “ankle,” where it gives one last emphatic twist of its body and casts off the skin. Another fifteen minutes and the top of the chrysalis (what was once the back-end half of the cat) has shrunken into the cap-like top of the chrysalis. The notion seems utterly preposterous that in a few days’ time, a winged creature three times the size of that gold-flecked jade emerald will emerge from within the gem. Still, it’s only a little more preposterous than the miracle you’ve just watched, of this short, squat stone emerging from the long and agile body of the caterpillar.

The pupa stage of the monarch lasts 8-15 days, and as I was pondering these little upside-down folks hanging from their cage roofs today, I had a vision of the god Odin, who sought the secret of the runes in ancient days. He experienced a magical ordeal to receive the runes, which were destined to become a human alphabet, holding the meanings of our words and thoughts–he hung upside-down from the World Tree for nine windy days and nine windy nights, and on the final day, he looked below him, and there were the runes. He fell from the tree, gathered them up, and gained great wisdom.

Like Odin, the creature that is caterpillar/pupa/butterfly hangs between worlds, upside-down, for something like nine days, and in the process receives the transformational wisdom of the truth of itself.

Today while we were talking about what this group of thirty or more Protectors of the Monarchs is doing, my father mentioned an idea he’s learned from reading about Judaism: tikkun olam, repairing the world. They take their work very seriously, this small and tender act of raising tiny caterpillars safe from predators and accidents and then releasing them to the winds. They’re doing their part to repair the world, boosting the chances that their grandchildren will be able to show their own children the miracle of transformation.

Gratitude List:
1. The miracle of transformation. In monarchs. In children. In worlds.
2. People who show tenderness for all living things.
3. Re-programming. Ellis bought a CD set on Time Management at the Bookworm Frolic, and we started listening together. A lot of the testimonial stuff at the beginning seemed like bunkus and snake oil, but the basic principles are pretty standard: affirmations, visualization, behaving “as if,” modeling your behavior after someone who is successful in the area, and then processing how you would teach or pass it on. We’re going to be each other’s allies and begin to affirm to ourselves and each other that we use time wisely, and that we get our work done.
4. A couple good days of good exercise.
5. Words. Runes. Alphabets. Books.

May we walk in Beauty!

Advertisements

Notes from the Week’s Adventures

Notes on the Adventures of the Week:

My parents came on Tuesday morning when they heard that the tree crew was going to be able to come and take down the old poplar. They brought a friend from their garden: a monarch caterpillar. She wandered around and explored the milkweed all day, but did not eat.

   

   
They took the tree down in stages. By the end of the day Tuesday, a sweltering, humid rain swamp of a day, they had taken it down to the central trunk. The caterpillar had begun hanging from a leaf by her foot, and occasionally swaying or twitching as she began to get comfortable for her transformation.

   
By ten on Wednesday morning, the trunk was down, and the crew commenced to saw it into sections, carting away several dump truck loads. The lawn was completely torn up–they clearly tried very hard to be careful, but it was impossible on that wet ground not to make mud.

I came in the house at about 1 in the afternoon to find the caterpillar’s skin (that black thing on the leaf above the chrysalis–I put it there so I could have both in one picture) on the counter, and the emerald jewel of the chrysalis hanging there. How is that possible, that this oblong jewel was inside that caterpillar skin? And now for complete transformation: Her insides will dissolve into goo while her wings form and she takes her new shape.

 

This is the stump. I haven’t checked the measurement on its diameter, but you could put a little table and a chair up there. I posed the feather.

Notes from the tree guy:
1. He thinks it’s one of the tallest trees they’ve ever taken down.
2. It was still strong, but a couple more years and it would have been too much rot (see that big spot?) and would have been really dangerous in the taking down.
3. He thinks it was about 90 feet tall.

We counted the rings–it’s hard to be sure you’re getting them all–and got somewhere between 67 and 71 years. Some of the rings are really thin and some are really wide. This is the story the tree is telling.

The porch is now a sunny spot in the mornings.

I did not plan to reseed a yard this week, but that’s what I did today. Satisfying work, and it needed to be done before another big rain washes all the exposed topsoil away.

I’m going to miss the shade and the people who lived in the city of its branches, but seeing all that early rot in the middle of every large branch made me realize that it was a really good decision.


Gratitude List:
1. How the work gets done.
2. Painting. I have been loving my morning painting practice, and I am sad to see the time of relaxed morning painting coming soon to an end.
3. Clouds and blue sky.
4. Wind chimes. I bought myself a nice set of metal ones today to replace the clunky old bamboo ones.
5. Ferns and Morning Glories

May we walk in Beauty!

Stand a Moment

Gratitude List:
1. Sharing rainbows with strangers
2. Monarchs everywhere
3. The many years of shade the old Poplar has given this hollow
4. Good quick air-clearing rain
5. Tenderness and kindness are still to be found, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places

May we walk in Beauty!


Words for Tuesday When the Tree Comes Down:
“Drop your maps and listen to your lostness like a sacred calling into presence. Here, where the old ways are crumbling and you may be tempted to burn down your own house. Ask instead for an introduction to that which endures. This place without a foothold is the province of grace. It is the questing field, most responsive to magic and fluent in myth. Here, where there is nothing left to lose, sing out of necessity that your ragged heart be heard. Send out your holy signal and listen for the echo back.” ―Toko-pa Turner
***
“A child needs the same things a tree needs: Earth. Water. Sun. Air.” ―Unknown
***
“What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money.” ―Wendell Berry
***
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”
―Barry Lopez
***
“There’s a flame of magic inside every stone & every flower, every bird that sings & every frog that croaks. There’s magic in the trees & the hills & the river & the rocks, in the sea & the stars & the wind, a deep, wild magic that’s as old as the world itself. It’s in you too, my darling girl, and in me, and in every living creature, be it ever so small. Even the dirt I’m sweeping up now is stardust. In fact, all of us are made from the stuff of stars.” ―Kate Forsyth

Tree Beings


Recent bits and pieces. Lots of imaginings with Trees lately.

And here is a photo of shadows of branches on my wall. I have run it though a couple filters. Can you see the Tree Being gazing at you?

Gratitude List:
1. Young Adults. Those shiny folks who spoke in church this morning.
2. I’m not grateful that I got poison ivy, but I am grateful for its lessons. It reminds me of boundaries, and of the work it takes to re-establish a boundary that has been breached. It reminds me of the need to take care of myself, and gets me working with jewelweed, which is another good herbal ally to work with.
3. Summer suppers: tomatoes sandwiches with mayonnaise, corn on the cob, steamed green beans.
4. Rivers. The Susquehanna especially.
5. Weaving. Poems, stories, songs, words, people, ideas.

May we walk in Beauty!

Take Up Your Whole Space

Gratitude List:
1. Indigo buntings
2. There are twins in the holler! Fawns who’ve just been allowed to start exploring dancing through the neighbors’ yard, flicking into the woods. Curious. Sweet. Timid.
3. Vulture or eagle or hawk shadows that spill down the hill.
4. Last weekend’s Elements class. Such a marvelous group of thoughtful people.
5. Re-reading Hugh Lofting’s The Twilight of Magic with the boys. I discovered this book in my school library in fifth grade, and I read and reread and rereread it. MY first real introduction to the character of the wise woman who is accused of being a witch.

May we walk in Beauty!

Farewell, Old Friend

I have known this was coming, and still it seems sudden. We received the call today that the tree service is ready to come take down the Uncle Poplar who stands above us, cools us in the summer, draws my magnificent oriole friends to us in the spring, and holds part of the heart of our farm. He was here long before we came, watching the tender grandmother who lived here. He held the hammock where I lay in the days of grief recovering from my first miscarriage, and where I lay with new babies to nurse in cool spring breezes. He has watched over our children and the families of countless customers.

He has been a city, a veritable nation of birds and insects and bats and faerie folk. Friends have climbed into his branches. We’ve reached out and touched his hanging branches with our toes from the swings, and one tome he held one of our big bouncy balls for months before someone tossed another ball high enough to get him to relinquish his grasp. We’ve sneezed every spring in the drenching pollen from his glorious blossoms. Along with our Auntie Sycamore, he has been half of the gate that guards the entrance to our home.

His roots have been rising. Each year, the driveway is lifted a little further, cracking near the garage where his mighty roots are shifting upward. He endangers the foundations of the house he has protected. And he is tired. In every storm, he drops massive limbs, though none have damaged more than rain gutters on the house. But it’s time.

I sang him a song and burned some incense around his trunk this afternoon. Tomorrow will be a sad day, but it will be exciting as well. We have never seen a tree brought down. I will gather small branches for wands and runes. Perhaps we’ll carve some spoons and bowls. The tree folks will take away most of his wood.

Fly Well, Bright Ones!

       

    

Gratitude List:
1. Dragonflies
2. Imagination. How you can say, “Hey, look! That cloud looks like the Loch Ness Monster diving deep!” And someone from outside your own strange mind will say, “Wow! Yeah!” And totally get it. That’s kind of how poetry is, too, come to think of it.
3. Beans cooking on the stove
4. Revelatory dreams
5. The Music of Layne Redmond

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitude and a Rule for Parenting

Gratitude List:
1. Glorious Lady Magnolia tree on 462 across from the Red Rose. Oh goodness! Can a tree be traumatized from witnessing humans kill each other?
2. I changed the cutting head on the string trimmer all by myself. It took a lot of figuring to get the old one off, but I managed.
3. Open House at my school tonight. Nice to spend time with colleagues, and to get a chance to show off the school to prospective families. It was lovely to see a few students again, too.
4. Baked oatmeal for supper. Comfort food.
5. How doing art makes you see the world differently.

May we walk in Beauty!


A Rule for Parenting:
Never simply say, “Don’t lick your brother’s food.”
You have to also say,
“Don’t tell your brother you licked his food, even if you didn’t. Especially if you didn’t.”
“Don’t lick the packaging that your brother’s food is in.”
“Just don’t lick or talk about licking your brother’s food.”
I probably should have included more permutations, but I was getting just a little cranky (momspeak for VERY GROUCHY). This parenting gig can be hard.


Here’s a found poem. I put it together from strips of paper and glued it to yesterday’s painting. I was loving it, and so I put Mod Podge on it to seal it, but instead it stayed white and gloopy. It was a disaster. I pulled off the pieced and mostly salvaged the painting, but the poem strips were destroyed.

One morning before dawn
in the thick of that month,
the trees still heartrendingly asparkle,
the women’s laughter,
as dark as bitter chocolate,
lodged in the house of
beautiful magnificent wings.

They halted at the woods,

Passage through the wilderness
was not a simple matter
to escape a forest without shade,
We have to ascribe to femaleness
the audacious, the math, the order.

Below, the alligators
are sleeping in the grass
awaiting the rain.

When I look up, you look up,
and we know.

How the Beloved Enters

      

(I could have at least used the same fonts.)

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts for Tuesday:
“The great affair, the love affair with life,
is to live as variously as possible,
to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred,
climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day.
Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding,
and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours,
life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length.
It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery,
but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.” —Diane Ackerman
***
“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” ―Vincent Van Gogh
***
“Change is continuous on the seamless web,
Yet moments come like this one, when you feel
Upon your heart a signal to attend
The definite announcement of an end
Where one thing ceases and another starts;
When like the spider waiting on the web
You know the intricate dependencies
Spreading in secret through the fabric vast
Of heaven and earth, sending their messages
Ciphered in chemistry to all the kinds,
The whisper down the bloodstream: it is time.”
―Howard Nemerov
***
“One of the most exciting things for me about being in the freedom movement was discovering other people who were compelled by the Spirit at the heart of our organizing work, and who were also interested in the mysticism that can be nurtured in social justice activism. We experienced something extraordinary in the freedom movement, something that hinted at a tremendous potential for love and community and transformation that exists here in this scarred, spectacular country. For many of us, that “something” touched us in the deepest part of our selves and challenged us in ways both personal and political.” ―Rosemarie Freeney Harding, in “Remnants: A Memoir of Spirit, Activism and Mothering”
***
“I wish I could shut up, but I can’t, and I won’t.”
―Desmond Tutu
***
IT WORKS
“Would you come if someone called you
by the wrong name?
I wept, because for years He did not enter my arms:
then one night I was told a
secret:
Perhaps the name you call God is
not really His, maybe it
is just an
alias.
I thought about this, and came up with a pet name
for my Beloved I never mention
to others.
All I can say is―
it works.”
―Rabia of Batista
***
“The aim of education is to reveal an attainable image of self that is lovelier than that manifested in his or her present acts.” ―Nel Noddings

The Stories

Gratitude List:
1. Paint on canvas
2. The power of words
3. Where dreams take us
4. Rain
5. Summer schedules

May we walk in Beauty!


“You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.”
—Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
***
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson
***
“A poem is not a puzzle, even if it’s puzzling at first. Instead, it’s a highly selected parcel or capsule of language meant to burst into your psyche and change you in some way. Poetry is the life blood of our language, and it’s meant for everyone, not just academics or young people in school. Poetry is in a word: consciousness.” —Cathryn Hankla
***
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 10, 2016)
***
“Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.” —Leonard Cohen
***
“I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare.” —Jimmy Carter
***
Tom Joad, from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath:
I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…

As long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.


This is second-draft version of something I wrote at the Writers’ Retreat this past weekend:

It was dark, dark midnight, see. No moon, and clouds between us and the stars, and we’d given everything up for dead.

What else could we do? How could we not? With all that came before, and all we knew was certain to come after.

And the sky was just filled up with midnight, and our hearts were filled up with sky, because we could no longer bear to house that awful stench of despair within us.

And so we danced.

What else could we do? How could we not? Someone started humming there in the cold starless dark, not to fill up the space with sound, you see, because the space was filled, already filled with the indigo darkness of midnight, and with the sense of each other.

And so someone started humming, tunelessly almost, and someone else took it up, almost like a harmony. Another one began to tap a rhythm just like a baby’s heartbeat or the beating of a butterfly’s wings, and then, all around, there were rustling in the darkness, people swaying, shifting, standing up.

Feet took the rhythm, and hands and fingers clapped and snapped, and the humming broke into song. No one now can remember the words we sang, be we all knew they were a prayer. To the Great Mystery that surrounded us, or to some smaller goddess or god, or to the Truest, Best Thing within ourselves perhaps.  All One Thing, that, I suppose.

We felt each other in the the midnight as we sang, as we danced, and the feeling was like seeing, and the seeing was a dance itself. And we whirled on that lost and desolate plain in that place of utter midnight.

And when we had sung and danced and whirled and thundered there, we lay upon the ground, in jumbles and heaps, upon the green, green grass (we knew in our Seeing hearts that it was green) and we breathed the holy darkness around us. What else could we do? How could we not?

And we ourselves were the stars and the moon and the sun. And it was good.

And it was the end.
And it was the beginning.
Holyholyholyhallelujah.