Saturday, August 25, 2012

I've Been Here Before

Now you may think I am crazy after you read this blog. So be it. I've been called worse. What I am about to write must be said, it must come out. I don't know why. It just does.

I've been here before. How do I know this? The constant state of disbelief. The absence of desensitization. The deep, intense grief that shadows my existence, coming from a place of knowing this land before it was violated. There can be no other explanation. I've been here before. So I will step aside, and let the old Spirit within me take the pen, and speak the words that must be said.

"My Soul weeps for Mother Earth and All My Relations. In my time, we honored all things. We spent our time finding food, making tools, having ceremonies. We shared what we had with each other so no one went without. We took care of each other. It was our duty. It was our way. Our children and elders were our first concern. They were the past and the future of our People.

Our waters were sweet, the blood of Mother Earth. The land was good to us and gave us many plants and medicines. The animals were our sisters and brothers. Yes, we killed them for food and made many things from their bodies, but we honored them for this gift. We took only what we needed. We saw the balance in nature and our place in it. We held much love and respect for the land and all creatures who dwell here.

I cannot bear the sorrow when I look at what has happened to this great land. You have poisoned your waters and your food, you kill animals and each other for no purpose. And you hold no sorrow in your hearts for these deeds. You no longer know the names of the trees and plants, the birds and the fishes. You cannot find food in the woods. Most do not know how to gather medicines or hunt.

Our homes returned to the earth when they no longer were of use. Your homes are full of toxic materials and are bulldozed or burned, and buried into Mother Earth. You have more than you need. And you are no longer concerned with your village or children or elders, only of yourselves and those things you can possess.

My heart cries for Mother Earth. And my heart cries for you."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Coming Home

I remember it was fall, October I believe, in 1998. I had been driving nine hours in a 14 foot Ryder truck which contained all of my belongings. My dog Idgie (part Spitz, part Cocker Spaniel, totally cute) and I had traveled across the Cumberland Mountains, the flat land of Ohio, and the northeastern corner of Indiana. I pulled into the familiar winding driveway that took me around to the back of my Grandma and Grandpa's house. I had come home.

Grandma and Dad were waiting for me. Grandma had her hair covered with a scarf and wore her mother's red plaid wool jacket. She had on her work "sneakers" and was ready to unload. We spent the next several hours emptying out the truck into her garage. I was exhausted. But I was home.

Grandpa had passed away in 1997 and Grandma was understandably still quite heartbroken. Life must have felt very empty in the absence of her other half, someone she was married to for nearly fifty years.

I had been in Pennsylvania since 1992 and most of those years were spent battling depression. By 1998 I was out of a job, broke, and heartbroken. I needed Grandma. She needed me. So I went home.

For the next two years Grandma nursed my wounded Soul back to health. I tackled her "honey do" lists, tried to get her to eat morels, and helped her learn the computer. We watched TV together, ate ice cream together, laughed together. Sometimes we cried together.

Grandpa's chair was no longer empty. I also took over some of Grandpa's jobs. Like cutting fresh pussy willows for Grandma in the spring. I decorated the Christmas tree. I mowed the lawn. I critiqued commercials with her. We had a good life.

I got better, and Grandma began to smile again. When it was time to move on with my life and return to Michigan, I promised Grandma I would always be there for her, like she had been for me. I hugged her long and hard, and smelled her soft gray hair. A part of me didn't want to go. I wanted to stay in Grandma's love forever.

Those two years were some of the most precious of my life. Grandma became my friend, my confidant. She learned my darkest secrets and my greatest triumphs. I learned the story of her life, her childhood, her tragedies, her fears. I saw a strength in her I never knew existed. I learned her greatest regret was not joining the Armed Services. She would have been good at that. I saw a woman with a heart so big it could have encompassed the Universe. But she wouldn't let that part of her show so much.

Grandma was a proud woman. She had a right to be.

She was my hero.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Sense of Place

What do you love about the place where you live? Is it the little hummingbird that comes to your feeder? Or that rose you planted ten years ago that still blooms each year?

Is it the sound of the spring peepers in the marsh across the street, singing you to sleep at winter's end? Or the thunder and rain that makes the air smell so sweet?

Is it the stray cat that steals a meal wherever she can? Or the old hound dog that has been your best friend for years?

Is it the morel mushrooms that surprise you as they pop up once in a blue moon? Or the spring beauties with their pink-striped white flowers, dotting the edge of your yard?

Is it the intoxicating scent of your lilac bush as it gently swirls in your bedroom window at night? Or that annoying robin that starts to sing hours before the sun appears each morning?

Is it the northern lights that danced in the sky back in 1990? Or the Big Dipper and Milky Way that enchant you at night?

Is it the lullaby of the crickets on a hot summer night? Or the yipping of coyotes in some distant field?

Is it the paper wasp nest hanging from that branch in the corner of your yard? Or the bee hive you carefully tend?

We protect that which we know and love. A sense of place grows strong conviction and the more we get to know that place we call home, the more we will protect it from harm. Maybe we are letting people hurt the Earth and the land we love because we don't get out so much anymore. We don't know the peeper or the paper wasp or the robins like we used to.

Do you love the sand dunes? Do you love the Great Lakes? Do you love the coastal shores? Do you love the great north woods that we call Michigan? Our wild lands, waters, lakes and rivers? Our bears and moose, elk and wolves? Our geese and cranes, deer and mushrooms? Our sunsets and sunrises, our clean fresh air?

We protect that which we know and love. Where is your love? Are you willing to protect these things?

The March of the Worms

Every time it rains, the sidewalk and plaza behind Michigan's Capitol are islands for the worms that live in the Capitol lawn. State workers and Legislators mindlessly walking to and fro between State buildings step on them. Nike-clad office workers with iPods which shut them off from the world squish them. Some poor worms drown. It is a slaughter.

Me? I stop and pick them up and toss them back into the grass. People stare and shake their heads. Some take a wide detour around me. "Eeewwww," one high healed woman whispers. The iPod zombies don't even notice.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Perfect Food

Grandma Barton used to eat a sundae for dinner most nights of the week. "I believe I'll have a dish of ice cream," she would say to me from the comfort of her sky blue Lazy Boy recliner. "I'll get it. Do you want nuts?" I would ask from Grandpa's sky blue Lazy Boy recliner.  "Oh yes," she would reply. "Bananas?". "Sounds good," she would say. Off I would go to the kitchen to pull out the pail of ice cream from the freezer. Vanilla with chocolate swirls. Grandma had a stack of ice cream pails in the cupboard. They were good for many things.

I would scoop out several round balls of this delicious treat and place them in our bowls. I would then add Hershey's chocolate syrup (or whatever was on sale at the time), slice up some Dole bananas, and sprinkle with dry roasted peanuts. Jab in the spoons and we were good to go.

Back at the Lazy Boy ranch, we would settle in to eat our sundaes and watch Jag or Xena.  "Grandma, you know you really should eat a healthier supper," I would lecture. "I am 85 years old. Hasn't hurt me yet," she said proudly. "I guess your right," I said, eating another bite dripping with chocolate syrup.

My Beloved and I have started a similar ritual. We both used to get those ice cream cones from the ice cream truck when we were kids, you know the ones. Ice cream in a waffle cone, with chocolate and peanuts on top, all wrapped in paper?  Our local grocery store carries them, so when we need a little dessert, we stop in for a mini sundae.

These cones are the perfect food. A little dairy (ice cream), some protein (nuts), carbs (waffle cone), and dessert (chocolate). The green? My dollar I give the cashier. Grandma was right. Sundaes are good for you and healthy, too.

Grandma is gone now, but every once in awhile I still fix myself a hot fudge sundae with Dole bananas and dry roasted peanuts, put on an old episode of Jag, and sit back in Grandma's old sky blue Lazy Boy. Just for old times sake of course.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Feet Still off the Ground

My feet are still not touching the ground. I try to speak what is in my heart, but there are no words. Only nameless emotions that fill my eyes with tears. I have been catapulted from the status of a long-term unemployed statistic to a state specialist in water quality. Three years of despair and anxiety slowly evaporating, those dark colors pushed aside by the serenity of pastels. I will get my first paycheck at the end of the month. I am still behind and it will take time, but I will catch up and then burst forward. I will have security. I will be able to sleep again.

Only one more unemployment check, then goodbye social safety net.

I still don't recognize myself when I get up and prepare for my day at the office. I am used to wearing my outdoor duds. I am comfortable going out into my beehives or searching the woods for bark to make my hickory bark syrup. Now, I awaken to an alarm clock, take a shower, put on nice clothes, grab my black leather computer bag and head off to the office, which is located directly behind Michigan's capital.

I pinch myself every morning.

I was welcomed back to the Department of Transportation with hugs and smiles. Folks I haven't seen for 20 years still remember me. Some I know their names, others I only remember their face or voice or the way they walk. We all have aged. I feel welcomed, wanted, loved. And yes, even adored by some. How wonderful after three years of rejection. It is surreal. It is unbelievable. Excuse me while I pinch myself again.

I didn't tell anyone, but I was ready to give up just prior to being offered this job. I felt abandoned by society, cast off like a well-worn shoe. I was quickly losing hope. I don't give up easily, but I can now share with you that I was close. I didn't know what else I could do to change my lot in life. Then a miracle happened. I found a job.

I say a miracle because I found out that I did not make the initial cut of applicants!  Civil Service apparently screened me out. So they had a round of interviews, and didn't find the right person. Resumes were collected from the applicant pool, folks here decided to do it the old fashioned way, they went through each one by hand and selected seven new candidates. I was one of those seven.

So you see, this is truly a miracle.

I asked the Creator to put me where I was needed most. And now I will be looking out for our waters, making sure they are protected from pollution and sedimentation. I am honored to have such an important job.

Every morning I give thanks, and every night before I go to sleep I again say thank you for this miracle. My life is changing in ways most of you will never know, thankfully.

My Beloved has helped make this new chapter more beautiful than it already is. She has made sure I have nice clothes that match (not my forte), new underwear that don't show lines through my new pants. She got me a haircut at a real salon, whatever makes a salon real. She made sure on day one I was dressed to impress...first impressions you know. I love her so much.

My first day ended with many phone calls and did it go? Tell me all about it!  I had so many people rooting for me.

I must end this as I am tearing up again and am at my new desk. My Beloved would scold me for crying at work. No one here knows of my struggles over the past three years and I doubt many if any would truly understand the hardships. Someday maybe I will share that, but for now I am Barbara J. Barton, Aquatic Resource Specialist, Michigan Department of Transportation. I like that much better.