Saturday, December 20, 2014

Grandpa's Silent Night

The fireplace was beautiful. A large ten foot wooden plank topped a wall of rounded field stones. My Grandpa built that fireplace. Twinkling lights, statues, bowling trophies, and angels decorated the mantel. The wood crackled and snapped as the Fire roared, the sweet smell of smoke lightly scenting the room. The fireplace was part of our family, always lit when we gathered together at my Grandparent's home in the woods.

The room was full of family...cousins and second cousins, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. Our voices united as we sang Christmas carols along with Grandma's old player piano, a ritual that has lasted for years. "Get your guitar out Barbie!" someone says. So I pull out my guitar and let the piano take a rest. A rousing version of Jingle Bells ensues.

My Grandpa Barton was a mechanical engineer and college professor who swore he couldn't carry a tune. That fact was confirmed by many members of the family.

But I found out it was a lie.

At the last Christmas celebration of his life, the family was once again together, singing songs of the holiday. I was seated right next to the fire and Grandpa was on the foot stool directly in front of me.

"What do you want to sing next?' I asked.

Grandpa said, "Silent Night."

And so we began.

I had to lean forward a bit and tilt my head to hear, but Grandpa was singing. Softly, tenderly. It was the voice of an angel. The most beautiful version of Silent Night I have ever heard. His pale blue eyes framed by raised eyebrows gave a look of extreme sincerity, as though he were singing to baby Jesus himself. Tears welled up in my eyes.

My Grandpa passed away in the fall of that year, but he left me with a memory I will never forget. When I sing Silent Night, I see and hear him sweetly singing right along with me.

Merry Christmas Grandpa.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Goodbye Dear Friend

Back in 2009, my trusty purple Jeep Cherokee started breaking down. I couldn't afford to keep getting it fixed, so I traded it in for a newer Jeep Liberty. The minute I pulled out of the dealership, my heart sank. I felt like I was abandoning an old friend, a part of me. I looked in the rear view mirror and I swear I saw tear raining down on the windshield of the little purple dot shrinking on the horizon. I grieved for months.

Unfortunately, I had to drive by the dealer on a regular basis, and there in the lot was my Jeep. Rejected. Orphaned. Abandoned. More tears.

It took awhile, but I fell in love with the Liberty. True I now had to stand on my tippy toes to get a canoe on top of her, she made up for being tall with her cool steering wheel and awesome look. We went to the UP countless times, hauling canoes and push poles on our way to go ricing.

This summer, the nickel and dime repairs started. The last big one, over $1000, was in mid-summer I think. I looked at some newer models, but out of the corner of my eye, my silver Liberty sat there like an abandoned puppy. I opened her door and drove away.

Today, I got some bad news. Another potential repair that was going to cost me $1200. I just don't have it. Tears welled up in my eyes. I knew I was going to have to put her down.

I have driven Jeeps for 20 years or more. Every new model makes me cringe, they just keep getting farther and farther away from the utilitarian vehicle I once loved. Hell, those things that are supposed to be roof racks wouldn't even hold up my coat collection. Even the Wrangler, now the trendy ride for those who can't afford a Hummer, can cost over $40,000. I use my Jeeps for what they were intended once upon a time. In the field. In the woods. In the mountains. Carrying kayaks and canoes.

So I test drove some Patriots and found one that worked for me, ignoring the fact the name of this vehicle always reminds me G.W. Bush. It is shorter than my Liberty so no more tippy toes when I load a boat.

I tried not to look out of the window from my seat at the dealer's during the grueling five hour process of paperwork and signatures. I did not want to look at my Liberty. I tried not to remember our good times. I only ruminated on the cost of the repairs, trying to ease my guilt. But when I unloaded my stuff from her nooks and crannies, I couldn't block the sadness. I love my Liberty. I hate that I can't afford to repair her. I kissed her goodbye and made the salesperson promise to put her somewhere on the lot that I wouldn't see her when I drove by.

Its funny what you think of as you sit and wait and wait and wait to buy a car. I had a profound realization involving old age and trail ratings.

I have owned several Cherokees, a Wrangler, and the Liberty. All of them were trail rated.

The Patriot is not. I got heated seats and a sun roof. And Sirius radio. The salesperson said, "well it is all-terrain, you could look at it that way".

Then it hit me.

I am no longer trail rated either.

Monday, November 3, 2014


The hardest thing about being alone
is not the silence at the end of a day
or the stillness of the morning
It is the absence of touch.

It must be hard to imagine for you
with lovers
husbands and wives
girlfriends and boyfriends
babies and kids.

Pretend you have a highly infectious disease
fatal to all who touch you
and wait.
And wait.
And wait.

You will become hungry.
Your body will start to react
in ways we have no language for.
You will cheat when no one is looking
and buy massages from strangers.

Just to feel alive.

Without touch, we shrivel and die.
It somehow connects us with something unseen.
I don't know what that is.
But it makes me feel good.

To touch or be touched.
That is the question.
To touch is an act of giving.
To be touched is an act of receiving.
It is the latter that is endangered
when one is single and alone.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Moon of the First Spray, or, The Beagle and the Skunk

Little Skunk was stealthy. It knew the Human comes out every morning, shining a candy apple red Mag light into the darkness blanketing the backyard. Most times the light would land on Little Skunk, who was intently digging little holes in the grass, looking for her morning breakfast. So intent was she that not once did she look up. Or at least that’s what she wanted the Human to think. The big two-legged did not notice little black eyes were staring at her all the while.

One morning, Little Skunk decided it was time to make her move. It was the Moon of the First Spray. All the Skunks in her family had given a great feast in her honor the night before. And here it was. The morning of all mornings when she would make her mark and enter adulthood. Her heart fluttered. She had been practicing her shot on an old tree stump all week. She knew she was ready. 10 out of 10.

And so early that morning, Little Skunk went through the opening in the old gate and positioned herself directly behind the old apple tree, well hidden from the beam of light that swept across the yard. She waited.

“Ok little buddy, coast is clear!” said the Human. The back door opened and out came Tiny Beagle.

He caught Little Skunks scent immediately. Tiny Beagle dropped his nose to the backsteps and found the trail. Little whimpers escaped his throat as they always do when he is on scent.

“Perfect,” thought Little Skunk. “He will come right to me.”

And to Little Skunk he went. The second Tiny Beagle looked up and noticed the black and white furry thing in HIS yard, Little Skunk took aim and fired. It was a direct hit, right between the eyes.

Tiny Beagle began shaking his head, squeezing his beautiful brown eyes tightly. No matter how much he shaked that nasty smelling stuff wouldn’t fly off! Tiny Beagle blindly made his way to the back door to be rescued by the Human with the flashlight. “Tiny NO!!!!!!!!!” could be heard down the block, as the little dog began to rub his face on every cloth covered object in the house.

Little Skunk stood there in disbelief. She did it! On her first try, she shot the dog right between the eyes! Cheers erupted in the dark morning forest, Skunks from all around celebrated and danced under the moonlight, their white stripes flashing brightly through the trees. A tiny acorn medal was pinned on Little Skunk by the Elder of her Tribe, and she was escorted to another feast of beetles and grubs. It was delicious. Afterwards, Little Skunk crawled into her burrow for a nice long nap. And dreamed of another morning, another Dog…

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Jumping Out of the Race

It is interesting, this getting older thing. Views shift. Weight shifts. Priorities shift.

When I was a teenager, I remember hearing about how hard it was for our oldest citizens. They were born in a time of horses and buggies and in just the short span of their lifetime, we had gone to the moon. The industrial revolution changed everything, accelerated technology to the speed of light. Today, instead of life being like a slow growing oak, it whizzes by as fast as high speed internet. Which, by the way, will some day seem slower than molasses. Remember molasses?

I have never met an Elder who didn't long for the good old days. And the older I get, the more I do, too.

I imagine us as a huge herd of animals, stampeding across the prairie. We are running as fast as our legs can carry us. Dust is billowing in large clouds, choking us. We aren't running with any intention, but with the fervor of an addict desperately looking for the next fix. We trample our children, we stomp on our Elders and those who are weak as we race to nowhere. Our feet crush the plants that sustain us, we destroy the habitat of the animals that give us food. Our dust pollutes the waters on which all life depends on.

I think we are brain dead.

I am a highly educated woman. I have a Bachelor's degree, a Master's degree, and one year of a PhD under my belt, all in Science. I have spent my 30 year professional life studying and researching, learning and teaching about our natural world. Before that, I immersed myself in nature, surrounded by all that is Sacred to me. I want to learn things for the wow factor. Not to manipulate, unless it is the plumbing under my sink, but to say "that is the coolest thing I have ever seen".

Science has given us many things, good things. But how I see things now is different. We practice science in order to understand something so that we can then control it, manipulate it, manage it, mold it, destroy it, uncreate it, recreate it. There is a question of ethics here that we don't ever seem to address. We play God.

We take other beings, our Relations here on this planet we ALL call home, and alter their DNA for our benefit. We don't ask permission, we don't even think to ask, we don't feel we need to ask. Herein lies the problem.

I attended a conference this week, one of scientists and researchers who manage wetlands. I went to a presentation on phragmites control (a highly invasive species in wetlands). The presenter was talking about "silencing the gene expression" of the plants so that they can't reproduce. Sounds like Monsanto doesn't it? This is in addition to aerial assaults from helicopters spraying herbicides all over the stands of this tall plant, killing it and every other plant that the herbicide hits. Then they set it on fire. Now they are also talking about using the micorrhizal community in the soil (fungus) to attack it as well.

What if we thought of these plants as our Relation? Could we do this?

We are being overrun by invasive plants, insects, diseases. Our native world is seriously threatened, look at the ash trees, nearly totally destroyed wherever the emerald ash borer beetle is found. So we declare war and get out all the tools science can provide, chemicals, fire, chainsaws, whatever it takes to kill the enemy.

This all coming from the most invasive species to ever come from across the big pond. Us. Us as in the invaders who came to North America, decimated the Native People, forests, waters, soils, prairies, get the point. We wiped out over 95% of the indigenous people who lived here, using biological warfare (intentional gifting of small pox infested blankets), mass slaughter of people and their main food sources, burning, and so much more.

I watch the powerpoint presentation and imagine the presenter is Sitting Bull or the late Wilma Mankiller, former Chief of the Cherokee Nation. I visually take out the word "phragmites" and replace it with "Europeans" and listen to the management plan now developed to remove the Europeans from the landscape. Wonderful. Someone sneezes and I am back to reality.

I am no longer a scientist. I am a Spiritual person who loves the Earth and all Creation. I do not think that humans are God. We are part of Creation, an equal part. I believe all things are God, Goddess, Creator, whatever you want to call the Spirit that Lives in All Things. I respect all life. I am no longer interested in researching anything to know how to manipulate and control it, manage it and use it for my own purposes. We have screwed up our world. We simply can't change some things. Why? Because we have created it and continue to create it. We run through the prairie trying to simultaneously put out the fires of past mistakes while we make the same mistakes as those of our ancestors. We don't care what the consequences of our actions are, we want what we want when we want it.

Mother Earth is smart. She knows how to do it all. We don't. It is that simple. But we can't help ourselves. Our mainstream culture lives to manage. Manage the lawn, manage a budget, manage your time. We see something and we have to change it to what we see as best. Mother Earth knows what is best. She is balance and harmony. Why do we not try to return things to that state of being? Note to reader, I am not speaking to my Native sisters and brothers. They get it. I am speaking to the rest of us that don't.

Climate change is real, our Earth is warming, our landscape will be changing drastically in the next 40 years. I read an article from someone who said, what if these "invasive" species will only survive the global warming by being here? What if they all die off in their native homelands or waters? Could we be contributing to their global extinction by wiping them out here?  And consider this. What if they are here to serve a purpose for this coming era? Phragmites is a mighty plant, a shoreline protector unrivaled. What if this plant is here to protect our shorelines from erosion during the severe storms that are the result of climate change?

I mean really, what do we really know about any of this?

So, I have jumped out of the race. I can no longer call myself a scientist. I am simply a female human animal, a sister to all my Relations, a creature of this beautiful blue planet trying to live in balance with it all, in honor and respect. Will you join me?

Sunday, July 6, 2014


When I was quite young, my favorite place in the world was in Grandma Barton's bath tub. The soft colors and carpet were soothing and quiet. In the corner of the tub was a plastic turtle soap dish, and I loved to put the turtle in the water and make it swim, much like a rubber ducky. Except the turtle could dive, unlike those fat yellow ducks.

In that turtle soap dish was a bar of Safeguard. And in that bathtub I felt safer than anywhere else in the world.

When we are young, our worlds are no larger than the dappled sunlight on the sidewalk, the crickets in our backyards, the little red berries on the bushes around the house (don't eat them or you'll die!). We did not know of rape and murder, suicide and war, brutality and abuse. At least most of us didn't. Our eyes were wide open with wonder at all the magic of this big new world we had burst into.

In Grandma's tub, I was at peace. I was covered in suds and splashing and laughing and slippery as heck. I didn't know it at the time, but in every second of my bliss the scent of Safeguard was entering my little nose, imprinting on my brain.

As the years traveled by, sometimes Irish Spring took the place of Safeguard in Grandma's soap dish. It didn't have the same affect on me. All I could hear in my head was that darn commercial, "Irish Spring...manly yes, but I like it too!".

Luckily, Safeguard outlasted Irish Spring and right up until Grandma's last days on Earth, her bathroom was filled with that wonderful calming scent.

Some days life is hard. Real hard. I long for those simpler times, when all I cared about were frogs and dappled sunlight and fireflies. I don't want to know the things I know, or see the things I see, or hear the things I hear. I don't want to feel pain in my heart over things I can't control.

But Grandma gave me the cure. In my soap dish is a big fat bar of Safeguard. I peel off my clothes and hop into the shower. I lather up, close my eyes, and breathe deeply. I think about that little plastic turtle soap dish. And within seconds I am back in Grandma's tub, safe and sound. And I know everything is gonna be all right.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Emotional Fat

I used to backpack several times a year, carrying up to 50 pounds of gear in my JanSport pack. No matter how hard I prepared the trips were always a challenge. I mean really, how can anyone train for a backpacking trip where you carry 1/3 of your body weight for eight hours a day?

Well, you can actually do that. Just get fat. I weighed a nice 145 pounds back then. Today, well, let’s just say I have been carrying that back pack and more for years. Sure I have strong legs. But I also have bad knees, inflammation, and a hard time finding clothes that I feel good in. As I age, it becomes harder and harder to shed the pounds that have been with me for decades. And the longer I keep carrying them, the more damage they do.

It isn’t just extra fat that hurts us. We can also carry a backpack of past hurts, emotional fat so to speak. These grudges weigh more than a meteor and can harm us emotionally just as bad as fat can damage us physically.

How do you know if you are carrying a backpack full of old grudges?

Ask yourself, “How long ago did this egregious act happen to me?” If it was longer than a month then you are a grudge hoarder, someone who lives their life as a victim. If it is longer than 10 years you should consider the self-help section at your local bookstore. If it is when you were in high school 20 or 30 years ago, you need a therapist and your own reality show on A&E. Seriously, you will be weighed down by the emotional backpack you put on every morning and you will never be able to fly nor fully mature into the beautiful flower you were promised at birth. As I tell my Beagle when he has grabbed one of my Smartwool socks, “Let it go!”

This is not to say that people haven’t had bad things happen to them. We all experience such things. But why define ourselves by them? Why not instead define ourselves by our accomplishments and victories instead of our defeats and challenges? I bet those of us who have a laundry list a mile long of “who done me wrongs” probably have a list three miles long of impressive accomplishments and “who done me rights”. It is just figuring out which list you want to live your life by, which flag you want to run up the pole.

I think a great illustration of this can be found on the internet. Have you ever had a health issue and searched for your symptoms? I have come across websites where people complain loudly and beneath their signature they proudly list out every diagnosis in their medical record as though they were college degrees.

“Jon S. Ick.  Type II Diabetes, Ulcerative coalitus, Crohn’s Disease, Hashimoto’s syndrome, osteoarthritis Type 3 class B, Lymes’ Disease, dry eyes, insomnia, restless leg syndrome.”

That is not how I would want to define myself. But hey, everyone is entitled to live in their misery.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Long Forgotten Trail

Maybe I’m old school. To me, a trail is a trail. It is dirt, has mud holes and roots and dappled sunlight, and has seen tiger beetles and humans and deer and fox walking upon it. It has no mile marker signs or fluorescent orange spray paint marking trip hazards. A good trail has only a paper map with dotted lines and it sometimes seems to disappear, only to reveal itself again a hundred yards away. The unknown, the challenge, the excitement is all right there waiting to be experienced. I want the unexpected when I go into nature. I want to be surprised and challenged. I want to know how to read the land and navigate by the stars.

Parks I used to frequent no longer give me the  “escape into nature” experience. Every root is painted bright blue or orange so you don’t trip over them. The forests are now managed and burned, with signs telling me all about it. The evidence of human management is everywhere. The trails are becoming “multi-use” so I have to always be on the watch for mountain bikers tearing down the path, whether they are allowed to be there or not, instead of focusing on the beautiful trillium or Dutchman’s Britches or Mourning Cloak butterfly. “On your left!” shouts a runner as they whiz by. Bet they missed the Trillium.

This is all a result of overpopulation. We are taking over every spec of land. I just read that visitors now have to make reservations to view the fireflies at Elkmont in the Smoky Mountains. Reservations to view fireflies. I used to hike there. How fricking depressing.

I have been fortunate in my lifetime. I have backpacked the Rockies, Smokies, Porcupines, and Green Mountains. I have backpacked across the entire State on the Michigan Shore to Shore Riding and Hiking Trail (God forbid they ever try to pave that one) and South Manitou Island. I solo hiked Isle Royal and walked so many of Michigan’s trails I would have to look back into my journals to remember their names. I have lived a month in the wilderness of Alaska, kayaking 200 miles through Prince William Sound. I have canoed the Okefenokee Swamp in the deep South and the Bog River in the Adirondacks Mountains of New York. I have searched for endangered species in caves and talus slopes, bogs and fens, swamps and barrens, fields and forests. All of these adventures were done without carrying a cell phone or a prescription drug. I didn’t die. I didn’t have separation anxiety. I was in heaven. So you can see where I am coming from.

I like wild and natural.

Sadly, I now live in the city. So I try to find places to go where I can at least feel some connection to nature without the presence of human hand. It used to be easy. Many parks in this area afforded the experience and I could wander off trail (violating park rules) and find a secluded place to sit and watch the wonders of nature. I could paddle down rivers without coming across flotillas of drunken partiers in their canoes and inner tubes. 

Things have changed. We are urbanizing nature.

I often wonder when the city folks decide to pave trails that travel from city to city if they ever ask the locals, the country folk and their kids. Really, it is like opening up a new road into their quiet country life. A new access point for the folks from one city or town to travel through the country to the next, a way to go from point A to point B. Gone is the adventure, the discovery, navigating your way down an unknown trail. You can download the app with a map to your smartphone, hop on your $1500 mountain bike wearing your brightly colored high tech biking gear (we used to wear tshirts, blue jean cutoffs, and sneakers which seemed to work just fine) and swiftly ride from one town to the next. Or you can walk it, your Nikes slapping on hot asphalt to the beat of Pink jamming on your iPod.

Your feet never once touch Mother Earth or step in a mud puddle where you might discover some tadpoles or a sipping Swallowtail. You never notice the flowers or the snakes, or the Emerald Jewelwing perched on a leaf.  You are just a body in motion. You don’t hear the song of the wind in the trees, or hop over a brook. It is another step on our journey toward utter detachment from nature.

Some will argue that these “trails” bring people into nature. I would say perhaps some, but for the most part when I have seen folks using them, they are completely tuned out of what is going on around them. They are either speeding on their bikes or snowmobiles or ATVs, jogging, running or walking with headphones on, or talking feverishly with their comrades. 

But Nature does not tune out of our presence. She experiences the interruption, the small scale fragmentation of habitat, the introduction of more invasive species, the increase in litter and noise, the destruction of kids with sticks and feet who like to smash things. Every living thing knows we are there whether we see them or not.

But perhaps the purpose of the groomed trail is not to bring people closer to nature but to provide a route of transportation. So call it what it truly is - a road without cars. Perhaps there needs to be a new movement for the preservation of trails, as in "keep your hands off them" preservation of trails. No grooming, no gravel, no asphalt, no bridges, no trail heads. Just little dirt paths full of adventure.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What a World

I am relaxing after work, sipping a cup of coffee and watching a mindless TV show - Cops. Soon I hear a siren. "Wow, that sounds so real" I say to no one. It gets louder and I realize it is real. There is a cop car in front of my house just sitting there with his/her siren going. In fact there are cop cars at every intersection as far as I can see, and others racing up and down the roads. I think of Marshall Dillon and Festus on horseback, kicking up dust in Dodge looking for Johnny Ringo. I grab my iPhone, turn on my scanner app, and listen to the drama unfold. Of course I pause Cops.

Apparently some medium complexion dude in a red sweatshirt and red shorts is running through my neighborhood with a gun, likely he has just been involved in a shooting. The cops get a tip from someone and descend on a house exactly one block over. Got em!  Wait, I just saw this on Cops!

What is crazy about this whole scene isn't the gunman or the cops, it is the two little girls a few doors down, playing on the sidewalk. They don't even look up at the cops racing around the neighborhood, or pay any attention to the sirens. They just keep playing. Obviously the mother isn't paying any attention either. She lets them stay out on the sidewalk, totally exposed to whoever is running loose with a firearm.

The neighbors two doors past the children are out on the swing and in their lawn chairs, drinking coffee. An armed criminal is running around the neighborhood and no one seems to care. Now granted I have a scanner, I know what is happening. But still. Even if I didn't, common sense would tell me to get my children indoors, and my own ass, and lock the door. I am a country girl. I am not comfortable with any of this and I hope I never get comfortable with any of this.

I have been watching Cops lately to learn about some of my neighbors. I see these characters walking up and down my street every day. Every year is different here on Indiana Avenue. A few years ago it was gangs. They left the same year. Then it was pretty peaceful for the next several years. But this one, well, let's just say it is one for the record books. An ex con walks his baby up and down the middle of the street several times a day. He is nice but I have seen some of those tattoos on Lock Up Raw. Then there's the three guys that love to race up and down the street on minibikes, all day long on the weekends. I heard one crying last Saturday morning, he is pushing his battered bike up the sidewalk out of the park, right next to my house. Crashed. "Dog no!" he keeps moaning. Oh, and of course let's not forget my crazy, abusive neighbor. Who knows what he will do on any given day. Right now? Straw bales stacked 10 feet high so he can climb on his roof. Straw bales that are now decomposing.

Then there are the renters next to him, one guy named Matt staggers over with an almost empty wine bottle, plops down on one of my straw garden bales, and proceeds to talk non-stop about how he used to manage a substance abuse residential treatment center. Really. My friends Sylvia, Lyle (a minister), and I are peacefully trying to make maple sugar and enjoy the night.  But wait there's more! Before Matt comes over, a coworker and his son stop by to drop off some logs. I show him around my home, they want to shell some corn with my old 1800's corn grinder, so I let them. In the midst of their joy, bang bang bang someone starts shooting a gun in the park behind my house. I am embarrassed and feel trapped. I can't get out of the city.

Before long, Matt wanders over to me and says "I have a question for you. I have to relieve myself, your know, urine? I didn't just want to, you know, well I don't know all of you very well so I thought I'd ask...". Ask what? Can I piss in your yard? Right in front of you? I tell Matt to go home.

How did I ever end up here?

I have started buying one Powerball ticket every week, hoping I will win so I can buy 200 acres of beautiful land and put a little log cabin or an Airstream right smack in the middle of it. Personally, I am opposed to gambling. Look what I am becoming. But I can't help it. It seems like it is my only hope. Probably the same way some drug dealers think.

I don't belong here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Shoe on the Road

How does that happen? You are driving down the road and there it is. A shoe. Can someone please tell me how the heck shoes end up on the roads? Did someone’s sister or brother throw it out the window as the family station wagon cruised down the interstate? But these aren’t kid’s shoes, they are almost always full sizers.

A week ago I spotted a black high top shoe (a sneaker, a gym shoe, what are they calling them these days?). It was in the westbound lane of Grand River Ave, just before the railroad tracks. It looked like a nice shoe. The next day, Shoe was a few feet closer to the tracks. Fast forward to today, and Shoe has crossed the tracks and made it all the way to the stoplight nearly 500 feet away.

Shoe is heading west.

Perhaps Shoe got fed up with its partner. Perhaps it has dementia and is lost. What is really sad is that people keep running over it. No one stops to help Shoe, or ask if it needs a ride, or takes it to Goodwill. Nope, they just drive over it like they do the neighborhood squirrels, raccoons, and opossums. I bet they don’t even notice it.

But I do.

I have changed my route to work so that I can follow Shoe and see where it ends up. If it gets too close to the curb the street sweeper will suck it up. Perhaps it knows this fact and that is why Shoe stays in the middle of the road. I don’t know. But I look for it every morning.

Shoe must travel another 1500 feet or so to reach the Grand River. By my calculations, at the current rate of travel of 70 feet per day, factoring a delay of 48 hours getting bounced around at each of two very busy intersections, Shoe should arrive at the River in about three weeks, give or take. That would be around June 13th. Then, shoe will have to find a dog to grab it and toss it over the bridge so it can begin its big summer adventure down the Grand. Thrilling.

My only fear for Shoe is that it gets where it's going before it loses its...sole.

Sorry couldn't help myself.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Umbilical Chord is Never Cut

Today my Mother has gone home to live alone for the first time in her life. With the urn containing what is left of my Step-dad's physical self strapped firmly into the passenger seat next to her, Mom drove away from my little Sister's house where she has been staying since Jim passed away on May 1st.

I would say I can't imagine what was going through Mom's mind as she left the busy city and headed out into the countryside to face a new life without her husband by her side. But I can imagine. She is my Mother. The umbilicial chord is never cut.

Even though she is over a thousand miles away, my heart hurts today because I can feel her pain. I know, on a much smaller scale, what it feels like to lose the one you love. I know that utter sense of isolation and loneliness when you awaken at three o'clock in the morning without your beloved next to you. The whole world is asleep and you are the last living soul on the planet. It is just you and your thoughts and a deep, dark stillness.

Then morning comes and there is no escaping the fact that you are utterly and completely alone. No one there to say "Good Morning!". No one taking up the bathroom. No one to give you a kiss and a hug or pour you a cup of coffee. It is just utter emptiness. Your Soul feels like a bottomless well and your are falling falling falling. You will never hit bottom nor will you ever will return to life. It is the great void, the absence of all that is love.

There are no words of comfort that can take away the pain of a loss such as this. It is something we humans all must go through if we dare to love. The only medicine is time.

My heart is with her today, trying to send all the love I can muster through that everlasting chord that bonds Mother and Child. I will be sending her a big teddy bear so she has something to hold onto when she feels like she can't go on. It doesn't matter how old you are, nothing can comfort like a teddy bear. It breaks my heart I can't be with her, to hold her and hug her and wipe her tears, to fix her supper and tuck her in. My Mother is strong, but even strong people need tender loving care sometimes.

You know, it seems to me that even though we really need each other during the bad times, we need each other more in the "every day" times. If we nourish and strengthen each other with love and caring when we are not in crisis, we can more easily endure those times when we face life's greatest challenges. So go out and love someone well today, you will be helping them more than you know.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Mystery of Death

I had a dog named Idgie and one day a contractor left the door open to the house I was living in and Idgie bolted. For three days I searched for her, put up fliers, called all the local veterinarians, and reluctantly surveyed all the busy roads for her body. Time stopped. Everything was surreal. I tried to tune in to my psychic self, tried to connect to her via the heart connection we shared. I was bewildered. I just could not find my footing, I needed to know where she was. I was full of anguish and panic. Where was she? The not knowing tormented me.

I think there are three great mysteries in life. Birth, Love, and Death. With Birth, I ask "Where did you come from?"  With Death, I ask "Where did you go?"

With Birth, in one second no one is there, and in the next a Spirit has appeared in the form of a body. Just like that. But that does not put me in a state of bewilderment or anguish.

It is the time after a person's Spirit leaves their body that I panic. "Where are you?"

I can't find them. Just like my beloved dog Idgie. And for some reason that creates a deep tension in me.

I am a Spiritual person and I believe a recently departed Spirit is on their journey to the place of the Ancestors. But that doesn't help alleviate that sense of confusion I feel when they are gone. I remember when my Grandmother passed. As funny as it sounds, there was a part of me that was confused by the fact she left all her things behind. They only had life when they were connected to her life. In her absence, the were lost and lonely, and no longer had a purpose. They became stuff to get rid of.

Last Thursday at supper time, my step dad left this world after struggling with cancer and other health issues. He and my mother live in Texas. Well he used to. Or maybe he still does I don't know. I have lost him. I don't know where he is, I do know I can't call him to ask a question about house paint or wood or mushrooms. In fact, I can never call again. I have lost him and I don't know where to find him. I am bewildered.

Jim learned to carve wood in his later years and he made some beautiful creations. I can only imagine if he would have learned as a boy, he would have been a Master. He was an incredible organic garden since before organic was mainstream, and he loved morel mushrooms and fishing. Every spring I try to send he and my mother a mess of morels. I told him I would sent them again this year, and have my little sister cook them up and take them to the hospital so he could enjoy them. But neither spring nor Jim cooperated with my intentions. Spring came too slow and Jim left too soon.

After three days I finally received a call that someone had a little white dog curled up on their front porch, a very dirty white dog that was absolutely exhausted. I drove as fast as I could to that house and scooped her up in my arms. A sense of relief washed over me and I cried. I had found my friend.

I'll never find Jim on a front porch. But in time, the feeling of Jim being lost somewhere will pass, and I will know that he is right where he belongs. Until then, I will keep on putting posters up on telephone poles asking "Have you seen this man?"

May you rest in peace Pops.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Safety Patrol

When I was in early elementary school in the mid 1960's, I was selected to be on safety patrol. Now that was a huge honor. I got to have an official whistle and wear a blaze orange belt that had two parts, a strap over one shoulder that attached to a regular belt-like strap. The belts hung in the office on pegs, and before and after school, the safety patrol kids would race to grab their belts and whistles, sling them on, and calmly with authority walk into the hall to enforce civility among the masses.

Sometimes I was selected to be a cross walk guard and I got to take the long wooden pole with a safety flag on the end to the crosswalk and protect all my classmates from speeding Corvairs.  I would stand at attention at the edge of the road and hold the flag parallel to the ground, keeping the children behind it and safe from being squashed by a car. When traffic cleared, I walked out into the street, blocked traffic with my flag, and ushered the little kiddies to the other side of the road. I was in fourth or fifth grade at the time. Can you imagine that today? We were given so much more responsibility in those days...

One of the other major duties of safety patrol was to put up and take down the flag of the United States of America, which flew proudly from our flagpole in front of the school. And no, nobody got their tongue stuck to the pole in the winter.

It so happened I had just taken down the flag and was trying to fold it without letting it touch the ground, an offense punishable by death in those days, when I saw a naughty boy running on the sidewalk, a clear violation of the school's safety rules. I blew my whistle loudly and shouted "Hey kid, stop! No running! Stop! I said stop!".  Of course he ignored me. But what could I do? I was holding the sacred flag of the U.S. trying to keep it from touching the ground when I wasn't much taller than it was wide. I could feel my blood pressure rise. How dare he ignore a direct command from a safety patrol officer!  I wadded the flag up and gave chase, but he had too much of a head start. Grumbling, I finished folding the flag and made my report to headquarters, the principal's office.

My safety patrol experience taught me many things about life.

One, if given responsibility, kids stand up to the task.

Two, parents in the 1960's must have been stoned to let their little children be crosswalk guards.

Three, kids don't listen to other kids in positions of authority.

Four, I love to be the boss.

Five, that rule about not letting the flag touch the ground? It is a hindrance to carrying out law and order in the schoolyard.

Thank the good lord they don't have safety patrol these days. I can imagine kids dressed in camo with tasers and 9 mm furnished by the NRA. The naughty little boy that did not head my whistle? Today he might have been toast.

Ah the good old days...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Self Definition

I don't know if it is the weather or what, but lately it seems like there are many people around me that have polished up their badges and have them hanging prominently on their chests. Now before I continue, I must tell you that I have a box of badges myself, stored in the attic. Every once in awhile I will pull one or two out for a pity party, but for the most part I try to keep them put away. My goal? To compost them all. It wasn't always that way, but I am learning.

Just what the heck are you talking about Barb?  Let me tell you.

Every communication we have with another person is an opportunity to share who we are. We exchange energy with this person as well. I went to a vocal workshop given by the amazing Rhiannon. What I learned in those few hours truly impacted me on a deep level. Rhiannon said that our voices have power, and when we sing the energy goes directly into the people who are listening. So we must be very responsible with our songs and our voices. Think about it. We touch another person's inner Soul simply from the power of our voice and song. Wow.

This extends beyond music. How do you feel when someone speaks kindly and softly to you? How do you feel around someone who is loud and obnoxious with their voice? How do you feel when you hear someone shouting or screaming?

Singing and music are not the only things that carry energy from one person to another. What we say also holds energetic power and it can actually define the path we walk in our lifetime.

I think about conversations I have with people. What did I talk about? Was it positive? Did I vent about something? Did I tell a story that I have told a hundred times before? Did I exude inner power, compassion, strength, humour? Or did I paint myself as a victim, telling tales of how this person or that person is taking advantage of me, or hurting me, or using me, or on and on...

If we think about how we project ourselves into the world, we will soon learn that this projection not only defines us to those around us but to ourselves as well. After all, you can't present yourself as a victim unless you think of yourself as a victim. Similarly, you can't reflect true inner power if it isn't really there.

We all have badges in our closets. Victim. Martyr. Judge. We also have some that reflect positive qualities, but few wear those it seems. Maybe they are out of style in these days of blame.

I once heard an Elder say that the greatest gift we have is our Power, the inner strength that keeps us centered in our Spiritual Core. It is that Power we draw from to meet the challenges of life, to help others, to be responsible to ourselves, our families, our communities, our Relations, our Earth home. When we give that Power away or deny it by not taking responsibility for our choices, our lives then become full of drama and stress, anxiety and depression, isolation and loneliness. Living under these conditions dramatically affects our health. Think about the illnesses you have. Are they a result of your life choices such as your diet, lack of exercise, drug/alcohol abuse, self abuse, bad relationships, or staying in situations that aren't good for you? Many of the diseases we see today are totally preventable if we made good choices about the food we eat and the life we live.

I am as guilty as the next here. I have made many choices in my life that resulted in some serious consequences for me, including my health. I take these experiences and learn from them and try to do better. My cholesterol is high, I am overweight, I have way to much stress and anxiety. What can I do about it? Everything. I have changed my diet. I have been going to the Y during my lunch hour every day including once on the weekend since mid-December. My lifelong battle with depression took me down a path of bad health choices that I am still paying for. But I have a choice. I can wear the badge of Victim or I can wear the badge of Healthy. That is the beauty of being human. We get to choose. And our bodies respond. I feel so great right now I could leap into the air! My depression is gone. Exercise took it way. My healthy diet feels good. I see my body and my emotions and my Spirit respond to these healthy choices and it is a positive feedback loop. I feel strong and empowered. How did this change happen? I had enough. I could not tolerate how I felt any longer. No more excuses. It was time to walk the walk. I have many many miles to go, but hey, I walked across the entire State of Michigan before. I can do it.

So the next time we tell a story, let's tell one of hopes and dreams, accomplishments and joys, and put away those old worn out tales of all the times we've been done wrong. If we keep doing things the same way, we will get the same results. Let's redefine ourselves and the way we share who we are with each other. Remember, that which we give energy to we give life to.