Sunday, December 30, 2012

In Memory of Henri

She teaches art so when she named her kitten ‘Henri’, her students just assumed his name was spelled with an ‘i’ as in Henri Matisse, the French artist. 

 I never met Henri. He hid when I visited her place in Colorado Springs. I know he had a feline buddy, Lola, and a canine buddy, Cai, a Welsh Corgi. And Jenn, my friend, the one who fed him and cleaned his litter box. 

 Henri died the other day. 

 I cannot imagine losing one of my cats. 

They’re not dogs – creatures who come running and wagging when you enter your home. They might come. They might not. The occasional welcome is a grand occasion. 

They don’t do tricks. They will chase toys. Or not. Depending. When they do, it is enchanting. 

They make trouble. Occasionally knocking over a vase. Too often scratching upholstery. Stealing snacks from forbidden counters. 

And they are rude -- wandering, uninvited and without averting eyes, into the bathroom. 

Still. When the world overwhelms me and one of my cats climbs onto my lap (or shoulder) and I stroke his softness, feeling the responding purr, I am comforted, soothed. And when the other unexpectedly pounces out from behind a door, I laugh, delighted. 

To lose one such creature -- a being from an entirely separate species-- who places his whole being in your hands with absolute trust – is to lose a part of your heart. 

 So my friend mourns Henri. And I understand.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Memorial Christmas

My sister-in-law died October 17, 2011.

 Somehow, we managed Christmas. Christmas was hard for my brother – not just because of his immeasurable loss but also because Jayne had always done most of the Christmas stuff – buying the presents, wrapping, baking, decorating, addressing and mailing the cards (Bill put up the tree and created the cards). We all muddled through.

 I didn’t expect much this year. On Christmas morning we gathered in my nephew’s home to open presents. None of us thought Bill would give us anything extraordinary.

 We were wrong.

 Bill gave his younger son the beautiful porcelain cup and saucer that had Jayne had always kept on her dresser to hold her best necklace. Michael had long admired them and the story Jayne told to go with them. When my nephew opened the box, he knew immediately the significance. His thank-you was laced with tears.

 My two great nieces – Emily and Iris – each received one of Jayne’s necklaces – ones that they ‘visited’ every time they were in Bill and Jayne’s home. Now they both have a Jayne memory to cherish and wear. Emily, the oldest – the one who had more Jayne memories – burst into to tears when she saw her present and dissolved into a hug on my brother’s lap – the love and memory of the wonderful woman overflowing (and filling the living room).

 My older nephew’s wife opened a package with the pin Jayne always wore on her coat. Later, Bill told me the story of the pin. Lance (my older nephew) was premature, born when Bill was stationed in Germany. Too small to go home, Lance was on life support in a Munich hospital, 45 minutes from Bill and Jayne’s. Every day for six weeks, Bill and Jayne would drive the 45 minutes to visit their firstborn son, then, later, drive the sad 45 minutes back, with Jayne crying all the way. It was so incredibly hard for both parents, but especially for Jayne. Searching for something to cheer her up, Bill saw a pin with a star sapphire (Jayne’s favorite stone) in the PX at the base and bought it for her as a way to hold the promise that Lance would be okay and, soon, be out of the hospital and home where he could be held forever.

 Bill gave me a beautiful locket that I will cherish but I think the greatest gift of all was being in that living room when all those lustrous mementoes were given to the people who loved Jayne most.

It was a privilege and a memory I will treasure forever.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Feline Advent

Like most women, I find this time of year exhausting: decorating, shopping, wrapping, writing cards, mailing packages, and cooking comprise endless (but joyful) chores. Plus everyone feels obligated to stage some event that will fail utterly if you do not attend. 

 But I am surviving (so far) because of one of my cats, Guinness. At least once a day, I spend about five minutes with this feline meditation tool. 

 Sometimes the moments happen when I am at the dining room table (when he jumps up onto the morning paper) or when I am at the computer (when he walks in front of the screen) or when I am addressing Christmas cards (when he sits on the greetings). 

 First, he climbs onto my shoulder. He stays there, purring, for a while then maneuvers around so he is lying upside down in my arms like an infant. Purring. 

 His tail modestly covers his privates. His hind legs contract and extend in ways that only mammals with excessive joints can bend appendages. His front paws bend charmingly. His golden eyes look deep into mine. 

 So of course I pet him, stroking his tummy, under his chin, on top of his head, and behind his ears. 

 He closes his eyes and purrs. 

And I don’t do anything else because it is not possible to do anything else. And nothing could be better for either of us – a few moments to just be. Together. With at least one of us purring. 

And the stillness settles as a blessing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beauty and Truth

Wonder what those are?

They are Sandhill cranes
and these are snow geese
They winter together, peacefully, on (among other places) the 
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

the geraniums are dead

Today is a beautiful, warm, sunny day. 
But the geraniums are dead. 
Blue purple pansies still bloom 
But the geraniums are dead 
The last of the leaves piled under the hose and by the back door have been swept away. 
The geraniums are dead. 
I watered both trees. 
Thanking them for their beauty and summer shade. 
This is the in-between time -- 
The last days between Halloween and Thanksgiving. 
The lull before the holiday marathon. 
So, even as I toss the dead leaves and geraniums 
Into the yard waste container 
I savor the quiet -- 
The warmth -- 
The gentle breeze. 
I try to absorb the peace 
And slanting light, 
Storing it up. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

so much for arrogance

We are the most arrogant species – often behaving as if, even believing that, we are the whole point of creation. 

And yet.

 And yet when a beloved pet is ill – or worse, dies – we become acutely aware of our deep emotional attachment to at least one other specimen of one other species.

 Remington, my friend’s beloved dog died this week. Another friend’s dog, Cai, is in jeopardy. So one friend is bereft and the other scared. If you believe in that sort of thing, please send them both good energy/prayers.

My cats had their annual check-up/shots last week. Guinness passed but Herbie had to go back today for dental cleaning and a possible tooth extraction.

 When I brought him in, the receptionist gave me a form – authorizing treatment, anesthesia, blood work, and a dozen other things – and basically exonerating the veterinarian from legal liability.

 Not the kind of thing you want to sign for a being who has been with you for ten years.

 My instructions were to stop giving him food after 10 p.m. last night and to give him no breakfast this morning.

 I was to bring him in between 8:30 and 9 a.m. I didn’t have breakfast until 9:30. I couldn’t eat in front of him.

As a UU (Unitarian Universalist) I  believe in the interconnected web of all creation -- and today especially my deep interconnection with my cats.

[Herbie’s home now and fine, thank goodness.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


The cats are integral to my days and most of the components thereof.

Mornings of course. I have learned to awaken carefully lest I roll onto one of them. Herbie is usually near my head; Guinness, in the curve of my legs. But not always. Sometimes they are spooned – the dark gray tabby and cream almost-Siamese like a furry yin yang symbol.

 They have learned to wait for breakfast. Most days they stay on the bed while I shower and dress. When I’m ready to go downstairs, I announce, “breakfast time.” Guinness meows a response and jumps down, racing to the steps. Herbie often raises his head then resumes his slumber.

 There are breakfast routines and lunch expectations.

During the day, our activities are synchronized. If I work at my computer, the cats perch in the study. If I work in the yard, I am supervised from window ledges. If I go out, they are there to greet me when I return.

It is no longer possible to keep an accurate cat toy inventory. Some are upstairs, some downstairs. Some in appropriate receptacles. Others, under furniture or the washing machine. I do try to play with them each day. If not before, then at bedtime.

Each day one or both of them does something that makes me laugh.

When I am ill or sad or scared, they spend more time with me, cuddle more closely.

 We’ve been together ten years now. Our relationship seems to be working.

* * * *
 [Ironically, I filed for divorce just before my tenth wedding anniversary. That relationship didn't work.]

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Indian Summer

I love the illusion of warm days in late fall when sunshine is translated into innumerable shades of gold and amber and crimson. 

Ever so slowly the colors fade, even the green of suburban lawns. 

 Of course colors will remain but the residuals will become softer – gentle echoes of autumnal splendor, turning cooler, like the weather. 

Trees, unadorned will reveal their inherent traceries against beige blue skies. 

I know it is coming – the cold, slippery season. 

 It will have its own beauty, its own quality of the sacred. 

 But not yet. 

 Today I sit on my porch swing absorbing the waning warmth and colors, perfectly happy to pretend it will stay this way forever.

Monday, October 22, 2012

For want of a nail the shoe was lost; 
For want of a shoe the horse was lost; 
For want of a horse the battle was lost; 
For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost— 
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.

500 years after this proverb made the rounds of Western Europe, 
 a new version emerged in northern Colorado. 

I found one Brussels sprout in package of grapes.
What to do? Add it to my salad. 
Placed in a pot and set to boil, 
It was not done when I sat down to dinner. 
I sat and ate, forgetting the pot on the stove.

There was a pungent smell.  
Leaping up, I discovered a blackened pot 
And one severely singed Brussels sprout, 
Which I ate. 
It was later, while scouring the blackened pot 
That the fingernail was lost 
All because of a sprout

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kaleidoscope of Autumn

We always forget don’t we?
 Oh sure, we say Fall is our favorite time of year but still we forget. 

 We forget the cascades of color falling down the mountainsides.

We forget the rivers turning to gold and the kaleidoscope of autumn 

And underfoot 

Amazing and ephemeral 

And incomparable 


Friday, October 12, 2012


Unlike old dogs, old cats can learn new tricks.

Guinness is about 11 years old, the equivalent (according to the Internet) of 61 human years; Herbie is about 12, the equivalent of 65 human years.

They are almost as old as I am.

From the day I brought him home from our local Humane Society, Guinness has loved playing on my bed. At first, he attacked my toes. But claws are claws and I decided it would be safer if I substituted a cat toy. So he attacks the toy – scrunching down, attentive, then leaping on the plastic or feathered prey. Making the bed creates momentary mountains and valleys that add enticing mystery so that a successful pounce becomes more triumphant.  Making the bed under these circumstances can take twenty minutes, but who’s counting?

I brought Herbie home from the Humane Society a few days after Guinness. He had to undergo required surgery before being released. Because he’d picked up a slight infection, he had to be isolated for two days. At 4 p.m. on the third day, I opened the door to the bathroom in which he had been confined.

They met.

Eventually, they bonded.

It is hard to tell which is the alpha cat. Sometimes I think it is Herbie because he is older and more dignified. Sometimes I think it is Guinness because he tends to eat both his own and Herbie’s food. Each of them has been known to attack the other, lurking then jumping before they tussle.

But the bed games have always been Guinness’s territory. Often Herbie watched, standing out in the hall, sometimes half hidden around a corner. Occasionally, he would come closer, standing solemn at the bedroom door.

Once in a great while, he would venture onto the bed, bat the toy then leave.

Now, after ten years of cohabitation, the games have changed. Now they both help me make the bed – taking turns playing mighty hunter.

And Herbie, old cat, has equal time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Long Pause

After a trip into the American past (Feast of the Hunters Moon, Lafayette, IN)

and my own past (friends in Indiana and the Chicago area), a visit with my younger son, a ride on the Chicago river, and an interlude in a butterfly haven,

I came home to Loveland, Colorado in time to prepare for the inaugural readings and sales/signings for my first published book, Tree Lines, A Memoir.

I first realized that writing was what I wanted to do when I was about five or six years old (many, many, many decades ago).

Now I have a published book and, possibly, a future of more books and more readings and more sales/signings.

It's taking a bit of getting used to.

But it's awesome.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Whatever Happened to Richard?

Earlier this month there was small item in the Sunday edition of my local newspaper reporting that the remains of England’s King Richard III may lie beneath a parking lot in Leicester.

Richard was the one Shakespeare portrayed as a villainous hunchback who, in the midst of battle, cried, “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”

 He died in defeat Aug. 22, 1485, conquered by the forces of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) at the Battle of Bosworth Field about 15 miles away from the Leicester parking lot where archeologists are currently digging.

 Historical accounts report that Richard’s enemies stripped his corpse and paraded it in Leicester before allowing Franciscan brothers to bury it with no pomp or ceremony.

 The burial was probably near the altar in the Franciscan friary and there were plans to mark the spot with an alabaster monument but that project was abandoned when the next king, Henry VIII, shut down all of England’s monasteries.

 So much for glory and power – and the rewards of purported villainy. The former king of England may well lie, anonymous, somewhere underneath a 2002 gray-blue Jaguar.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Relentless Raspberries

I used to love raspberries.

 I probably would have paid more for my house had I known it had raspberry patch in the backyard.

 I didn’t really discover them until spring, about six months after I moved in. I was thrilled.

 And I continued to be thrilled each year when the first ripe berries appeared.

 This year, I thought, was no different.

 Early in the summer, a few small berries appeared – enough to garnish breakfast at least once a week. And I was thrilled.

 Later in the summer, larger berries appeared – enough to garnish breakfast several times a week. And I was thrilled and grateful.

 Now there’s a mix of large and small berries – every day. Relentlessly.

Enough to garnish every breakfast and an occasional dessert. And they don’t stop coming. And I am no longer thrilled.

 I am sure that if Aesop had created fables about fruits, he would have come to some profound conclusion about my relentless raspberries. But he didn’t. And I haven’t – although there may be some analogies to American’s standard of living – but I’m too tired (and too full of raspberries) to figure it out.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Peaches are amazing.

And delicious.

Before moving to Colorado, I assumed that all good peaches came from Georgia (or other warm, moist states). Not so. Native Americans had peach orchards in the very dry Canyon de Chelly (before Kit Carson and the Army devastated the Navajo farms in 1863). And even during our drought, Colorado has wonderful peaches. Actually, they apparently grow almost everywhere (thank goodness).

Like almost everything, it seems, they originally came from China. They first appeared there around 2000 BCE. Peaches migrated along trade routes into Turkey and Iran then, later, North Africa and Europe. They were introduced to America in the mid 1500s. French explorers established them along the Gulf coastal region near Mobile, Alabama, and the Spaniards planted them in Saint Augustine, Florida, and along the Atlantic seaboard. Then the Indians took over and they are all over our country.

Most Colorado peaches grow on our western slopes and are then trucked to farm stands and grocery stores all over the state.  We have easy access to the golden, fuzzy orbs. What a delight. They, like all things really, should be savored in season. Find them. Have the good sense to buy them. Wash them, peel them, slice them and enjoy.

 You may, if you wish, fuss with them, cook with them, even can them. But save one at least to just eat – standing at the sink or sitting on the porch.

Let the juices of summer slide into your being. And be glad.

Monday, September 10, 2012


TODAY my book -- published and printed was delivered! And, the following review by Pat Maslowski was printed in the publisher's newsletter.

Tree Lines, A Memoir --- There are few books that I will reread in my life, but Mim Neal’s Tree Lines is one I will keep on the shelf near my bed so I can reread those passages that are poetry, philosophy, wisdom and prayer.
     There’s a reason memoir is so popular. With every new generation, many lose their connection to family, place, ritual, folklore and wisdom. Who are we? How shall we be? What is my purpose? What is my life’s meaning? These questions pulse despite the blare, hurry, distraction and commercialism in which we are enveloped, and memoir offers some helpful attempts at answers.
     I’ve read that culture is the air we breathe, and I agree. To experience another culture is to learn to breathe in different air. Mim Neal is an extraordinary woman who does just that. From a traditional middle class, Protestant background, she marries, has two children and is a stay at home mother. In her thirties the culture shifts, the air changes, and the author realizes her marriage is destructive, her husband controlling and emotionally abusive.
    Her divorce is the exit from the oxygen-rich conformity prevalent in American culture in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and even 70s. Suddenly she’s at high altitude; the air is thin, and there’s no turning back. Her struggles to support her family alone, her sense of duty and obligation, her aspirations as a writer and her understanding of who she is as a spiritual being are all related so candidly and vividly I had a sense I knew her as well as I know myself. Her memoir brings the reader into the immediacy of her personal life as well as her work life, which as Director of Media for Rotary International includes trips to Brazil, Guatemala, Japan, South Korea, Africa and Switzerland.
   Fully present and engaged, Mim Neal shows us what she experiences and seeks. We become seekers with her. What is our place on this planet? What do our relationships with people, earth, plants, animals and ancient wisdom mean? She is not afraid to experience other cultures, other places, but she is also aware of her self-doubt, guilt and feelings of inadequacy. She discovers a spiritual path that joins traditions from Buddhism, to Islam, to Christianity, to Native American belief systems. She participates in vision quests. She promotes an event that includes Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. She visits ancient, sacred sites such as Hiroshima and Nara in Japan and Table Mountain in South Africa. The air becomes rich with diversity instead of conformity.
   Her memoir is not just the narrative of a woman’s life; it is also the narrative of a human quest to understand our place on the planet, to find holiness. She offers the reader an examined life, a hard-won wisdom we need now—a new way to breathe.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

This year I rediscovered gladiolas. I remembered them from childhood, saw them in grocery store buckets but, until this summer, had never planted them.

They're tall, not swoopy or graceful -- just spears of green poking into the heat.

Then they bloom. And the blossoms start at the bottom, opening in sequence. If you put them in a vase, they last. Just tear off the bottom blossoms when they wilt. The buds on top open.

And they are a wonder.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Bearing Gifts

When a Chicago friend learned that I was going to the 11th Gathering of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana, he asked if I would present some honor bundles to the grandmothers.

I emailed the organizers and when they gave permission, relayed the okay to my friend. Four days before I left, the package arrived: 13 bundles in white envelopes tied with red ribbon and leaves.

When I registered the afternoon before the gathering was to open, the staff knew of my mission. I was interviewed and advised to be prepared to present the bundles at one of the meal breaks during the program.

On opening day, the grandmothers entered the arena. Their spiritual energy was seismic, reverberating throughout my being. There were prayers and testimony to the grandmothers’ shared mission of peace. The pattern of the gathering was that each grandmother would speak and pray after ceremonies then (often) bless the approximately 600 attending. It was all marvelous but there was no opportunity to present the bundles – not a lunch, not at dinner.

 On the second day, the staff directed me to sit closer to the grandmothers. Again, the day was filled with song and dance and prayer. But again, there was no opportunity to present the bundles – not a lunch, not at dinner.

 The third day was hot – three digit temperatures. Our host grandmother, Margaret Behan, had arranged for riders to reenact the Cheyenne’s Long Ride from the Oklahoma reservations to their Montana home. The riders arrived this morning, accompanied by wolves (on leashes, brought to the reservation for ceremony). The stories about their sojourn, the healing prayers at places like Sand Creek, were intensely moving. That night, the Cheyenne prepared a feast for everyone attending. Once again, the day passed with was no opportunity to present the bundles.

 I was beginning to be annoyed at having been given the bundles, at having to carry them around, at perpetually waiting to present them.

 The last day of the gathering was filled, as the others had been, with wonderful messages and prayers and songs. I was assured that I could present the bundles after lunch. I was seated right next to the grandmothers. There were many presentations. I had about given up when they asked “Mim from Colorado” to come forward. I don’t know exactly what I said. I know it was something about having been asked by a wonderful and powerfully gentle man to present bundles containing the coals from a sacred fire intended to spread the message of peace around the world. I said there were papers in the bundles that could explain more.

 I thought it was over. But it was not. I was invited to present the bundles individually! I held the bundles with two hands, bowing a little as I handed it to the grandmothers. I looked deeply into their eyes. They looked deeply into mine. All of them smiled. Many of them kissed me. It was incredible. There were other presentations after mine and more prayers, then honor songs and dancing. The sacred fire, which had been burning before and throughout the gathering, was allowed to go out. And I had the indelible experience of personal contact with some of the most powerfully spiritual women on earth.

 Bearing gifts, I was blessed.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Schindler's List Redux

My decision to go to the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalist Congregations wasn’t a well-considered, rational choice. It was pure impulse, prompted I think by a vague sense that immigration issues (which I didn’t really understand) were issues that I could no longer ignore.

 There was no way to ignore them in Phoenix. The General Assembly was replete with information about immigration issues. I began to understand that these issues were people – people afraid to go to work lest they be arrested, thrown into a private prison, permanently separated from their husbands and children, with no legal rights, no legal recourse. No hope.

One afternoon, I left the convention center to see a documentary called “The Minister’s War,” the story of a Unitarian minister, Waitstill Sharp, and his wife Martha. In 1939, their Wellesley, Massachusetts home was filled with news of the war engulfing Europe. One Sunday, Rev. Sharp stood at his pulpit and declared war on Nazi Germany.

Martha Sharp remembered, “We realized that we were living at the front lines against Nazism. We had never felt such an urge to act before it was too late – to save these brave people, to help them save their world and our own.”

 So they acted. They left their young children with friends and flew to Europe. In Nazi-occupied Prague and Paris, in the detention camps of Vichy France and on hidden trails through the Pyrenees, they risked their lives to rescue thousands of refugees, including anti-Nazi dissidents and Jews. It was a powerful and important film – that turned out to be a theme for my experience of GA.
I stayed in the hotel closest to the Convention Center. One afternoon, I took the escalator from the first to the second floor. Looking down, I could not help but notice the manufacturer’s name: Schindler.
 On June 23, before participating in the Candlelight Vigil at Tent City Jail, I heard Maria Hinojosa, anchor and managing editor of NPR’s Latino USA. She said Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Weisel had advised her to question using the term “illegal immigrant.” He said there is no such thing as an illegal human being. He said that term was dangerous -- that the Nazis declared the Jews to be an illegal people and that was the beginning of the Holocaust.

 Maria told about conditions she had witnessed in immigration detention camps where people were not just fed bad food, they were hungry. People who were not criminals were being held by our government in windowless rooms with no drinking water.

 She talked about a conversation with a young, humble woman who told of her experience in a detention center. She said that when their guards would find a bed bug or lice, they would line up all of the women detainees, disrobe them and take out all of the bedding. Then the guards would make the women stand in line, naked, for the open showers. The woman told her: “There was a movie I watched as a kid and I felt like I was in it at that moment...did you ever see that movie? It's called “Schindler's List.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In Praise of Granola Bars

After my recent camping experience during which they often comprised breakfast and/or lunch, I resolved to never again consume granola bars.

 Still, looking at the flight schedule for yet another trip – noting that no meals would be provided – I tucked several of them into my carry-on.

 Good thing. On the way to my destination, my first flight was delayed so long that getting to my second flight required sprinting (something at which I am not particularly adept). There was no time to buy anything resembling food. Fortunately, I had something resembling food in my carry-on. So I ate it.

 Then on my way home -- my 5:30 p.m. flight was canceled and the airline took about three hours to figure out what to do with their stranded passengers. Fortunately, I had purchased a ‘wrap,'half of which I consumed while arrangements were being made. They eventually decided to bus the lot of us to another airport – three hours away. I got on the bus at 9 p.m. and on the bus consumed the other half of the wrap. We got to our hotel around midnight. After about three hours sleep, I awoke in time to shower and catch the shuttle to the airport monorail. My 6:54 a.m. plane took off at 7:15 a.m. And I ate another granola bar.

 This morning, I discovered that, although I had gone to the grocery store, I had failed to get granola to sprinkle on my yogurt and berries. Then I saw it: the last granola bar. Crumpled, it was a delicious topping.

 My advice: keep granola bars on hand, and on planes, whenever you travel. You just never know.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Honoring Grandmothers

At  the 11th Gathering of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, women erected tee pees for each of the magnificent teachers. Horses and riders re-enacting the Cheyennes' Long Ride from Oklahoma reservations to their Montana home became part of the ceremonies, along with wolves, on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Blank Looks

They want to know what you’re talking about. They think they sort of know. You tell them you are going to the 11th Council Gathering of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers.

 “Are you indigenous?” 


 It will be held on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.

 “Do you have Native blood?”


 Their faces become, if possible, even more blank.

 I can imagine their unspoken question: “Why would an old white woman go to an Indian reservation where she will have to camp to listen to a lot of old Indian women?” 

 First, not all indigenous people are Native American. The grandmothers come from Brazil, Central America, Gabon, Nepal, Tibet and New Zealand as well as from the Americas.

 Second, I went to learn, to join in their prayers and blessings and to be part of their efforts to heal the earth – not just from environmental degradation but also from the myriad atrocities that have covered the planet with blood.

 “Okay.” My listener is doubtful. "How can someone learn from aborigines? They are invisible. They have no culture. They are primitive and conquered peoples."  

The 13 indigenous grandmothers represent cultures that go back thousands of years – before there were governments – to the time when people and animals and plants and places could communicate – learn from one another. If the earth is to be healed, if our species is to be healed, these are the women who can help us accomplish this.

 Born and raised in the ultimate consumer culture, I need their perspectives.

 Born into a patriarchal, misogynist culture, I need their energies to empower balance and harmony between the sexes.

All of us have genetic memory of prayer circles and sacred fires. Remembering our original ways of being is a process. This process is facilitated by those with an umbilical cord connection with the earth.

 That’s why I went to the 11th Council Gathering of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Big Story at Little Bighorn

Never underestimate the power of a good storyteller. En route to a gathering on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, I stopped at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. I’d been there before but it was a good chance to stretch my legs. And, as it turned out, my mind.

 It’s not a happy place -- a national cemetery, monuments to fallen natives and soldiers. Even more than a century after the fact, the ground still reverberates with battle. You can sense the blood in the soil. I wandered the grounds then went into the visitors’ center where I watched a good DVD about the battle – the last native triumph.

 Someone said something about a ranger’s talk outside the center. I wandered out and found a seat, not sure why I needed to hear a talk when I’d just seen the DVD. The ranger was Steve Adelson, who introduced himself as a former history teacher.

 He warmed the crowd with references to home states and other trivia. Then he started the story, conjuring the general state of this country on the eve of its centennial – bank failures, land hunger, buffalo slaughter, and unrelenting efforts to confine all natives to reservations. He described the Indian encampment along the Little Big Horn River, which we could see from our chairs as a dark green ribbon about a mile away. Then the ranger turned thespian, acting out the Indian’s responses to an initial attack. With movements and gestures and voice, he painted the battles that followed.

 And then the silence.

 But he wasn’t through. To people on the east coast, news of the battle was equivalent to 9/11. It was that horrifying, that unbelievable.

 But of course that wasn’t the end of the story. The battle only strengthened our government’s resolve to confine all natives to reservations. The policy was reservation or extermination. And, eventually, it was largely achieved.

 But that isn’t the end of the story either. After getting the ranger’s autograph and email, I proceeded east on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation where for four days I absorbed incredible wisdom from indigenous women elders/grandmothers. They are still here. But more on that later. For now, this is my thanks to Ranger Interpreter Steve Adelson.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Medicine Wheel Prayers

Wyoming Highway 14A curving west and up from Burgess Junction, Wyoming, is breathtaking in its perpendicular-ness and attendant scenery. Gold and purple wildflowers, stunning vistas, and amazing cliffs suffuse you in awe – appropriate preparation for the Medicine Wheel.

 Driving up a gravel road above the tree line, you approach the entrance. From a certain point, you are asked (if able) to walk the one and a half miles further up to the site of wheel.

 When you get there, a path leads left around a pattern of gathered stones surrounded by posts and wire. The wheel is 80 feet in diameter. In its center is a doughnut-shaped pile of stones, a 12-foot cairn, from which 28 lines of stone extend to the rim. Six more stone cairns are placed in the circle, like camp chairs.

The 28 lines or spokes of the wheel probably correspond to the days of the lunar month. Everything about the wheel is astronomically aligned. Four of the smaller cairns line up with the rising and setting sun of the summer solstice and the others with the three bright stars that fade as the summer sun rises.

 This is a place of prayer. It has been for at least 800 years – probably more. It is still used for ceremony and vision quests. Prayer ties and other offerings are tied to the posts and wire and some can be seen inside. I shared a ride to the site with two couples who knew nothing of Native American traditions. Their reaction: “This is a very prayer-full place.” Well said.

 Photographing the offerings, I was attracted to an abalone shell in the wheel’s interior. Only after getting home did I discover that it sat beside a model of a white buffalo – a prayer, within a prayer.

May the power of tens of thousands of prayers permeate our world, healing us all.

Aho, Amen and Blessed Be

Friday, July 27, 2012

Closing Lakes

A lot of what Colorado calls lakes are really reservoirs – storing water for when it is needed.

What Loveland, Colorado calls Lake Loveland is really just a lovely, wet holding pond for the water that Greeley farmers can use when it’s urgently needed.

 It’s urgently needed now. It has been hot and dry for two long months. The whole world seems dehydrated. Each day the shore gets bigger and the lake gets smaller. Monday may have been the last day local kids and grownups could splash in the coolness and play in the sand.

The lake will close.

 That’s sad but we need the things that Greeley farmers grow and they won’t grow without our water.

 I used to live in Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan. It never closed (although sometimes it washed up things like dead fish that made it less appealing).

 Water dictates our lives. Not just for splashing. For growing and fishing and drinking.

 Sometimes, in Chicago’s summer sauna, I used to wish for dry. Now I have dry. And I also have a deeper appreciation of water magic.

 Eating dinner outside tonight, my friends and I reveled in the lovely cool drops that fell from the reluctant sky. We celebrated the brief rain, the brief respite from the heat, and the refreshing swoosh of wind.

 The lake will close but we will carry on.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Precarious Lives

I just walked through an exhibit at the Loveland Museum/Gallery. Actually, two exhibits very much related to each other: “Hobos to Street People” and “Dorothea Lange – Precarious Lives”. Both deal with homelessness and poverty and desperation. 

 These are human conditions – like the lives of immigrants – that I have long been able to ignore -- to remain only vaguely aware of people struggling on the periphery of my middle class comfort. 

 But once you are aware – once you see what has heretofore been invisible – you really cannot just go on your merry way. 

 Obliviousness is not allowed. 

 There is, I believe, a minimal portion of human dignity that all people should enjoy. 

 All people. 

 I’m not at all sure what I am going to do about what I saw (and now can see). 

 More than one blog. 

 More than one act of compassion. 

 More than one personal encounter. 

 At minimum. 

 I have no idea why I have escaped the plight that so many suffer. But all of these people – the homeless, the immigrants, the unemployed – are part of the same fabric of life in which I have my being. 

 We are, in fact, part of one another. 

 Whatever we can do, we must.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Looking for TREE LINES

I called my memoir Tree Lines for lots of reasons. Number one, trees have marked important points of my life, from childhood to now. And tree branch and tree ring and tree root patterns echo the larger patterns of the rest of the world. And the tree line – the altitude above which trees cannot grow – symbolizes elevation, a rising above the norm (which I sometimes do). And in my travels, the trees that the local populace considers to be the oldest are inevitably in a place they consider sacred.

 So when one day someone in the benevolent universe decided to publish my memoir, I envisioned a cover showing a literal tree line. But covers are the publisher’s choice and that’s not what my publisher has chosen.

 Nonetheless, just this past weekend, two friends took me up into Rocky Mountain National Park where Old Fall River Road climbs, almost perpendicular, to the top of Trail Ridge Road. I had been there before. I knew that that challenging, unpaved, steeply ascending road offers the most spectacular views of tree lines and glacial indentations.

 We set out toward the mountains ---

 Stopping occasionally to admire wildflowers and other wonders.

 And tree lines.

 Shazaam. And HALLELUJAH.

Monday, July 9, 2012


[Looking for another document, I found this -- written six years ago, still true.]

On the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) there is a 5,000-year-old ceremonial tomb. I have walked through its low, narrow entrance tunnel on two occasions. Both times stunned. The engineering is amazing: a huge domed ceiling, three precisely carved side passages and the tunnel designed so that on only one day a year, the winter solstice, the setting sun shines through and lights up the whole chamber.

 Nearby is Scara Brae, a Neolithic village occupied from 2,500 – 2,000 B.C. by a community of between 75 and 100 people, who lived in peace and prospered in co-joined dwellings complete with indoor plumbing. Five hundred years – 4,000 years ago.

We as a species have a certain arrogance, perhaps hubris, about our high-tech civilization, which we think began, at the earliest, a few hundred years ago. We have a tendency to see our distant ancestors as primitive, brutish, and devoid of culture. We are not looking deeply. In the grand scheme of things, in the entire chronology of the universe and our planet [roughly 4.5 billion years] humans, as we think of humans, have been around less than 100,000 years, the tiniest fraction of all time.

For at least 50,000 of those years – in most ancient cultures – women were honored. Our ancestors’ ancestors believed the fundamental cosmic force was feminine. Many worshipped a female deity. In their communities— hunter/gatherers perched on the edges of savannahs, or early farmers in small hamlets or villages -- they shared ceremonies, dances and stories that reflected gratitude toward the whole living world and their participation with other species in the round of life.

These attitudes (the inherent worth of all individuals, and the interconnected web of life of which we are a part) today struggle for general acceptance. Some of us despair, thinking that these attitudes are reflected only as the names of certain mountains or stars or as oblique, so-called pagan symbols tucked into the cathedrals of the more hierarchical, anthropocentric and patriarchal cultures that followed. But the round of life is intrinsically, a circle. Season follows season. And, if we look deeply, we can still learn from those who lived in the springtime of our species. We don’t have to give up air conditioning or computers . . . we need only abandon the fantasy that we are above the past and separate from the rest of life on earth.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Saturday Night in Phoenix

At about 8 p.m., Saturday, June 23, I boarded a yellow school bus, one of hundreds driving from the Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center to Tent City Jail on the city’s outskirts. There was a pumpkin yellow river of buses flowing through the heat in the fading light. I think every passenger, and every driver, was a little nervous.

The annual gathering of representatives of North American Unitarian Universalist congregations had been billed as a Justice General Assembly. In worship services, plenary sessions, lectures, and workshops – even at the bookstore –participants heard story after story of how our local, state, and national governments treat undocumented immigrants. We had been appalled. Now we were going to hold a vigil outside a notorious detention center. More than 2,000 prisoners were housed in tents, almost unprotected from Phoenix’s extreme temperatures. 

I didn’t know if I could do it: stand for hours on concrete in 100-degree heat, in the midst of a crowd. We just kept coming – busload after busload—shuffling further into the alley outside the curving barbed wire fence, easing our way around the stage being assembled on a flatbed truck. The area was rimmed with police in dark blue uniforms – they were our guardians. Others on the fringes snarled epithets, which we mostly ignored. Some of us were handed flashlight candles. I got a laminated yellow sign proclaiming “Standing on the side of LOVE.” 

 Somehow, I wound up right in front of the stage. Even as microphones were secured and our crowd accumulated, we were urged to sing – to sing loud enough for the inmates to hear. I tried. And the crowd kept coming, busload after busload, until there had to be 2,000 of us – as many outside as inside. The stage evolved. More performers and speakers arrived. Our songs and slogans got louder. There was no way to know how much time had passed. Evidently an official delegation had toured the prison. I could see their faces as they climbed into the spotlights. They were ashen. Each man and woman had been visibly shaken. “I cannot believe people are treated like this in my country.” 

 Television crews started showing up. Every time I saw a camera, I held up my yellow sign. And kept singing and shouting slogans. And drinking water. I had brought a thermos, soon empty. Extra water bottles were passed. There always seemed to be enough. I don’t believe I ever sweated more profusely. 

Eventually, almost mysteriously, we got the signal. Those of us in the front began walking back toward the buses. Those in back moved close to the stage. Everything was slow, deliberate. 

We were told that our vigil got a lot of media attention. I hope so. I hope what we did, did some good. I hope someday we as a nation treat all people, and families, with dignity and respect, whether they have documents or not. 

And I hope the inmates heard our songs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hooray for Gray!

When I first moved to Colorado, I was amazed and delighted by the preponderance of sunny days. 

 Recently, not so much. 

 For weeks now, we’ve had temperatures in the three digits (or too darned close to three digits) exacerbated by huge fires which, while never endangering my home and cats, have filled the air with particulate matter and/or smoke. 

 There was an old song about this, something like, “Too Damned Hot!” 

 [For all the hundreds of people who lost their homes, for all the trees burned, for all the animals threatened, I acknowledge that my discomfort is a minimal concern. I extend my sincere sympathy and note that I, like everyone else in this state, have been doing all that I can think of to induce the rain we all so desperately need. I even got my car washed.]

 Ah, but yesterday. Yesterday we had cloud cover and even a little rain. It was marvelous. Civilized. Almost comfortable. 

 It is still hot, but reasonably hot. Right now, it’s clouding over again. There is hope – at least I have hope – of rain. 

 Having spent many of my younger years in places where gray skies were the norm, I never, ever thought I would celebrate clouds. But I do. 

 Hooray for the gray!

Friday, June 22, 2012

postscript to excerpt -- War

I know my last post was too long. 

So is the war in Afghanistan. So was the war in Iraq. And so on.

Recently, newspapers have published statistics revealing that veterans from these wars are committing suicide at the rate of one a day.

How abysmal. 

The wars are devastating soldiers in the field and at home -- and our economy.

When will we ever learn?

The last (too long) post chronicled the wars in my life -- that began when I was an infant and persist -- so many decades later-- only changing their locations and the numbers of deaths.

Always too many. 

I think this post is too short but this is all I want to say.

Monday, June 18, 2012

excerpts from deletions: War

Most of my memoir, Tree Lines, is going to be published. This is an excerpt from a deleted chapter called "War Diaries."
     On the first day of 1944, my Great Aunt Zoe, who would be 62 that November, started a five-year diary. The United States had been an official participant in World War II for nearly 25 months. I was 28 months old. My brother Bill, 8 months.
    I was 62 when I found the diary as I was unpacking boxes after moving to Loveland, Colorado. I read it at meals before my newspaper subscriptions started. In 1944, the world was at war. Two of her nephews were in the armed services. Everything was rationed. She went to the Newsreel Theater and bought bonds.
    The diary had room for only a few lines each day. Mostly it is just a record but sometimes, quite powerful. In March her father died: “Paul and I went to the hospital about 10:30 a.m. Paul went home at 1:30. Father was delirious and could not talk. Seemed to know I was there. He died easily at 10:30 p.m. I drove home alone about 11 p.m.” 
    On Memorial Day: “Radios off air from 7:30 to 7:45 p.m. Unidentified aircraft coming in from the Pacific. Later found friendly.” In June, the invasion of Europe and bombing in Japan. A Los Angeles Times correspondent was killed in France. On Sunday, September 17: “Blackout lifted in England. June Duncan Haint’s mother died. Funeral will be Tuesday.” 
    It was fascinating to see how the war drifted in and out of the diary. One day, the headlines; another, only personal news. Many days both.
    In 1945 Roosevelt died, the United Nations was formed, Germany surrendered, and I had my tonsils out. That was the year she sold the Los Angeles house and moved to Laguna. Japan surrendered in August. Gasoline rationing ended. On November 20: “Washed & ironed. German war criminals go on trial Nuremberg, Germany.”
   The diary went on after the war and so did I, growing up in, and eventually out of, a suburban stereotype. But always, it seemed, haunted by war and violence. The Korean War lasted from 1950-1953, while I aged from nine to twelve. I remember watching the McCarthy hearings on Aunt Zoe’s television and being vaguely aware of “Heartbreak Ridge” and the Rosenbergs’ trial.
   But my own world was in turmoil. Grandfather Paul died. Our family moved to eastern Ohio, away from the web of extended family that had supported us. Then, in 1953, Grandmother Edna died. That was the year my father decided it was okay for us to get a television. I remember bomb shelters, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and being an outsider at school. Between the wars directly involving the United States, violence swirled within our borders during the long civil rights struggle, and in Eastern Europe where the “iron curtain” had descended, and in Cuba, and a hundred other places. And I, like all pubescent idealists, felt surrounded by evil. I determined to become a journalist and, by sheer eloquence, save the world.
     The United States officially entered the Vietnam War the year my first child was born and we did not withdraw until he was eight and my second son was in kindergarten. It was a time of assassinations and massacres and scandal. A time when it was easy to believe that there was no hope at all for the human race. Reluctantly, I abandoned long-held beliefs in my country’s infallibility. I found ways (however suburban) to protest the war and foster peace work.
    The odds seemed (as I think they always seem) overwhelming. But we were strengthened (as I think we always are) by the daily miracles of life. The wonder of children. The laughter of friends. The beauty of sunsets that, however cliché, are never the same.
   Now, thirty years later, war was again part of my life. Even as I settled into my new home, the United States began talking of preemptive wars. By March 2003, I had found a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Loveland. During one Sunday’s “joys and concerns,” a young woman said she was terrified because her four-year-old son was terrified that he would have to fight other four-year-olds if there was a war. And there was a war. And the little boy, I am sure, has been as wounded by it as the rest of us. Even though most of us went on about our business as if people were not being exploded, we all bear the scars. Yet even amid the gore and debris and degradation of Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, Guantanamo Bay, and the Patriot Act, there were glimpses of a greater vision.
     That spring, as the United States wielded its power without benefit of international consensus, I went to Boulder for a day in the presence of Thich Nhat Hanh, the exiled Vietnamese priest and poet and great promoter of compassionate listening. His message was the same, just as powerful, perhaps more lustrous with time. And, in light of seemingly unending violence, a little more urgent.
     Toward the end of the day, he invited questions and someone asked what I wanted to know: "My personal world is fine but I despair over the U.S. government decisions and actions and feel helpless to change them. What can I do?" Thich Nhat Hanh replied: "It is possible to do many things. You have a good base for action. You can facilitate awakening. You can initiate peace education. Advocate art and music that reflects peace. Refuse to consume violence (on television, etc.). Avoid unmindful consumption. You can help shift the cultural foundation. You can help create awakening and an awakened community. "Every day we do things, we are things, that have to do with peace. If we are aware of our life... our way of looking at things, we will know how to make peace every moment we are alive."
    Why does this teacher – and so many others—seek American audiences? What draws them to this land of consumption and decadence and violence? I think spiritual teachers seek American audiences because, with all of its faults, this country has the greatest potential for a radical renaissance of the holy. Nowhere else on earth have so many cultures and races and traditions and religions tangled together. In the past 300 years, what culture, what race, what religion has not migrated to these shores? Virtually every concept of the universe has wandered here, on blistered, ill-shod feet or wearing satin slippers. In practices once (and perhaps still) hidden from skeptical, suspicious neighbors, every form of prayer has been uttered. Ponder the significance of this spiritual Babel, seeping into the soil and concrete of this nation.
    I believe there are clusters of people seeking Spirit – often grasping at straws and charlatans but perhaps just as often learning enough of Buddhism to meditate, enough of Catholicism to burn candles, enough of Judaism to honor heritage, enough of Islam to pray often, and enough of Native American to move in greater sync with the rhythms of the universe. Or whatever combination of Confucianism, Southern Baptist, Taoism and New Age reaches into our shallow lives with some form of illumination.
    It is possible that we are beginning to learn how to learn from one another. To view each other with the kind of respect that acknowledges that we are all stranded on this minute component of one small galaxy, drowning in the confusion of our cultures, reaching for authenticity. And there is no one who cannot teach us. There is no other place on this planet where this is happening to the degree that it is happening here.
     I believe there are clusters of people with integrity and openness, people who make no assumptions but instead rely on common sense and uncommon spirit, can create a viable future. They strive to clean the air, protect the waters and plants, and reinstate Spirit in our hearts and lives. 
     Wherever they are, they dart between resource and disaster countering despair drop by drop, the merest flashes of iridescence against a looming sky. There is a chance that Thich Nhat Hanh and others who urge us on, are right. That these flashes of iridescence can shift our cultural foundation, propel us toward the surface of this translucent bubble of existence and disintegrate the patterns of violence. Perhaps then we will be bathed, washed clean, revived and able at last to begin to atone for our own complicity.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nine Ducklings

       One day not too long ago, I was between shoulds and dealing with some strong emotions. I did not have enough time to go up into the mountains – the natural (so to speak) remedy for such conditions. In fact, I thought I didn’t have time for any sort of respite. Between errands, I drove past the entrance to a local park. 
      The car just turned in. 
      On its own. 
      I can take a hint. 
      I parked and wandered around until I found a spot with a clear view of a local lake (actually, a reservoir). There were people in the area but none close. I made my way down a gentle embankment to a good sitting rock on the edge of the water. 
      Just sitting, seeing, feeling the wind, and hearing the distant laughter of kids playing in the lake calmed me. I began to breathe more deeply. See more completely. 
      Even then, it took me a while before I noticed the duck family plying the shore to my right. Actually, I first saw only the parents. Gazing more carefully, I finally noticed the ducklings, fuzzed and swimming in erratic loops around their mom. [Their dad was always nearby but never close.] I watched for a while. How many were there? They never stopped moving and their movements were not coordinated let alone choreographed. Plus, they were pretty far away. So I watched. Maybe seven … no, eight. No, seven. It was very hard to figure out. 
      The family eased its way along the shore, coming closer. Nine! At one point I counted nine ducklings. But then I couldn’t be sure. With great intensity, I focused on the little family. I knew I had to do it quickly because a young man was approaching. He’d scare them off. Again, I counted. Yes! Nine ducklings. Confirmed. 
      The young man clambered down onto the beach and set up his gear for fishing. I eased myself off the sitting place and back up the embankment to my car, smiling to the fisherman en route. 
     When I got back into my car I felt washed clean – of superfluous emotions, and superfluous shoulds. I breathed more deeply and probably made more sense. 
       Nine ducklings can be the equivalent of time in the mountains. 
      Who knew?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

No need to find Oz

Sometimes everything you need is in your own back yard.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Yes! Those are elk!

My across-the-street neighbor took this photograph a couple of weeks ago.

Yes! Those are ELK walking along the sidewalk in front of my house.

I did not see them at the time. Neither did my cats.

But still they were here.

When did Loveland, Colorado transform itself into the setting for Northern Exposure?

Miller moths were nothing!