Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I Still Have a Dream

It's been a difficult few months . . . for me, for many people I know, for our country, for our world. The result of the presidential election was a shock, partly because it seemed so clear that Hillary would win, but mostly because it seemed so ridiculous to think that Donald Trump could be president. Who would vote for this lying, libelous, filthy rich con artist? Who would vote for a man who denigrates women with his actions while saying nonsensically that no one respects women as much as he does? Who would vote for a man who worked so hard to destroy Obama by purporting the lie that he was not born in America, then later denying his actions and blaming the entire birther escapade on Hillary? Who would vote for a man who worked to keep African Americans out of his apartment buildings, made fun of a disabled person, ridiculed John McCain by saying he prefers people who don't get caught, and on and on and on? Who would vote for someone supported by the Ku Klux Klan?

But people did. Lots of people. Enough to get him elected.

I've been asking myself these questions, and many more like them, for months. I was quite convinced that Trump couldn't possibly be elected. But I was so wrong.

Happy in my cocoon in Maine, I missed what was happening in this country. As a child of the 60s, I grew up with peace signs and peace marches, women's liberation and the rise of reproductive rights, Martin Luther King talking about his dream that seemed to have some hope of becoming reality, and music that made everyone want to move and groove and "love the one you're with." I grew up in a family with little education and little money but lots of hope for the future, for my future. I would go to college, I would not marry the first guy who came along, I would make something of myself. I had options, something no other generation of women ever had in this country. The future looked so promising.

But not everyone saw things as I did. Not everyone saw excitement and hope. Some saw what they were losing, not gaining. Some saw "sin" and destruction, not freedom.

So, the future chugged along, a few steps forward, then a few back. The Civil Rights Act, Affirmative Action, Rodney King, Voter Restriction Laws . . . Roe v. Wade, the Equal Rights Amendment (in case you've forgotten, it didn't pass), Title IX . . . Don't Ask Don't Tell, Marriage Equality, so-called "Religious" Freedom Rights, Matthew Shepard . . . the decline of the middle class, the mortgage crisis, corporate welfare, tax cuts for the wealthy. There are many more examples of the battles that have been fought in our country in recent decades for equality, fairness, civility, and decency; some won, some lost.

For the past eight years we've had an African-American president, and this year we had a woman presidential candidate. These are major social accomplishments that cannot be overestimated. But another setback, a clear indication of the backlash to the changes of the last half century . . . the election of Donald Trump for president. I can make sense of why some corporate wealthy people voted for Trump . . . they have a lot to gain from a Trump presidency, but it's inconceivable to me that so many of our country's poor and middle class individuals voted for a man who is likely to do them such harm . . . raise their taxes (directly and indirectly), destroy the economics of health care in favor of business profits, cut social security and medicare. Sadly, they were won over by Trump's aggressive, braggadocious, tough-guy demeanor, the perfect antithesis to what Obama and Clinton represent.

I saw a Trump voter interviewed on a news show last night who readily admitted to seeing all of Trump's failings: sexism, racism, xenophobia. He even said that he didn't want to see anyone, not even "illegals," rounded up and deported. So why did he vote for him? "He's not Hillary." He may as well have said, "He's a man, a white man."

Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house, 1917
I still have a dream. That's just the way I am, ever hopeful, ever looking forward. But the future now is uncertain, perhaps even volatile. One can feel the volatility like the first rumblings of an earthquake. So we must steady ourselves, seek shelter when necessary, but never forget that as a society we always pick up the pieces and rebuild. That's what we do. That's what I do.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Late Summer Acorns

This time of year I lie in bed and listen to acorns plop as they drop off the oak tree in front of our house. Before I go to sleep, when I wake up during the night, and when I lie in bed absorbing the sweet quiet and  goodness of morning, I hear them fall. One by one. Sometimes they bounce, and I hear a few rapid plops in a row. Sometimes they hit the metal roof of our wood shed, and the sound is sharp like a bang. But most of the acorns hit the wooden porch or steps, or the shingled house roof, and the sound is robust but dull, like a strike on a kettledrum.

Like the glorious sound of birds singing in March as they arrive from the south, the rumble of the first thunderstorm in April, the buzz of cicadas in late summer, the falling of acorns is a sound that for me marks time. Dipping a spoon to get that first delectable taste of maple syrup from the pot boiling in the shed; admiring the beauty of the first brook trout caught in the spring; picking bright red raspberries up the Mt. Chase road in August for muffins; grabbing my orange jacket and shotgun to go grouse hunting with my very excited dogs on the first day of October; filling the woodstove on a cold day in December for the first fire of the winter. There is indeed a season for everything. We eagerly await each one, even though they remind us that time seems to move far too quickly and nothing lasts forever. The raspberries will be gone, the trout will go to deep waters for the summer, the acorns will eventually stop falling . . . until next time. So we wait until next time, doing whatever keeps us busy in the moment. 

Time isn't linear; it's a revolving circle, the embodiment of perfection and eternity. We go round and round, enjoying the view and resting in eternity.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel 1928-2016
Growing older means facing loss over and over again. It is what it is. Recently, though, a number of people have died who played a huge role in my personal growth and development of my spirit, values, goals, and attitudes. And, another one yesterday, Elie Wiesel. 

More will die; I cannot stop that. But I can help keep their truth alive; we all can, and must. Wiesel and others like him, through their words and actions, fundamentally alter the air we all breathe. It's up to the rest of us to sustain that. So, breathe deeply of that air today. Hold it in. Feel its goodness, its grace. Then send it back out into the universe with your wish that it may continue to journey through the universe, growing ever stronger and more vigorous. 

"Think higher and feel deeper."
— Elie Wiesel


Some days everything fits together . . . no rough edges, no sharp objects, no puzzle pieces missing. Balance and equilibrium in every moment. I feel as if I blend in . . . part of the flow. Nothing special, nothing distinctive.

But other times, obstacles are everywhere. Rough edges, sharp objects, locked doors, barricades. I stumble, lose my balance, get scraped and jabbed. Bleed and bruise. Why me? Me? Me?

Is it the stars, my hormones, or did I get out of bed on the wrong side? Will things be better if I take my vitamins, have a cup of coffee, or go for a walk?

I don’t know. But just as I ponder these questions, a voice from somewhere says: “Don't compare. Be fully present to every moment. Be here . . . now. Be present . . . and trust.

Monday, June 13, 2016


I love Jack-in-the-Pulpit. It's my favorite flower, and I'm guessing you never heard anyone say that. It's a funny color for a flower . . . mostly green and very deep red, almost brown. Also a curious shape . . . a kind of pouch with a flap very nearly enclosing a generously sized stalk . . . "Jack" being the stalk and the "pulpit" being the pouch. Then too there is the fact that you have to be on your hands and knees to see one of these things, as they grow six to twelve inches off the ground, nearly hidden by the plants two large leaves. But I truly love it and eagerly await its arrival every spring.

My home in mid-coast Maine (south of Downeast and north of Portland) sits on a large five-acre lot in the woods. Tall white pines, hemlock, spruce, some oak, sugar maple, red maple, poplar, beech, a few birch, and a couple of crabapple trees that birds must have planted some years ago. Also lots of ferns, violets, bluets, paintbrush, raspberries, blackberries, and goldenrod. The first wildflowers to bloom in the spring are anemone, trout lily, violets, bluets, and trillium. And by the end of May, Jack-in-the-Pulpit is ready for its very subtle show.

I've been in my house for close to twenty-five years, and I've spent thousands of hours in my woods—walking, snow-shoeing, picking flowers, studying plant life, clearing unwanted brush, sawing dead limbs, picking up sticks, watching baby birds and their mothers in their nests, and on and on. For a very long time the only Jack-in-the-Pulpit I was aware of was a grouping of five or six plants that came up every year just in front of a birch tree about thirty feet from my sunroom. I looked for them every spring and throughout the summer would make a point to stop to look at them, always trying to keep my dogs from stomping on them while I bent down to enjoy them. Several years ago I found a few other small and immature groupings and had the idea to try to replant them in my various gardens—around the house, around the garage, along both sides of the long driveway, and in front of the wooden fence that outlines one side of the front lawn. Some wild plants do not transplant well: Lady Slipper is one good example; best to leave them wherever you find them. But that's never been a problem with Jack-in-the-Pulpit. So for the last several years I've been spreading these unique plants all over the property. This year I realize I've been rewarded as I'm seeing Jack-in-the-Pulpit everywhere!

A couple days ago I paused to wonder why I like these plants so much; most people don't even know they exist. The answer came to me rather quickly: they're a lot like me. Jack-in-the Pulpit are happiest in the shady part of the woods where sun is sparse and the ground is cool. They are shy and unassuming and easily missed by those who walk by. They aren't colorful, but they are unique. And, to get to know them, you have to put forth some effort. Well . . . me too. I'm happiest in the woods: I love glorious tall trees that tower above me, the cool and moist forest floor that supports ferns and wildflowers and mushrooms, the sound of the wind in the leaves, and the smell of pine and spruce after a rain. I too am shy and reserved and easily missed. I'm not loud or brash or flamboyant, but I like to think I'm one-of-a-kind. I'm careful about who I allow in to get to know me and I open up slowly but generously. I'd be very happy to be perched on the forest floor, lovingly protected by a couple of large leaves. So now, dear Jack-in-the-Pulpit, I understand.

Monday, May 30, 2016


It's spring in the north woods!

Jack in the pulpit Preaches to-day,
Under the green trees
Just over the way.
Squirrel and song-sparrow,
High on their perch,
Hear the sweet lily-bells
Ringing to church.
Come, hear what his reverence
Rises to say,
In his low painted pulpit
This calm Sabbath-day.
Fair is the canopy
Over him seen,
Penciled by Nature’s hand,
Black, brown, and green.
Green is his surplice,
Green are his bands;
In his queer little pulpit
The little priest stands.

In black and gold velvet,
So gorgeous to see,
Comes with his bass voice
The chorister bee.
Green fingers playing
Unseen on wind-lyres,
Low singing bird voices,–
These are his choirs.
The violets are deacons–
I know by the sign
That the cups which they carry
Are purple with wine.
And the columbines bravely
As sentinels stand
On the look-out with all their
Red trumpets in hand.

Meek-faced anemones,
Drooping and sad;
Great yellow violets,
Smiling out glad;
Buttercups’ faces,
Beaming and bright;
Clovers, with bonnets,–
Some red and some white;
Daisies, their white fingers
Half-clasped in prayer;
Dandelions, proud of
The gold of their hair;
Guileless and frail,
Meek little faces
Upturned and pale;
Wild-wood geraniums,
All in their best,
Languidly leaning
In purple gauze dressed:–
All are assembled
This sweet Sabbath-day
To hear what the priest
In his pulpit will say.

Look! white Indian pipes
On the green mosses lie!
Who has been smoking
Profanely so nigh?
Rebuked by the preacher
The mischief is stopped,
But the sinners, in haste,
Have their little pipes dropped.
Let the wind, with the fragrance
Of fern and black birch,
Blow the smell of the smoking
Clean out of the church!
So much for the preacher:
The sermon comes next,–
Shall we tell how he preached it,
And where was his text?
Alas! like too many
Grown-up folks who play
At worship in churches
Man-builded to-day,–
We heard not the preacher
Expound or discuss;

But we looked at the people,
And they looked at us.
We saw all their dresses,
Their colors and shapes;
The trim of their bonnets,
The cut of their capes.
We heard the wind-organ,
The bee, and the bird,
But of Jack in the pulpit
We heard not a word! 

— Clara Smith

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Rose . . . Would Smell as Sweet

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
— Shakespeare  

It’s 7 a.m., May 28. David is out fishing this morning with our two dogs, and I’m inside by the woodstove where it is toasty warm. Late May in Maine, still cool in the mornings. Earlier this week I chose An Arrow to the Heart, by Ken McLeod, for my “daily reading” book; each morning I read a few pages from a “special” book . . . it’s a routine, a practice, something that keeps me grounded and steady in the face of strong winds and choppy seas.

An Arrow to the Heart is a commentary on the Heart Sutra, one of the most popular Buddhist texts. It is home to these puzzling lines:

Form is emptiness.
Emptiness is form.
Emptiness is not other than form.
Form is not other than emptiness.

I’m looking forward to McLeod’s commentary to help me understand these words. But the first page in the book made me laugh . . . out loud. It simply says . . .

The Title: Heart Sutra
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. — Shakespeare

One summer when I was young, I think in junior high, I decided to read Shakespeare . . . all of his works. I didn’t quite reach my goal, but it was after all a bit lofty. I did get through a few plays and some sonnets. And that summer I encountered this line:

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

I remember it so clearly. A flash went off in my head, and my adolescent mind thought: all those swear words I recently learned are really meaningless! There’s nothing really wrong with the word “shit.” A rose could be called a shit and would still smell as sweet. Words don’t mean anything if you can substitute a different one and nothing changes. A rose could be called a chair; a chair could be called a boat. It’s all the same. Our mind, our collective mind, has given meaning to these words, but any combination of letters is really meaningless without the social overlay. That's when it happened: those black-and-white lines of Catholic doctrine started to blur.

So, some fifty years later, I open a book on the Heart Sutra and see those words: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. What could I do but laugh? Things do have a way of going around and around.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Somewhere I've Already Been

indiferente. Wikimedia Commons.

"I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I've already been."
— Don Draper, Mad Men

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Humble Rice Cake

Ryochu Nyoryu 1793 - 1868

While Zen enso have been interpreted as representing the void, the universe, and unity, they can just as easily represent the moon, the rim of a basket or a humble rice cake. Ryochu here writes, "Eat this and have a cup of tea," asking the viewer not to worry about the philosophical implications of the iage, but to merely relax and have a snack.
~  Audrey Yoshiko Seo, Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment

Let Us Begin

Let us begin.