Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Among the Bees - Again

Here I am down on my hands and knees, working among the bees - again. I've enjoyed and studied these small creatures since I myself was a wee tyke and have learned much from them. (See Listening to Bees). Today, in this humbling position, I take another view. 

Gardening can be mindless work, for it does not take great concentration to pull, swat, and prune. The droning of the bees relaxes me further, pulling me away from the here and now. And so my mind - free to wander - guiltlessly does so. The day is fair and sunny, but I am not.

I am feeling well enough, but my heart is heavy. We recently received news that a good friend of ours, who moved away last summer, had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and was gone within a month. Several friends are struggling with depression and mental illness. Someone feels the pain of loneliness and quickly-growing children who are striking out on their own, leaving her nest empty. Others are finding it difficult to accept that their adult children are homosexual. Three children awake to find that their mother has died during the night. The years are adding up for my husband and me, with less agile bodies and slower minds.

 And so I, too, am hurting... for them, for those dear to them, for myself and my inability to do much about any of it.

As my bucket fills with the dratted horsetails, I feel tears trickle down my cheeks. I've been here before - I know grief - and I am not even directly affected by most of this. Still, I grieve and I feel for these friends and acquaintances. Those old questions come back to haunt me: Why? What? How?

Why are some of the most gifted people, who contribute so much to others, taken from us early when others, who contribute nothing at all, live to a ripe, old, age? Why can we not do a better job of helping those with mental illness find housing, treatment, and decent work? Why do we seem to see increasing numbers of people suffering from debilitating loneliness and depression?

What will those three children remember of their mother? How will they cope with having lost her; how will their grandmother cope with raising them? What goes on in the mind of the mentally ill? How can we help them to live more normal lives? What kinds of prejudice and isolation await those who are different from others - mentally, physically, and sexually? How long must they suffer?

I have no answers to these questions - only deep sadness - so I go on working among the bees. To hurt, cry, and question are all a part of what it means to be human. We feel something, and perhaps in feeling we gain compassion, which leads to understanding and caring. And when we care enough, we can finally go forth in unconditional love to comfort others and improve their lives. Each of us is capable of doing that - we just need to believe that we can.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Grove of the Patriarchs

Alone on the trail in the early morning, all is silent except for the soft foot-falls of our boots on the path and some distant bird calls. The peaceful solitude is deceptive and only relatively recent in terms of the age of this area. In the bank along the trail, a line of ash below the topsoil level betrays Mount St. Helen's eruption 500 or so years ago. Further down, a darker, thicker line indicates Mt. Rainier's eruption 1,000 years before that. Geologic turmoil is nothing new in this area, but seeing this tangible evidence makes me appreciate the value of what is here now.

We pass by huge trees - some upright, still growing towards the sun; others dead and fallen - their giant bodies mute testimony to their years and years of growth.

We pass by, under, over, and through their bodies and experience an intimacy totally unexpected. The different kinds of trees - Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Western Hemlock - may all look the same to the casual observer, but on close inspection show their differences.

Western RedCedar & Douglas Fir growing CLOSE together.

The linear bark of the Cedar, deeply furrowed of the fir, and scale-like bark of the hemlock with varied pattern of growth and appearance of needles show each one as different from the other as spaniels are from collies or poodles in the dog world.

The sound of rushing, gurgling water reveals a fork of the Ohanapecosh River. The trail leads downhill and we come upon a rabbit, seemingly unafraid and unperturbed, which casually hops into the underbrush.

One at a time, we cross the foot bridge to an island and into the midst of giants - the Patriarchs. They grow singly, as twins, or in close "clumps". (If anything that massive all growing together can be called a "clump".) There are six in one place; Some are 35 feet around! The fallen ones are wider than we are tall.

The forest floor supports ferns, vine maples, and some baby trees - the only ones that can survive and thrive in the shade.

These huge, magnificent, ancient ones are 500 to 1,000 years old and soar up to 200 feet above us.

We have the feeling of being dwarfed, sheltered, protected, but in actuality the opposite is true. For it is we who need to do the protecting of these rare, ancient ones.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daddy's Little(st) Girl

"Was I an accident?"

My dad was adept at dodging sticky questions; Mom was blunt and to the point - "Aren't they all?" It was years later that I began to see the wisdom of her answer, which was the only one I ever got to that question.

Born when my parents were in early-middle age and my two sisters were teenagers, I did wonder if that was the case. It did not matter, however, as I was no less loved nor nurtured nor disciplined than my older siblings. Raised mostly as an only child, without actually being an only child, put me in an interesting position in our family.

Raised in a rather patriarchal German family, with five brothers and one sister, there was no doubt that my dad idolized his daughters. It was no secret that he would have cherished a son and undoubtedly wished he had one to pass the family business on to. But that was not to be, and he made the best of it.

When I think back to what my father did with his life, I have tremendous admiration for him. Beginning life in Iowa, he moved with his family when he was six to a hard-scrabble homestead on the prairies of eastern Montana. Times were tough; the family could not succeed on that land and moved to town to work in the greenhouse business. As was not uncommon then, Dad quit school after eighth grade to work and help support the family. After years of hard work, meeting and marrying my mother, and more years of hard work, they bought their own floral/greenhouse business. Times were still tough, but they began to make headway - it is no wonder, really. They were equal partners, but I'm thinking of Dad today, so will concentrate on him.

When they were established in their community and business, and I was barely a toddler, Dad and Mom bought an older house in good shape from a defunct mining town outside of town. With minimal help, Dad disassembled part of it, hired someone with a big truck, and moved it into town next to the business, where they proceeded to make it a home. Living right next to your business has pluses and minuses, of course, but it did allow me to be raised by parents who were always right there - not exactly stay-at-homers, but the next best thing.

And so my dad was always nearby and I observed him closely. He was, first and foremost, a grower - with two large greenhouses to plant and maintain. He built the long wooden benches, poured the concrete sidewalks, mixed and hauled the soil. He planted, fertilized, watered, sprayed, and picked what he grew; climbed up on top to replace broken glass panes (all greenhouses were made of glass back then.) and maintained a boiler in the basement for hot-water heat for both the business and our home. He was a designer - turning out large baskets, funeral sprays and casket pieces, corsages and rose arrangements lickety-split. He took evening business courses and was a meticulous record-keeper, delivered every order himself for many years and somehow found the time to remodel the house and maintain the yard. For many years, he worked 12 hour days...And yes, he found time for us - small snippets of time, perhaps, but all the more treasured. Besides, I was under foot - a LOT!

Dad was tall, thin, with premature gray hair and a winning smile. He followed a strict code of ethics and was one of the kindest, gentlest, most honest people I have ever known. Being a total tomboy, I guess I was the closest thing to a son that he was to ever have. We both knew, however, that I could never fill that role and it caused us both some grief. I'm ashamed to admit that I teased and badgered him unmercifully sometimes, especially during my teen years, but he rode it all out - his dignity still intact.

Although he's been gone for many years now, sometimes the slightest thing will bring back a crystal-clear memory of him as if he's still here. I think of things I want to tell him, things I said, or wished I'd said; I want to apologize for things I did and tell him how much I love him. I have a long list of questions I'll never have answered.

As to whether or not I was "an accident", I now know that does not really matter - for I was very much cherished and will always be Daddy's Little(st) Girl.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wherever It Pleases

If it were possible to have anything imagined come true, if only for a fleeting second, I would certainly leap to the skies and sail. Arms stretched out wide, legs trailing, I would float and glide effortlessly through the clouds with planet earth far below. It would take only a slight rotation of arms, turn of head, or flex of finger to change altitude, speed or course. Flying as high and far as I wished, washed by the cool air, its whoosh in my ears, I’d surrender myself to its will. Total, exhilarating freedom!

I have witnessed this. Driving home from a trip one year, My husband and I took a long, meandering route and happened onto the unique desert community of Osoyoos, B.C. A resort area, all of the town’s motels crowd the southern end of their large, treasured lake. Because beach access is so desirable and at a premium, these buildings are aligned with their narrow ends along the lake frontage. Rooms with a lake view and balcony are extremely limited. Local schools were not yet out for the summer and it was a weekday, so we were fortunate enough to get one.

Photo by Steve Hilebrand

Just before sundown a strong wind came up from the lake, blowing inland. We stood on the tiny balcony reveling in the view of water and sky, the raw power of wind whipping our hair, flapping our jackets. We became aware of a multitude of Seagulls - all “riding the wind” - approaching gradually and silently. Wings outstretched, they glided slowly by, above and directly in front of us, suspended in air, seemingly close enough to touch. We could hear the wind in their wings, see their slight adjustments of wingtip feathers and tails. No wing flapped; it was as if each bird was tethered to the ground by an invisible string held by some “kite master”.

Seagull by Lee Karney

Silently, they drifted across that end of the lake, changed altitude, then drifted back to where they had begun, over and over again. We found it an incredibly moving sight

              Dad at the Lake
My sister once owned a cabin on a lake in Montana where we gathered as a family each summer.

Winds came up often there, many times sudden and unexpected. I loved the sight and sound of waves crashing along the shore, but our family was always driven into a quick frenzy. There were things to be weighted down or retrieved from the beach, my dad’s motor boat to be hauled out on the “railroad”, outdoor living stuff to be anchored down up at the cabin. Our side of the lake was not timbered, just rolling dry hills covered with sage and juniper brush, so nothing slowed the wind. I doubt that much slows it there, anyway.

Tornado Damage at Canyon Ferry, Montana - 1967

One year a rare, small tornado did damage, daintily plucking the roofs off of two cabins, arbitrarily skipping several (my sister’s among those) then wrecking others before lifting up and away.

Tornado Damage at Canyon Ferry

Another year a wind-driven fire raged, begun by careless outdoor burning. In 2000, tremendous fires raged on both sides of that lake. Our family no longer owns property there, but years of memories drove us to follow the fires’ paths daily. Again, the winds played a role. It's not all bad news - past experience has taught us that the summer after a fire quite often brings an over-abundance of fresh, new growth.

Wind truly is an awesome power - one that I doubt we ever really “control”. Humankind simply learns (or not) to respect it, adapt to it, use it, live with it. It does what it will. So it is with all magnificent forces.

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”       John 3:6-8

Monday, June 6, 2011

ArtTrail #2 - NK'MIP at Osoyoos

"Even the most progressive western philosophers still generally believe that listening to the land is a metaphor. It's not a metaphor. It's how the world is." ~ Jeanette Armstrong (Syilx)

Art enriches our world in so many ways and can mean different things to different people. It can offer delight to our eyes, joy to our spirits, and serious contemplation to our minds. Sometimes it is deeply disturbing, causing us to face a truth (or fabrication...) that makes us uncomfortable. If we are open to the possibilities, it can offer us a different, perhaps new, way to view our world.

BAM! Face to face with the earth -
layer upon endless layer.
Where are we, here, today?
How many have come before?
...and before them?

Just across the Washington state border, in southern British Columbia, lies the thriving community of Osoyoos. Here, also, is the spectacular NK’MIP Desert Cultural Centre (pronounced in-ka-meep - "bottom of Okanagan Lake") whose mission is to promote respect and understanding of the living culture of the Okanagan People and conserve and interpret Canada's only desert.

In this vast land of space and sky,
mountains and grasslands,
The Chief offers peace to all who come,
to his creator above.
He is brother to coyote, eagle,
and one with the earth.
I am dwarfed and awed by his presence.

Scattered throughout the Okanagan Valley on cliffs and in caves are hundreds of drawings, evidence of a culture that has flourished in this area for thousands of years - long before the rest of us came.

Water runs into fish into bear 
into rocks into mountains into sky,
through all living things.
It is precious beyond measure.

Hot, dry summers and cold winters are typical throughout the Plateau. This climate creates an environment well suited to mule and white-tailed deer, caribou, elk and mountain sheep, as well as smaller animals, including coyote, fox, lynx, wolf, raccoon, porcupine, marten, weasel, beaver, marmot and hare.

Different though we may be,
We are all formed from earth,
made up of the same materials.

Loaned to us for a brief instant,
it is only a matter of time
before we return to it.

The NK'MIP desert lands are one of Canada's three most endangered eco-systems and home to many endangered plant and animal species.

The energy and life of one
passes into another
as it has always been,
and so it goes
eon after eon.

Okanagan First Nations once traveled widely to fishing, gathering and hunting areas. Their dwellings were made of portable, reusable materials. In the summer, lodges covered with bark or mats of tule or grass were used.

Women gathered harvests of roots, tubers, and berries.

We all need shelter, 
a place of security and warmth,
whether real or perceived.

I could be at home here -
huddle 'round a fire with friends and family.
I would gather the tule,
if you'd show me how to weave it.

Major rivers supported annual runs of Pacific Salmon and other fish, which were a traditional mainstay of subsistence. Much meat was smoked or dried to carry them through the long, cold winters.


Black Bear and Grizzly were common - they, also, liked the fish.

I would dig the Bitterroot,
if you'd help me make the tool.

We would work together
on the vast plateau.

You are skilled at making clothing,
hats, and jewelry
from whatever is at hand.
I am eager to learn...
show me your ways.

Your life seems idyllic,
but it could not have been easy.
The game and fish were not always plentiful,
the streams did not always flow;
the roots were not always enough
for the long winter ahead.

The three main house types found on the Plateau were the semi-subterranean pit house, the tule-mat lodge and the tipi ("used for dwelling in") The pit house most often was of a circular or squarish excavated pit protected by a conical roof of poles covered with brush and earth, and moss chinking filling the cracks and holes. Entrance was gained through either a hole in the center of the roof (which also served as an exit for smoke) or a door at the side of the roof. Sometimes tunnels acted as entrances or connected several pit houses together. Although these houses were most commonly used as winter dwellings, recent information suggests they were sometimes used at other times of the year.

Your stories flowed plentiful
through the tongues of your elders,
your ancestors,
into a future you could not even see.

Preserving ritual, religion, tradition
passed down to future generations
who need to remember
how it once was.

Similar to pit houses, sweat lodges were built for men and the ceremonial cleansing of body and spirit. All of these traditional-style dwellings were generally last used in the Canadian Plateau around the  mid to late 1800s, although in some areas their use extended into the early 1900s. Today, they are no more.

The Unity Rider carries the nine feathers
that represent the nine known Indian bands
of the 1880's.
The Unity symbolism originated as part
of the modern North American
Aboriginal Unity Ride ceremony.
The names of many of the settlements in the Okanagan Valley–Osoyoos, Keremeos, Penticton and Kelowna–come from aboriginal words for these settled areas and attest to the long history of the Syilx people on this land. The Syilx of the Okanagan Nation live in eight communities in the interior of British Columbia and Washington. Over 400 band members live and work on the Osoyoos Indian Reserve which stretches from Oliver to Osoyoos.

The Osoyoos Indian Band acknowledges the ancestors and elders who have carried on their traditions and kept their language, history and culture alive so that it can shared  with guests and visitors. The Band has a strong vision for its future and for the region.

I am eager to learn...
show me your ways.

OsoyoosBC, Canada was originally called ‘Souyoos’ which translates as “the narrow waterway where the land almost meets” and is the southern most town of the Okanagan Valley, just 2 km (1.2 mi) north of the US border.

These sculptures are the work of
Virgil “Smoker” Marchand,
a member of the Colville Eastside Reservation
in Omak, Washington.