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Seal-skin Soul-skin

During my growing up summers in Maine, I swam daily in the cove with my siblings, my mother often joining us.  I dipped under the surface, fluttered my feet, opened my eyes to the swaying banners of kelp, the green sea grass dancing with the tides. Sometimes, I glided among mackerel fish and herring and once a seal bobbed on the surface nearby. My father called me a mermaid.  I stayed in the water until my skin turned mottled and blue, until my teeth chattered, and, even then, sometimes refused to place my feet on dry land.

It was the 60’s and Andre was a pup.  From our cottage home in Fish House Cove, we heard tales of a harbor seal who lived northeast of us in Rockport, was rescued and raised by the Harbor Master and charmed locals and tourists alike with his bountiful display of tricks, who found fame on the local news.

Sometimes it is the seal card I draw from the animal deck.  When I do, I know it is time to pay attention.  The message on the card tells me to immerse myself in artistic and creative expression, to roll with the tides, to plunge into the depths.

A decade ago, my sister and I, both visiting our mother in Maine, hiked the shoreline at Popham Beach.  Mom was old by then, in her nineties, no longer able to paint with her watercolors, to tend her seaside garden, to join us here on this expansive stretch of sand by the sea just five miles from the cottage where we spent our childhood summers, where our mother still lived.  The breakers thrashed against the beach that day.  I think it was September, Hurricane Season, and the surfers were paddling their boards out past the churned water, then riding the swells into shore.  And that’s when I saw it, a shiny black head bobbing among the boards. It was a seal, lifting its torso up out of the water, then diving down under the curls, playing among the surfers — I told my sister that this was a good sign, that we needed to surf our way through our own creative waves.

By the 80’s, when our boys were little, Andre’s fame had grown.  All over the world, people knew of this seal who was flown to the New England Aquarium in Boston each November when Rockport’s harbor froze, who played with the other aquarium seals all winter, was released each April back into the sea where, year after year, he swam the 230 miles northeast to Rockport.  And each year, when the world received the news that he had once again made it home to harbor and family, there was a communal sigh of relief, of joy.  My mother loved Andre, gifted her two young grandsons, our boys, with a book, “Andre, the Seal”.  

My husband just retired from a forty year career in dentistry, more avocation than job, and the two of us have been swimming in an ocean of emotion, tides and tears flowing into shore.  These past few weeks, I have thought of the cove, have wanted to slip into the water under a full moon sky and a sea of stars, have wanted to immerse myself in salt-filled waves, all body, no thought, to emerge from my swim, replenished, ready for something new.

It was in late April that my mother called me, breathless.  She saw him, she said.  Out in the cove.  As she relayed the story, I could smell the sea through the airwaves one thousand miles inland in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He hauled himself up into the turquoise skiff, she told me, the one she now used for flounder fishing, and he sprawled out on the stern’s wide seat, slept all afternoon.  She was sure it was Andre.

My mother carried a tin box of watercolor tubes, thick paper, her camp chair out onto the rocks, painted the cove in all its moods, sometimes gray and misty, the lobster boat and skiff looming in the fog, sometimes cobalt blue high tide sparkly with the rocks glimmering in shades of gold and brown.  She lugged buckets of seaweed up the granite stairs from the beach to place atop her garden’s soil, scrounged the low tide mark for sea moss and mussels, cooked mackerel and flounder she caught herself. My mother wore her seal skin, gifted us our own.

Last evening, I told my husband I would work on my creativity center’s taxes, have them ready for the accountant this morning, but I couldn’t help it.  The sea was calling and I had to go.  I lit a cobalt blue candle on a dark green plate, set myself down on the blue-green rug, surrounded myself with an ocean of poems, poems I’ve written, rough still, in need of the waves’ gentle polishing.  I slipped into my seal skin last night, dove down deep, explored the world beneath the froth, then surfaced again, held up by the buoyant salty sea.

Each May, when my mother was in her seventies and early eighties, I traveled east by car, alone, without kids and husband.  I knew the way, followed the lakes, Superior and Huron, then the wide Ottawa River for miles and miles through Ontario, Lake Champlain in Vermont, the Saco River in New Hampshire, until, finally, I crossed the line into Maine.  It was on the final stretch, when I traced the banks of the wide tidal Kennebec to the sea, when I turned into the driveway, saw the cottage all lit up and waiting, when I stepped out into the thick salt air, breathed in the slight scent of fish, seaweed, balsam fir, when I heard the waves washing the shore, it was then that I knew I had made it.  I was home.

Unity From The Inside Out

We are like islands in the sea — separate on the surface but connected in the deep.  ~ William James

The ocean connects us all. ~ Florence Nico Zappile

I remember the November day that President Kennedy was assassinated.  I was seven years old that autumn, in second grade, and it was sometime after recess that the school’s secretary barged into our classroom.  I think she blurted.  I think she didn’t whisper it into our teacher, Mrs. Babcock’s ears, that it was from the secretary I first heard the news — our president had been shot.  And later, at home, I’m sure the television set was turned on, that my parents and neighbors and older siblings were all talking about it, that our president had died of his wounds, that the country was in turmoil.  I only remember snippets, that my mother and my Aunt Barbie were planning a late afternoon trip to Portland and a trip to Portland, forty minutes drive from our home in Bath, Maine, was a big deal.  I remember I was excited, that I was going to be a part of this adventure.  And then I wasn’t. I had done something wrong, I think.  Perhaps I had sassed my mother or had hit my little brother or just had fallen apart in a full blown temper tantrum.  Whatever the reason, I was no longer included and was furious.  And I do remember the fury, how it was all-consuming, how I didn’t know what to do with it, how it swept over me and before I knew it, I had flung my china animals off their home on the mantel in my bedroom and the Siamese cat with the white fluff glued onto her tail had broken into pieces on my hardwood floor.

Today, almost sixty years later, on this November morning of Election Day, I am remembering Kennedy and the television set blaring out news and my fury and the broken Siamese cat I loved.  It is easy to get pulled in by the news, always available now at the tip of our fingers, easy to get caught up in the latest poll statistics, in fear and dire scenarios, easy to absorb all this energy, all these emotions coming at us, to take it all in and claim it as our own, easy to lose sight of our own inner truths and feelings. 

At least it is for me.  And I suspect it was easy for the little girl I was back then too, the day our president was shot in the head, to soak in the emotions of those around me, that my out of control tsunami of feelings was about more than a naughty impulse on my part.  I didn’t know how to filter and discern and limit outside forces when I was seven.  And I didn’t know how to express my own sorrow.  I’m better at it now, not perfect, but better.  And I know it is crucial to do so.  Whatever the outcome of this election —  and I am invested in an outcome I believe fervently will set this country and world on a more inclusive respectful earth-loving trajectory — we need to wake up tomorrow in touch with our own insides.  We need our filters, our discernment, our own inner flames.  It will be those flames, our passions and desires and beating open hearts that carry us forward.  It will be our inner guidance, our own direct connection with the divine, that brings us the next impulse, the next step, the next action in creating this world we are envisioning.  And this empowerment is always available to us, to each of us.  And from this inside place of power, with hearts open, we can remember that we are all connected.  As my sister’s six year old granddaughter said this past August, while sitting on the rocks by the ocean in Maine contemplating her grandma who had recently died, “It is so beautiful here.  The ocean connects us all.”

So what am I doing today, on this day when I have already voted and am tempted to keep my finger glued to my cell phone, tempted to be pulled in before nothing is known?  I’m taking off, setting out on a pilgrimage, calling it “Door to Shore.”  With my backpack filled with food, I’m walking my way eighteen miles from my house to Lake Superior, following the old mining railroad grade on the Heritage Trail.  I will have my cell phone close to me.  I will check now and then for texts, probably will peek at the news.  But for the most part, it will be me, alone, with my breath and the fresh Upper Michigan air, and the white pines and balsams, the bare-boned hardwoods, with that inner flame, fueled by all of this walking, ready to carry me forward, ready to connect me with all of you, from the inside out, into tomorrow and the next day, into a future we will create together.

Unity Garden

Unity Sign by Elizabeth Yelland

Remembering Auralie

(I wrote this memory for my sister Auralie’s Facebook Page a few days after she made her transition in early June.)


Bridges don’t fall from the sky.  They don’t rise from the ground.  People build them.  Eboo Patel

I have a million Auralie stories.  I’m her sister.  And all I have to do is conjure one up now to feel her buoyant spirit.  Many of our sister stories are funny, some  hilarious.  We’re sisters who carried the love of a good laugh from childhood into our adult reunions back east in our beloved state of Maine.  And these stories will sustain me and I’m sure many will find their way into print.  But now, I want to share an Auralie story of appreciation.

Twice Auralie traveled from her adult home in Connecticut to the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where my husband Cam and I have lived most of our adult lives, once when our kids were small, and again, years later, along with her grown daughter Tina, to attend one of our son’s weddings.  Both times, with Auralie enthusiasm, she threw herself into the trips to Lake Superior’s rocky coves and beaches, to eating a U.P. favorite, Cornish Pasties, to embracing our friends with her openhearted ease.  All of this is wonderful, but it was at the wedding attended by our kids’ friends and our friends, and my husband’s family from Lower Michigan that I clung to the happiness that my sister and niece, my people from my childhood home place, had made their way to the celebration.  It meant the world to me.

I have learned recently from her two kids that Auralie had a fear of bridges.  I don’t remember this from childhood.  I think it must have developed later when she moved from Maine to a town in Connecticut that was built in the 1600’s, a town with rickety narrow bridges, bridges that must have made her feel vulnerable.  But the day of our son’s wedding, she stood steady on the bridge she built for me between my adult world in the northern woods of Michigan and the world of coastal  Maine where she and I romped the in the woods and swam in the sea.

At one point during the reception, music and voices blasting in the background, she wrapped her arms around me and whispered in my ear with buoyant wonderment as she looked over at the groom, my son.  “He looks and talks just like Daddy!”  I was seventeen when our father died, Auralie, twenty-two.  No one else at that packed wedding celebration had known him in the flesh.  No one else could have told me that — no one but my bridge-building sister.  And for that I will be forever grateful.

Our kids, the cousins, together in Upper Michigan, June, 1984


At the wedding, 2005


A rainbow over our house two days after Auralie’s transition, June 2020

For Auralie

For Auralie                                                                                                                    (1950-2020)

With heart and hands, my sister sits at a                                                                 wheel, spins porcelain clay, as if by magic,                                                               into tiny delicate bowls, glazes her vessels                                                                              in colors of the sea, fires them with a blaze                                                                        of passion, then lays them out like sea glass                                                             on the beach for family and friends.

I can’t fit my sister into a poem, or paragraph,                                                         into one of her perfectly-formed bowls.                                                                   Her spirit is far too big to be contained,                                                                             her laughter as boisterous as waves thrashing                                                                  the shore, her sparkle, brilliant like sunlight                                                             dancing across her childhood cove.

But I will try.                                                                                                             I will wrap my arms around the millions                                                                        of memories, around the ocean of love                                                                     she so generously shared                                                                                                          and I will stuff it all into my own                                                                               heart’s bowl and carry it with me, a gift                                                                          I will cherish forever.











Photographs of Auralie’s bowls taken this summer on Sister Point, our forever wild piece of land in coastal Maine, by Auralie and Helen’s beloved niece, Emily Haskell.



Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.  Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.  Gloria Steinem

So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.  Christopher Reeve


I woke the other morning with a dream still fresh in my being, vivid and in color and eager to be remembered.  I stood on the sandy bank of a river in my dream, a tidal river, I think, and the current was swift, and when I placed one foot into the moving water, I could feel it, as though I were awake, the way my leg tingled with the cold, the way the current began to pull at me.  I knew I needed to get to the other side and I couldn’t see how I could make it happen.  The river was too strong, its grasp fierce and unrelenting.

It was two days earlier in waking life, on a sunny Saturday early evening with a north wind blowing and the air clear and refreshing, that my husband Cam and I traipsed from Wetmore Landing along Lake Superiors’s rocky shoreline.  And two miles into our hike, as we approached the tip of Little Presque Isle where mainland and small tree-covered sandstone island are separated by an isthmus of water, we came upon it, a crisis unfolding.  On calm days, it is easy to wade waist deep out to the island and it is a popular playground for those with an adventurous spirit.  But on this day, the wind had kicked up and the waves had risen to three-feet high and the water had become confused.  And there was the current and the riptide and the adventurers trying to make their way back to the mainland.  It had blown them off their course and when we arrived, a rescue already was taking place.  Bright orange life rings and preservers had been tossed to those in trouble.  Others were holding onto a paddle board as a man wearing a preserver was pulling them through the current toward shore.  The coast guard had been called and a boat was on its way, and the Search and Rescue, ambulance and sheriff showed up as we stood by and prayed.  And all made it to shore and all were okay and the story’s ending was a good one.

But I do wonder whether the incident that we witnessed in the bright waking hours of a Saturday early evening was working its way through my dreamtime in the predawn two days later.  It had felt visceral to me that Saturday, watching the young people fighting the current and plowing their way back to the safety of the shore.  When we were their age, Cam and I had experienced a similar struggle with current.  We had crossed a river in coastal Maine just a few inches deep at low tide to play in the waves on a long sandy stretch of beach line.  And, we had body-surfed for hours, eaten a picnic lunch in a warm patch of sand, watched the terns dive into the water for herring.  And before we knew it, the tide had poured in and the river had filled up and the water was swift.  Holding backpacks and running shoes, we stepped into the current, then paddled through the swiftness to the other side.  And, though I was a strong swimmer during my college years, the power of the undertow frightened me.  It is hard to remain clear-headed when you are being pulled from your center by the current.

And maybe my dream, my nighttime dream, also has to do with the river of energy being carried along during this pandemic.  There is the news media filled with corona counts and a sense of divisiveness and a power to draw us in, to pull us down to a place where we can drown in its waters, and there is uncertainty in the air for sure.  For the most part, I have done okay, only dipping my foot now and then into the media’s swift current, and breathing in the air’s uncertainty with a sense of adventure that we, the big “we”, the global “we” are being offered the opportunity to forge something new from this chaos, something more expansive and loving.  It has been easy to stay positive as I hike the trails through the Upper Peninsula’s forests and lake shores, as I stay connected with friends on Zoom and at safe distance in person, as I write my poems and essays, as I spend time with Cam.  Yes, this has been easy — and I breathe it in with great gulps of appreciation.  But what about family?  What about travel beyond these sweet forest borders?  What about grandkids and kids who live more than a thousand miles to the west and siblings and cousins who live more than a thousand miles to the east?  What about a rendezvous with these kids and grandkids in one direction and a memorial service in the other direction for a sister who passed in early June?  And what about visiting a mother-in-law who lives in the south of Michigan?  When I try to figure it all out, when I add to this mixture a husband who is facing his own challenges back in the world of dentistry during a pandemic, I’m at a loss.  The river seems wide, the water wild and my ability to cross questionable.

Sometime in late April, I began to envision it.  I didn’t have to try; it just came to me in daydreams, a clear image of the two of us.  I think by then I knew that plane travel would be risky for quite a while, that Cam and I needed to figure something else out, another way to connect in person with family.  It was always a brief snippet, my envisioning, a back road, and the two of us in a vehicle big enough to sleep in, and music playing and us singing and this wonderful wild feeling of freedom.  And in May, I began to say it out loud, that a small motorhome or camper van was the way to go, that maybe renting one would be a possibility, that we could do it, travel west and east this summer.  And then June rolled around and dentists returned to work and things became more complicated and we didn’t act, not soon enough it seems, or with a clear notion in mind.  So here we are, Cam and I, near the end of July, on the banks of a river wondering how to get to the other side.  We have not found a motorhome available to rent; others must have had the same daydream.  But we have claimed some time in August and are looking at the river and knowing there must be a way to cross it.  And that daydream, of the back road and the vehicle big enough to sleep in, and us singing, and a sense of freedom, it’s still very much alive in me.

So I’m not sure how it happened in my dream a few nights ago.  There I was, standing in the sand at the edge of the river, knowing the current would have its way with me, knowing it was too dangerous to even try, just standing there, and that’s when the dream shifted.  I’ve had dreams before where I’ve flown with the lightness of a bird, one time in autumn across the whole Upper Peninsula of Michigan looking down at a sea of blazing gold and red trees.  It’s a wonderful feeling to fly in a dream.  And this felt wonderful, too.  All of a sudden, I was lifted up, by what I don’t know, lifted up above the churning swift water, and carried to the other side, just like that, with ease and grace.  And there I stood on the other side.  And that’s when I woke up.

And maybe I’m waking up now in this moment, realizing I can be there on the other side of the river, in the place I want to be, feeling the open road, the sense of freedom with a partner I adore and connection with family.  Maybe we all can let go of the struggle, let go of fighting against the current, maybe we can allow ourselves to be lifted and uplifted to a place where solutions come easily and new feel-great possibilities open to us, and our dreams manifest in ways better than we can imagine.


Lake Superior Shoreline:
July 2020

My Sister

Happiness is not ready-made.  It comes from your own actions.  Dalai Lama

Dare to live full the one precious life that is yours.

I want to tell you a story, one close to my heart.  My sister entered hospice a few weeks ago.  She plans to die at home in the apartment in Connecticut she shares with her husband of twenty-two years.  But this isn’t a story about dying.  This is a story about living.  My sister is a buoyant soul.  Her name is Auralie.  It was a hard name to own as a girl in the sixties when Sally and Nancy and Lynn and Sharon were the norm in our New England town.  More often than not, it was mispronounced in a myriad of comical ways at swim meets when she would step up to the block to compete in the distance events that were her specialty.  We would laugh and she would take it in stride because she was a good sport.  But I don’t think she realized until she was an adult how appropriate a gift our mother gave to her at birth with this name that shines bright with the word “aura”.  Auralie is funny and fun and competent and creative — a potter, a weaver, a seamstress extra-ordinaire — and her aura is a powerful beam of light that uplifts those around her.

And now, as her body loosens its hold, as her voice, that was always boisterous and hearty, weakens and slows its tempo, as she settles into the letting go of this physical world, her aura still is beaming that light.  And this story I am sharing with you shines of Auralie’s aura, and of a generosity between cousins.  It was in the midst of the pandemic, before Easter, after some medical tests, that Auralie heard the news, that things had worsened and spread and the prognosis was months to live.  Her doctor, who had become close, was flustered when he made this dire pronouncement, told her that he always wore a tie, never had forgotten, but on this day, in the midst of a pandemic and having to tell her this, he was tieless and vulnerable.  Of course, Auralie and her husband were devastated that day in early April; we all were.  But she couldn’t stay dimmed for long, especially when sharing with someone who is probably her best friend.  “I’m going to buy him a tie!” Auralie exclaimed to our cousin, when relating the whole story.  And our cousin replied, “I can do better than that; I can send you a whole box of them.”

You have to understand that Auralie and our cousin bonded early.  Our mother, a widow, with two young children, re-married in the mid-fifties.  And, it was at the wedding, while eyeing that amazing cake and soaking in the sea of happiness, that these two four-year-old girls, born within six weeks of each other, one the daughter of the bride, the other, the niece of a beloved uncle who was the groom, became fast friends with a love of cakes and joyful celebration.  And during the next few summers, before our parents built their own cottage in the cove on the other side of the point, the cousins lived within a holler of each other, our family in the old saltwater farmhouse and Karen’s family on top of the granite hill in the lodge that was once the main building of our family’s summer camp.  Though I was a baby and toddler during this time and can’t remember specifics, I’ve heard stories of their back and forth message-sending, their sharing of candy and cookies, their romps in the woods.  Our father named his bright red lobster boat “The Auralie” and the cousin-shared boat rides were filled with salty spray and sea sparkle and boisterous loud fun.  And later, I witnessed their exuberance first-hand.  During the school year, we lived in town; our cousin’s family lived in the country, and, many a night, our cousin spent with us in our rambling sea captain’s home.  I remember Auralie and our cousin’s laughter, their escapades and cookie-making, their bumping down our long winding staircase on their bottoms, their secret language that a younger sister could only observe from the outside.  I want you to know I have my own Auralie stories, an ocean of them — our sister-friendship is remarkable and the five-year-gap in our ages didn’t stop us from being the best of friends growing up.  But this is about our cousin.  And Auralie.  And their friendship.  I’m sure their stories also can fill an ocean and their bond has lasted through all these decades of living.

And there are the ties.  In her twenties, our cousin married her beloved Dane who was a generation older, and their marriage, immersed in home on their tidal river in Maine and travel to his native Scandinavia, was deep and true and filled with creativity and spanned over four decades until his passing a year ago.  “I have a whole box of John’s ties,” my cousin told Auralie, and Auralie shared this with me in a phone call three weeks ago before hospice, before her voice became weak, before confusion began to set in.  “I’m going to give them to my doctor when I see him on Wednesday.”  And a week later, when I next spoke to her, while walking on my favorite two-track on a sunny May morning with spring breaking through the long wintery cold-streak in northern Michigan, Auralie’s voice, though slower, softer, was also sunny as she told me of care packages, how our cousin had sent Fig Newtons, their childhood favorite.  “What about the ties?” I asked.  “Did you give your doctor the ties?”  “Yes!” she replied, her aura shining through.  “I did!”  “What did he say?”  That’s when she told me, “He tucked his head and he cried!”

Later, on that same walk, I called our cousin, told her what Auralie had just told me.  “I think your friendship is amazing,” I said, my voice faltering with the truth of it all.  And she replied, “I think your sister is amazing, to scheme of gifting her doctor a tie, to find humor and delight in the midst of sadness.”  So there you have it.  My sister is amazing.  And so is our cousin.  And the sparkle in an exuberant person is a resilient thing.  That afternoon, under the brilliant blue sky of early May, while standing next to that largest of lakes, I handed my husband a crystal and he held it in his palm for a moment, then called out, “for Auralie!” and tossed it into the harbor.  We watched it plunk into the water, watched it begin to sink, watched it for what seemed like a very long time as it spun and sparkled and finally found its way down into the depths beyond our reach.

The Cousins and the Cake: April 1955


We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.  Maya Angelou

Personal transformation can and does have global effects.  As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us.  The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.  Marianne Williamson

“I’ll be back in the beginning of May, for the Ren Fair.”  I practically sang those words a month ago to my two oldest grandkids, who, at four-and-a-half and seven-and-a-half, can comprehend about how long it is between my evenly-spaced visits.  And, in the beginning of March, it seemed perfect, to plan my next trip out west to coincide with Moscow, Idaho’s Renaissance Fair, a rousing three-day celebration of spring’s return.  Moscow, a small college town in northern Idaho’s panhandle and home to our sons and their families, doesn’t hold back at this annual festival of merriment held in the largest of their city parks.  There’s a huge May Pole and May Pole dances, and art booths and face-painting booths and booths selling garlands of flowers to wear in your hair.  There are stations of food and drink, a stage set up with live music and dancing, and haystacks surrounding it to sit upon when you just want to soak it in.  There are llamas and goats and ponies to ride and fairy wings to strap on when you feel like fluttering above the crowds and fairy dresses and tie-dyed shirts and costumes galore and a huge paper mache dragon with a snarling head that weaves its way in and out of the milling people fueled by the tiny feet of a line of little kids.  It is as if the world busts free in Moscow, Idaho after the dark months of winter and the unpredictability of early spring into a blossoming fluttering pollen-laden joyously-raucous song and dance of newly-imagined possibility.  “Of course, I’ll be back for the Ren Fair,” I told the kids.

And I meant it a month ago.  And then things changed, things shut down, almost immediately after I flew home to Upper Michigan.  A virus swept across the sea and the land, and we, the people of this earth, were required to go inward, to spin ourselves cocoons of safety, to ride out this early spring storm from our home-spun shelters, no buying tickets for the next trip west, no planning ahead, no holding on to the way things used to be.

In early August, in the small wild garden that nestles up to Joy Center’s entry, the butterfly weed blooms bright with orange clusters of flowers.  This past year, these plants began to look chewed up, ragged — and the culprits were right there, present in plain sight, plump and perky and black and yellow zebra-striped.  Caterpillars were devouring the leaves, and becoming more plump by the day.  I never found the cocoons they later spun, but one sunny Sunday at the end of the month, Cam and I stopped at Joy Center to water the plants, and there they were.  Two of them.  One fluttering above the coneflower, the wild onion, the sunflowers, the other spread out in the sun on the paved walkway.  Two wide-winged and brilliant and brand-new monarch butterflies.  We were present for there arrival, the one on the walkway just drying its wings, still unable to fly.  It felt like a miracle.  How could it be that those plump zebra-striped caterpillars transformed into something so different, so light-filled, so expansive?

And I think about the monarchs now and wonder whether there is something for us to learn as we settle into our own hand-spun cocoons.  It’s just a guess, but I’m thinking that caterpillars hunker into their protective casings and allow the next stage to happen, with no resistance, no trying to hold on tight to their caterpillarness.  And I’m guessing that they have nourished themselves for this journey, taken as good care as possible as they embark on their transformation into butterflyhood.  And I also am thinking that they don’t try to figure it all out, where a wing will sprout, a leg will grow.  They just let it happen.  I see that for us now, that this is a time to nourish ourselves, to sink into the slower pace of the cocoon, to just allow the transformation to take place as we listen to what feels right and good in the moment, what opens our hearts and brings a lightness to our spirits.    In the deepest part of me, when it is time to break free from our cocoons, I sense we all will be changed.  I sense that the changes will be a good thing, that we will be lighter, more loving, more expansive, our world more connected.  But how can I — how can any of us — from inside a cocoon know exactly what this world will look like, what we will look like?  It’s not time to know.  It is time to be exactly where we are, safe in our cocoon homes, in the in-between time.

And when we do bust free of this protective covering, perhaps there will be dancing in the streets and live music and fairy wings we can strap on and little kids fueling paper mache dragons and raucous laughter and booths filled with art and food and garlands of flowers to wear in our hair.  Perhaps we won’t have to plan it.  Perhaps it will just happen.

Joy Center monarchs: late August 2019


When all is lost, then all is found

Where the north wind meets the sea  There’s a mother full of memory  Come, my darling, homeward bound  When all is lost, then all is found    lyrics All is Found, Frozen II

I lost it last night.  I think I’d been teetering on the edge all day, nearly three weeks into Cam’s broken femur, two weeks into all of our lives being uprooted.  I felt it yesterday, the need for time alone, a day with nobody home but me, the usual kind of day back when things weren’t topsy turvy, when I could write and putter and drive into Marquette for errand-shopping, then ski to my heart’s content into the early evening while Cam prepared for bike riding or his own after-work projects, and, perhaps, after the ski, a plunge into a Joy Center event that was certain to bolster my creativity and set my spirit soaring.

So last night, at the end of the new kind of day I am living, after a bountiful supper — because we are eating bountiful suppers — as the sun sunk over the neighborhood homes, Cam and I settled into our new evening routine, a few hours of television-watching, either Antique Roadshow or a Netflix murder mystery or maybe, just maybe, a movie that seemed perfect for the night at hand.  It happened last night, for me, the perfect movie presenting itself.  As I flipped through Movies on Demand, I noticed Jane Austen’s Emma was available, a movie that should have been at the cinemas right this minute, with me sitting center stage watching.  I lit up.  I felt a treat in the works.  And then Cam saw the price and he freaked.  Twenty dollars for a movie we are watching on our television in our own living room.  He was stormy.  He was adamant.  It was too much money.  Now you have to understand, Cam was probably teetering on the edge all day too, dealing with his own upside down world.  And Cam certainly is not the boss of the TV controller or the house or me.  We have worked hard over the years to be equal partners in this relationship that constantly is being recreated.  But in that moment, I couldn’t take it.  I felt like a kid whose last toy had been yanked away.  No flowers on my kitchen bay window.  No friends to play with in person.  No chocolate.  Or oranges.  No Superior Culture kombucha. No Friday night fish taco dates with my guy.  No Cam walking briskly by my side on the bike path or able to do the things he does that make my life easy.  No No No.  I burst out crying and I couldn’t stop.  My inner dam had broken and I couldn’t halt the flood.  The weird thing was that I also was witnessing the whole scene, thinking to myself quite objectively that I must need this release, and knowing deep down, things are just as they are meant to be.  That’s the thing about this time we’re living through — we can know that there is something big going on, that we, as a global people, are softening, opening our hearts, finding kindness and generosity and connection.  We can know that the world is changing and will continue to change for the better.  And at the same time, we are allowed to grieve our losses, even if they seem petty in the grand scheme of things.

My four-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter lives from her beautiful heart, doesn’t need a global pandemic to remind her to shine her brilliant light out into this world, to charge ahead unbridled.  And on my last visit to Idaho three weeks ago, it was Elsa and Anna and Frozen II that were sparking her passion.  Many a day she requested her mother sweep her long blonde wavy hair to the side and twist it in a thick Elsa-like braid.  And by the time I was visiting, she had mastered the words to all the songs from both Frozen movies, and I found myself singing the songs along with her.  I was struck by the song she belted out most often, the one closest to her heart in the moment, a haunting ballad, All is Found.  It is not an easy song to sing, lilting high and changing rhythm then flowing like a river, but she gave it her all while I was visiting, in the early morning and before bed, while walking down the country road by her house, in the car on the way back from a Sunday ski expedition.  Her hands on her heart, her arms sometimes wrapping around her four-year-old-body, her passion, deep and soulful, was contagious.  Three weeks ago, when the virus was just a slight dot on the map in our country, the last stanza of this song already was feeling profound to me. “When all is lost, then all is found.”

That is what I want to tell you, that most of the time, I am not grieving my losses.  I may not have fresh flowers on the kitchen bay window, but I’ve cut lilac twigs from a backyard tree and the green leaves are unfolding in a tall vase in the living room now as I write.  Even though there is no dark chocolate in the house, we have homemade blueberry sauce, an awesome accompaniment to any treat.  Cam and I both love to cook, love good food, and, in our busy before-self-distancing, before-broken-femur lives, rarely had time on weeknights to create the feasts that have now become a daily ritual.  We are texting more often with both families in Idaho, all of us together, and Face-timing with grandkids, and Cam and I are spending precious time just being together.  From car, both of us wave more profusely and smile more broadly, to neighbors and strangers as they drive or walk by us.  And I treasure the six-feet-apart visits with neighbors and strangers on walks in the fresh air.  And I treasure the fresh air.  And I treasure that our beloved food co-op is doing everything it can to keep employees and shoppers safe, and food seems to multiply as Cam and I use every bit of everything in our creations.  And our neighbors are plastering windows and doors with cheerful hearts to remind each other that we are connected, that we are in this together, even as we self-distance, even as we let go of things in our old lives we held dear.  I’m closing my eyes now and envisioning my granddaughter singing with heart and utter sincerity those final words to a song that is a ballad for our time.  “When all is lost, then all is found.”  And tonight, Cam and I have a Friday date — we’re watching Emma.

The holiday wreath is finally gone and yesterday, I decorated our front door with hearts created by each of our grandkids and sent over a month ago for Valentine’s Day.




The world is full of magic patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.  W.B.Yeats

Life’s enchanted cup sparkles near the brim.  Lord Byron

I saw partridge tracks this morning pressed into the snowy crust on Joy Center’s driveway, and the paw prints of a single fox, and the tiny trail of a mouse or vole scittered across the walkway.  Even though events at Joy Center have been postponed for a while, it felt as though our beloved cottage-sanctuary was being cared for by the animal friends who feel safe in the woods that surround it.  In the years before I dreamed Joy Center into being, even then, I called that piece of property Fairy Land and felt a pull to its mossy and pine needle carpet, its balsams and pines, and the raspberry bushes along the ridge.  And when I breathe deeply enough and allow myself to be immersed in the moment, maybe on a ski or a hike or an amble in nature, maybe in a group of people sharing from their hearts, maybe alone writing or reading or stretching in yoga, maybe at Joy Center, when I’m really present, the whole of the world can feel enchanted, a fairy land shimmering with light.  In this time of self-distancing, of physical isolation, of fear that is palpable if you choose to taste it, I don’t want to lose this ability to see the world through eyes that are enchanted.

Several times a week, I listen to the podcast series, Beyond the Ordinary, hosted by John Burgos. A few days ago, an intuitive guest was sharing a prayer for our planet, one she had written with the help of her nonphysical guides and angels — and someone else, Walt Disney. That’s right, Walt Disney had come to her with a strong message stating that we need our enchantment now, more than ever.  I have to say, as surprising as it was to consider Walt Disney as a guide for us at this time, I found comfort in the notion.  It brought me back to childhood Sunday evenings, our whole family hunkered together in our rumpus room, bowls of popcorn or cereal in hand, watching as our black and white TV suddenly burst alive with fairy dust and magical-talking animals and a wise mustachioed man introducing us to The Wonderful World of Disney.  I don’t want to forget that I have a choice, that I can follow Walt Disney’s lead, that I can open my eyes to the enchantment that surrounds me, that is within me, even now, especially now, during this challenging time.

I don’t want to push aside magical moments, moments that have the power to transform if I allow them to soak in deeply.  During my eight-day visit with kids and grandkids in Idaho in early March, I had the honor to spend time alone with each of the four grandkids, as well as time embracing the hustle the bustle the glorious chaos of the whole buoyant bunch. Magical moments were bountiful, with all four beloved little ones, and now, three weeks later, I’m remembering a particular twenty minutes of enchantment I spent with my almost-three-year-old  granddaughter, a blond-haired blue-eyed elfin.  She’s the one who never babbled, not exactly, before finding her way to exceptional full English-language sentences.  Instead, as a baby and toddler, she chortled and warbled in a melodic bird-like call.  It was something to behold.  And somehow, this granddaughter, who speaks so clearly, so fluently, began this chortling during my recent visit.  And I began to chortle back to her.  And we proceeded to communicate in this language that had inflection and melody and something that felt like meaning just beyond my adult comprehension.  I wondered whether we might be speaking in the language of fairies. At any rate, it felt profound and fun, and then it was over, and we were back to the everyday, ordering green smoothies at the local juice bar and chatting about my very dirty car back in Michigan.

I know I can focus on what has the potential to scare me — and there is much in the news to weigh a person down — or I can focus on what delights me.  For years, Cam and I have consistently fed the birds from a backyard feeder, and, early this winter, the deer joined the finches, the chickadees, the red and gray squirrels in munching on sunflower seeds.  First it was a mother and her twin fawns, and then a another mother and fawn.  We began scattering the seeds on the ground.  And now, it is a tribe, at least twice a day, that fill up our back yard with their antics.  We know many of them personally.  There is the young injured buck with the black mop of fur on his head, the doe with the fur scraped off her back, several mothers and fawns.  When the evening light shines on them, they become ablaze and the scene is our own version of The Wonderful World of Disney.

So I’m hunkering in during this time of self-isolation, eating well, nourishing body and soul as best I can, but I’m not closing myself off, from the kids and grandkids on FaceTime and phone, from the neighbors six feet away as we walk the streets by our homes, from family and friends who e-mail and text often and thoughtfully, from strangers I hold dear in my heart, from the deer in the backyard and the first sprigs of crocus breaking through snow, from the enchantment that is present in each and every moment if I breathe deeply enough and open to its magic.


My friend Gala on the bike path in Marquette, March 2020

Our deer friends helping themselves to bird feed at our backyard March 2020

A snowman I came upon in the woods at Al Quaal, Ishpeming, Michigan, March 2020

Raw Possibility at the Spring Equinox

The return of spring, time of holy equality.  The landscape is still winter rough and wind-blown.  Walk outside and feel the raw possibility.  The world is made of stories, and we need to change the narrative.  Poised in the season’s symmetry, ask: what does another world look like?   Oak Chezar  WeMoon Calendar 2020


It has become a tradition for my seven-and-half-year-old grandson and me.  Each time I visit our kids and grandkids in Moscow, Idaho, my grandson and I claim a night together at La Quinta Motel.  It started six years ago, one evening, as I was saying my good-byes to him and his mom and dad before leaving their small townhouse to make my way to the motel, when, all of a sudden, he toddled to the door, clutched my leg and began to point emphatically at his coat, insisting on coming with me.  I’m not sure if it’s the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies the staff offers us, the excitement of a big screen TV or our special time together that has kept this tradition alive, but he and I have carried it forward and into my most recent visit west two weeks ago when we found ourselves once again sharing our La Quinta overnight. After unpacking our books and pajamas, I set off for the bathroom.  I had a project.  That day at the Co-op, I had splurged on locally-made facial products, firming facial toner, nectar serum, brightening eye cream,  overnight moisturizer for mature skin. “I may look younger when I come out!” I announced to my grandson before shutting the door.  “It’s going to be exciting!” I added.  Though it was exciting to care for my sometimes-neglected skin, I had been joking.  And I thought he knew it.  But when I opened the door, he walked up close, looked at me carefully for what seemed like a long while.  And then he pronounced with the utmost of sincerity, “Grandma, you look the same!”

I tell you this, not only because I love my grandson, his honesty, his heart that always seems to be open, his ability to not give a rip what a face looks like; I also share this snippet from my recent Idaho trip because sometimes change takes time and transformation in process doesn’t look like change at all.  It is now two weeks later and I honestly think my skin might seem a bit healthier, my under-eyes a bit brighter, and, ultimately, it’s not that important to me.  On this first day of spring, a day where it is rain-snowing and gray-skied and not that spring-like at all, what is important to me is to remember that transformation is taking place, deep inner transformation.  As we all hunker in for a while, as we practice what we now call social-distancing, as it seems that our towns and cities have screeched to a complete stop, change is in the air.  Beneath this seeming stand-still, the earth is waking up.  There is a thrumming, drumming, pulsating, health-producing dance taking place under the surface.  The trees feel it  — the sap is beginning to rise.  The animals feel it — the red squirrels are chasing each other up and down the back yard white pine.  And we will feel it too, this waking up, if not now, soon.  What raw possibilities are rising in me? I wonder.  And in you?  What new narratives do I want to tell myself as I awaken to my inner springtime?  What new narratives do you want to tell yourself?  And as a culture, as a world so deeply connected to each other, so deeply a part of this waking earth, what new narratives do we want to spread across the cities and towns, the mountains and seas of this beloved planet that we call our home?

Moscow, Idaho, early March 2020

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