Perched Hope

As I started my jog down the road, I thought I heard a meadow lark. Wishing, hoping, I glanced over to the one remaining apple tree in the center of the field, where, in the past, right at the tippy top of its artistically gnarled and twisted self, the meadow lark would perch.

He was not there. Far too early.  I knew that, but I was SO ready for warmth and wishing for spring.

Our wishes often outpace reality, but maybe Grace puts wishes in our hearts to sustain hope.

If wishes were birds, nightingale songs would drown out the sounds of air raid sirens and mortar shell explosions throughout Ukraine. If wishes were wheat and sunflower seeds, the fields of Ukraine would shine yellow under blue skies, instead of the gray, black and ash white of burned-out military vehicles and abandoned bodies.

The ubiquitous colors of the flag we now see so often haunts me with its symbolism for the beautiful, bountiful, peaceful land before the carnage.  What does it say about a people that decide to put the colors of their landscape on their flag?  I am convinced the spectacular resistance to aggression that we have seen is for more than self-determination.  It is a visceral commitment to something even more than family, culture, language:  it is to the land itself which, alongside the atrocities to the people, suffers being brutally violated.

I knew very little about Ukraine before the war.  The internet taught me about the swath of the Carpathian Mountains that stretch across the far west corner, home to wolves and bear and lynx, and the huge protected area of virgin steppe (grassland) with herds of multiple hooved animals grazing, including the Przhewalski horses restored from near extinction. It taught me that conservation organizations in Ukraine have now switched to preservation of people.  Tragically – the land and the other-than-human species of animals and plants will have to wait.  Now, there will simply have to be prayers for their resilience.

The internet taught me about how this “bread basket of Europe” is relied on even more by Africa for wheat. Europe might be feeling supply crunches for croissants and strudels; people in Africa may starve.  The discussions about reliance on oil far overshadows this discussion about the poor of the world, and once again, the brutal inequities of supply chain distresses are revealed.    

Let them eat cake. Fossil fuels run our lives….

I ask myself why, every time I think about Ukraine, I am almost fixated on the yellow wheat fields and the blue sky. It is probably because my mind simply cannot deal with the reality of the other images.   Wishes seem so timid and ridiculously ineffectual in face of the reality. Prayers – for me, are stronger, have more agency.  And, of course, we are all called to send money or show our support in whatever way we can.  

I can do these things.

But also, the fact that Ukraine came into my mind as I looked eagerly at the top of the apple tree for the meadow lark seems important, a moment of grace.  As if my gentle wish for something happy and lovely and healing – for the sight of the lark will be healing when it comes – is an offer to the Ukrainian people of a bit of hope –right at the tippy top of the artistically gnarled and twisted apple tree.


Tree Talking

Endurance. Gratitude.

I find myself talking to trees more often than I used to.

It started, rather prosaically, with the elm. I run three times a week. Near the end of the run, on the hill up to our farmhouse, stands the stateliest elm I have ever seen.

I need cheering on at this point in the run, and find myself simply asking the elm for help to get up the rest of the hill. After all, the tree provides an example of endurance. Surely me making it up this hill is trifling in comparison.  They have stood there for a century and a half or so, against the odds, enduring.

(Most trees are hermaphroditic – male and female parts together on the same tree, so “they” seems appropriate, even though I am speaking about an individual tree. We use personal gender pronouns for animals, why not plants?  It is not anthropomorphizing, but rather an attempt to recognize members of the non-human world as subjects, not objects.) 

The disease that has killed so many elms has not yet succeeded with this one. It may be due to their relative isolation from other elms, indeed their isolation from the rest of the woods. This tree stands alone on the edge of a field, which was under cultivation 140 years ago when our house was under construction. I estimate the elm to be just about that old.  I like to imagine their sapling watching the farmhouse being built….

It would be a blessing if this elm had some aberrant genetic material that helps equip them with a certain degree of immunity, especially if their winged seeds find other welcoming places to grow. We just hold our breath and pray this elm endures, because their presence defines that part of the landscape, and they are…well…magnificent.

And then there is the mother (mothers can certainly be “they”s) white pine tree, growing next to one of the trails in the woods now deepening with second growth on the farm. They, much younger than the elm, probably grew up under the shade of early succession trees. I guess this because the trunk is quite straight. If a pine grows in the open, they are likely to be “weevilled”: the terminal bud chosen by a beetle seeking the warmth of the sun and subsequent food for her cache of eggs, the trunk forced to divide around the subsequent wound. Straight trunk on this tree – so terminal bud probably remained growing in the shade – of no interest to an egg-laying mother weevil.

The pine is accompanied, quite sweetly, by a “daughter” tree about ten years old I guess (barely visible in the foreground of this picture.) Science now explains that such a mother tree nurtures the small one…

…as it nurtures me, the smell, sound and growth of this pine reminding me of a huge white pine that stood behind the house where I grew up. The branches of that pine were particularly well-spaced for climbing. I climbed often, causing that delicious thrill of a bit of danger on the way up, before sitting on a particularly secure fork, quite high, absorbing the solitude and the tree-sound most sweet and soothing to my ears:  a white pine singing.

So, each time I pass this white pine on the trail now named for them, I gently touch the bark and whisper thanks, for them, and for the rest of their species.  

This is what I imagine, for better or for worse: that the touch, the voice, but mostly the silent energy of gratitude are registered, in some form. The tree may not “experience” my gratitude right away, but perhaps in tree-time, days, weeks or even months from now, however long it takes. Of course, if there is a response, I probably will not understand it. And – given tree-time – I might not be around.

That doesn’t matter.

Talking to trees no longer feels as illogical or even new agey as it used to. If you have been exposed to Peter Wohlleben’s Hidden Life of Trees, or SuzanneSimard’s Finding the Mother Tree, or a number of other articles, you will have learned about the intricate and highly efficient underground mycorrhizal network between trees of the same species and even of different species. Some call it the “wood wide web”.

Yah, I laugh to myself, but with the added cachet of eons of age over the electronic human version…

But, do I need to be connected to a tree by mycelium to communicate with it? Apparently not: pheromones, roots, sound – all have been shown as mechanisms for messages between these species. So, maybe my voice, maybe my touch?

No one really knows.

Some argue there is no “intention or will” involved in the messages being conveyed between trees, just chemicals interacting, so it is not true communication. Perhaps. But it seems to me that a little humility might be in order. Despite the cutting-edge science going on, we know precious little about this kind of interaction. Response – if there is any – might well be in tree-time, a cadence we are woefully inexperienced at sensing. 

I talk to the trees because they help me face down the unrelenting, increasingly sobering news of the day.  Response or not, for the time being, I will continue to ask for help, because the elm endures and inspires, and I will thank the pine, resting a moment in the peaceful memory they evoke. I talk to them because there isn’t remotely enough recognition of the inspiration and gratitude flowing between humans and other-than-human beings in this world.

We would all do well with more talking to trees.

It Must Have Been a Saturday….

… probably fall warbler time. I remember the moist, pungent smell of autumn leaves beginning to decompose on the ground beneath our feet, the golden path layered with their forms. The familiar open woods surround us – exposed gray trunks of various widths against the backdrop of leafy gold, green, orange.  A small gurgling brook, mostly hidden by the tapestry of grasses and wetland species alongside, lazily makes its way through a culvert under the path.

It is chilly. I am glad for my hat and gloves.

My dad stops mid-stride, raises his binoculars.  

My inexperienced eyes search and search for movement in the tree tops in the direction he is looking.  “What is it?” My excited whisper anticipates the information I know he wants to share. (I think I really did want to know what bird it was, as well as to have the rare opportunity for a quiet conversation with him.)

Bird watching early in the morning with my father is a precious memory. I was thrilled when he asked if I wanted to go with him the night before.  Yes – it meant getting out of bed particularly early on a non-school day – but I did not mind. Time alone with him was always special.  

My father loved birding for the sake of the birds – their beauty in plumage and song, but he was also a scientist, so he would go home after a bird walk and record exactly what he saw, where, and when.  Likewise, he recorded flowers, particularly when traveling outside his home territory. Thirty years after his death, I still have a small pile of the large index cards with his meticulous notations: common name, Latin name, place, date, all in his exquisite handwriting. These are from the periodic trips my parents took to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming.

I suppose there was passion in his work as a nuclear physicist – the minutia of the universe and all, but those parts were pretty much beyond my comprehension, especially at a young age. But his passion for birds, flowers…. those I could understand.

My father worked to preserve open space in the town where we lived. I roamed those open spaces as a child with my parents, then alone when I was a bit older. The woods and fields, more than a setting for my childhood, formed my very being. I always felt at peace with the other inhabitants – animals and plants. I became intrigued – wanting to know more – how they lived, what they did. The ecologist in me was birthed here.

Is this why I do what I do now?

What DO I do now, anyway?

I write, mostly because it helps me think. I think about the more-than-human world and its relationship to the human world. I think about how mending that relationship is now going to take a revolution in our thought processes, a revolution much harder to bring about than any recent policy or technology or regulation. A revolution as critical as anything else we can do to successfully navigate the future for all stakeholders, human and otherwise.    

But writing about how off-the-mark the human/other-than-human relationship is now, in light of the climate crisis, is getting very tiring, even as the emergency increases.

I need a course correction of my own.

I spoke once before (Nov, 2020) about the Haudenosaunee Address, the ritual of an Indigenous tribe that had caught my attention after reading about it in Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s brilliant collection of essays, Braiding Sweetgrass. By its daily repetition, respectfully acknowledging and thanking all manner of things from thunder to herbs, a relationship between the human and other-than-human world is affirmed and passed from generation to generation  in the hearts of people for thousands of years. Although I will assiduously avoid cultural appropriation, the Address has become emblematic for me.  With the possible exception of the scientific community, I have yet to find any other expression that locates the human animal alongside the rest of the created order – with no ranking.  And no other expression uses gratitude to secure that relationship.  

I will continue to explore and write about the human/other-than-human interface, including discussing why I use “other-than-human” as a designation for everything else. I look forward to learning more about the Address. I also look forward to searching for any other description of the interface that might resonate with that model.  

In the meantime, I think back to those mornings with my father. Sure – we were two human beings walking along paths that had been cut into the wooded ecosystem. But never at the expense of the whole. During our walks, I was absorbing from him an intense interest in – and respect for – the diversity of life. Although never explicitly acknowledged, I sensed my father felt at home, belonging to the whole. That sense was nurtured in me and explains why I still write about it.   

As I look at his notes, I see the scientist, of course, the careful classification: first the common name (Bluebell), family (Borage) in the right-hand corner, Latin genus (Mertensia) and species (ciliatia) under the common name.   But I also sense a person delighted enough by the beauty and awe of the other-than-human world that he took the time to look, learn and acknowledge what he was seeing.  Did he give thanks to them?  Hmm. Not likely. But he noticed.

And he taught me to notice.



It has been almost a year since I started “blogging”, a word that sounds just a little too much like “slogging” when I think about it.   Which is, of course, sometimes the way a writer feels facing the blank screen: all set up for erudition or lyricism, but with a brain refusing to embrace either, much less both.   To those who “Follow” me on this website, and enjoy my words, I apologize for my scarcity of posts.   To others, who would just as soon not have many messages in this all-too-much-screen-time year, you’re welcome.

This is what I am seeing  – a year on…

Remember the liver-lobed hepatica? (April 30th, 2020) Here they are again, emerging from under the snow – although not-quite-yet-in-bloom.

Like our lives.

Our lives are not quite in bloom either, as we begin to emerge from our household bubbles or pods, unsure of our safety and the safety of those we love.  Translating and individualizing CDC guidelines is a challenge, particularly when you need to respect differences in interpretation, trying hard not to fight with the very people you love the most and wish to hug again.  

The pre-occupation is sometimes exhausting. And yet, here I am, so blessed to be in a small, safe household in a small, safe town on the edge of a huge state park.  Complaining seems incredibly callous and selfish.

Instead, we spend time watching the bluebirds checking out those boxes that looked so deserted just two months ago (January 19, 2021). The males are first at the home-hunting game; the arrival of the females ups the ante for them. We hear their chortling, quiet songs in the relative silence of the late winter soundscape. There is a bit of desperation as the males flitter from the top of one birdhouse to another. This one?  Or, how about this one? When they actually go so far as to duck inside to check out the interior, we are thrilled.

Maybe it is we who are more desperate. But now, little bit by little bit, as we check out what is coming out of the new administration, we are offered strands of hope. 

With regard to environmental concerns, unlike during the Trump years, we agree with almost all of the policy decisions of the new administration.  Not all, but most. There is a wonderful feeling: an adult is at the helm, surrounded by experts who are listened to. Science and compassion are back in style and “climate change”is no longer barred from the lexicon of government. Indeed, every piece of legislation that is emerging from the White House these days has at least some items explicitly addressing the climate emergency. The passage of some of these comprehensive moves, entirely necessary as part of our efforts to save the planet, may require significant slogging on the part of the administration.  But the thrill of knowing that someone among The Powers That Be really and truly gets it gives us hope.  

And so, as the blessed spring progresses, (and as put off finishing this post), sunny days warm the air, bringing on more birds – phoebes and swallows alongside the bluebirds, enticing the yellow patches of daffodils from the brown network of last year’s dead grass, and warming my face as I turn sunward, I thank all of them individually – the birds, flowers, sun, and, because it works for me, the Maker of all this beauty.  


Tuesday, January 19th 2021.

I start to write this blog post on the day before the inauguration of a new president of the United States. And because writing takes time, I finish it after.  

It is gray and cold outside. Without the sun, the snow is drab, the swallow houses look totally abandoned for good, not just shut up for the winter. Time seems to stand still.   

I just added a little prayer that the transfer of power will actually happen tomorrow, as there are those who clearly would not have it so.

I am acutely fixated on Before and After. In terms of the Earth, holding us in the precious, thin, skim of life on her surface, the threat from the United States of America during the last four years has been like no other that I have known. During the Before, the emergence of new understandings of what is actually happening in the climate crisis and of what needs to be done in response, is halted, like a border fence stops immigrants, or unexpected medical bills stop dreams, or a hurricane or a fire consume where you live.

Actually – it is worse than that. In many cases the gains made over the previous decades have been pushed back. Regulations abandoned, experts ignored, and political consensus forgotten.

There are times when I would think that it can’t get any worse.  And then another sacred part of my caring is attacked: a precious and sacred national monument; a wildly successful environmental law; a regulation that prevented fossil fuel companies from totally exploiting the earth while exposing people to toxic waste and fumes, or spoiled water or desecrated lands.  

My jaw drops.  It does get worse.

It is now at the point where all I can do is pray that savvy environmental justice non-profits will appeal to the courts, career staff will create administrative road blocks to slow things down, and millions of people – led predominately by the youth, will shout and march and strike, insisting on change.

Before is a nightmare for any of us who care for the earth and who believe in justice for those people not responsible for, and unable to respond to, the deteriorating threats to their health and well-being.

The long nightmare means despair and frustration and, in some cases, an abandonment of hope.  

And then – from left field– a virus to make the whole situation that much worse. 

This is the Before.  

As I look forward toward the “After” I have wildly hopeful, totally unrealistic dreams. On the first day, “they” say we will start the road back into the Paris Climate agreement, the Keystone XL pipeline permit will be rescinded, and methane emissions will be regulated. President-Elect Biden has already assembled a measured, but experienced environmental team. Legislative support should be there for him.

I know After will not completely erase Before. But the sun will come up tomorrow, the stars will emerge over the Adirondacks, and if we are lucky, we might even see them….

Thursday, January 21, 2021

After a day spent just immersing ourselves in the inauguration process and accompanied celebration, I awake this morning beginning to really accept what it means for the nightmare to be over.

Yesterday – in the evening – all the reversals I enumerated were done by executive action. It should not be this easy, I tell myself – that “proclamations” from one person in one outrageously powerful position can make or break the future of millions of people, species, land, water and air.  But for the moment, that seems to be necessary, to jump start the future, because, as Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman said so incredibly eloquently: “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be.”

I am amazed at the ebullience I feel this morning, even as the first full day After is gray and cold outside. 

It is the way I feel when the first tree swallow soars in and curls itself around our farmhouse in the spring. They arrive in the gray, beige-dusted hues of late March, harbingers of warmer temperatures and blooming colors. My soul lifts and glorifies the imminent arrival of a new season.

After time can trick us into thinking that all is done, that spring has arrived, that a new team is on the case. But time marches forward and After becomes Before… something else.

Maybe what needs to happen is that we pause resolutely in the Right Now and be brave enough to answer Gorman’s call to be the light.

The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
If only we are brave enough to see it.
If only we are brave enough to be it.

There is a great deal of work to do.  

But – oh, mercy, mercy – it surely feels good to be in this day!

Sprouting Revolution

Revolution: derived from late Latin or Old French to Middle English:  to “roll back”. To roll back – not necessarily surge forward with a sudden radical change and destruction of the status quo.

Interesting…. Who knew…?

During the last couple of weeks, I realized I need to switch gears, thinking-wise and writing-wise.

My miniature orange tree evoked the inspiration.

I forget how long this potted tree has been part of my life – but she (more on my use of this pronoun later) has a history with me measured in decades, not years. She spends each summer outdoors, winter in the relatively cool front room of our house. She has had her ups and down in terms of health over the years, but last summer reached a new low, dropping most of her leaves, displaying a pale semblance of her former self. Following professional advice, I treated her with an organic insecticide (neem oil) and changed the fertilizing routine. She flourished, promising, I hope, to eventually flower once again and to produce the oranges. I accumulate these in the freezer over two or three years to make into small jars of marmalade to give away as Christmas gifts.

But during her resurrection something else on this tree caught my eye: a little shoot, vigorous and unexpected, out of place way down below her leafy canopy, growing from the otherwise bare, smooth trunk.   There is something about the odd placement of this shoot that says to me: Let us not overlook that revolution and restoration can emerge unexpectedly from some part of what went before, some earlier time, maybe something previously forgotten.

Maybe you have noticed that recently there has been renewed interest in, a re-sprouting of, a world view long understood and still held by indigenous peoples: humans are just one part of a community of substrate, systems, and beings with no dependence on hierarchy. Humans: Just. One. Part. One cog, one ingredient, one member. All parts have particular roles intertwined with all others.   

This renewed interest is fostered by our desperation. If the human species has any hope whatsoever to remain a part of this planetary experiment, it will be imperative that we realign our human expectations, relearn this existential understanding of ourselves in the fuller context, and regain our expressions of gratitude.   

I am increasingly convinced this must now “come before all else”. *

Having said that, we cannot afford to stop the myriad political, technological, and social actions currently underway to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, particularly on the poor and on non-human species. I simply believe this revolution in existential thought will eventually need to be at the root of how and why our species moves forward.

So we might as well get at it. 

The attitude we need to seek goes way beyond liking or loving or enjoying “nature”.  That attitude tends to set us apart, instead of acknowledging our existence within the household of the planet.

What we need to seek is also not about “stewardship” or exploring our role as “caretakers” of something given to us by a divine being. I am a person of faith, and I see sacredness in the world around me. But I think it is a grave mistake to see us as more crucial to the whole than any other part, or as having a hierarchical role that somehow qualifies us to be in control.  

A better attitude is one of intense gratitude toward the other parts. (Note: This does not need to be mutually exclusive from expressing gratitude toward God or some other creating divinity, as some of us may choose to do.)

Radical thinking?  Yes… and no. After all, it is a return to a way of thinking about humans on earth that is a great deal older than civilization.  One could argue effectively that embracing human exceptionalism was a poisonous ingredient from the beginning. Through time, it has become too comfortable, and too reassuring. But our time with this exceptionalism has run out. The “yet to come” arrived while we were busy ignoring the signs of how it fueled our destructive behaviors. The tipping point in the climate crisis (actually reached a while ago) has become more visible to people across the planet, experienced by millions, with storms and fires and migrations and deaths, most every day, in one place or another.  (Covid-19 is just another part.)

Relearning and internalizing the appropriate role of humans on the planet community will prove to be the most challenging part of our future. It will begin with seeing the universe as a “communion of subjects, not a collection of objects,” as theologian Thomas Berry was fond of saying.

So, when I refer to the orange tree as “she”, it is not meant as a personification, but rather as my recognition that the tree is a unique subject rather than an object. More accurately, I suppose, the tree is a “they” as both genders are involved and pollination and production of fruit occur on the same tree. But it is easier for me to see a “she”, especially when she is decked out with incredibly fragrant flowers and then bears fruit, which we, in turn, transform for others in a labor of love. I want to show my respect for the tree as an individual, a member of our household, a being with which I can and do have a relationship. She has her role to play in our home, and so do I.

What does it feel like to have that kind of relationship with every living and non-living thing that surrounds me?

How do I seek relationship with rock, soil, plant, animal, earth system? How do I express thanks to them? And can I understand my part in the community over time, to the seventh generation?

Fred Rogers told us when we are unsure of ourselves, we must look for the helpers. We need to seek help from holders of the wisdom, indigenous friends and acquaintances, being careful not to appropriate their views inappropriately. Ecological science will help. Other writers and artists. But first we must each learn to listen deeply, to feel, to identify with non-human brothers and sisters on our planet and in our local communities. And to acknowledge our debt to them. We need to take that time.

This is not simple. This is revolutionary.

* “Words that come before all else”, is how the Haudenosaunee refer to their Thanksgiving Address. (

Autumn, asters and time

Dark in the morning, these days, when I come downstairs early to make coffee for my husband, tea for me. I light two candles, a practice inherited from a housemate many years ago, as it eases me into my day. I peer at the inside/outside thermometer. If the inside temperature is below 60° AND the outside temperature below 40°, I make a fire in the woodstove. 

A soft, dancing light of warmth is thrown into the room. 

Autumn is far and away my favorite season. The colors this year are spectacular and we have had quite a few sunny days.  Our garden has not yet been hit by a hard frost: late tomatoes are still ripening on the vines, the kale and swiss chard are flourishing and my harvest of zinnia blooms grace tables throughout the house. 

And New England asters burst their purple and pink into the world with end of season abandon. 

But winter is coming, and, unlike other years when I have embraced this season of transition, looking forward to snow and skiing and to hunkering down into more inside activities, my predominate feeling this year is dread. The occasional outside meals with guests, served on top of an old table on saw horses set up on the lawn, will come to a chilly end. Visits-at-a-distance with the grandkids outside will depend much more on the weather. Unlike most winters, that occasional sprinkling of company into the house or a gathering for a community event to season our days will not happen.  

Zoom meetings will help. But only superficially. 

We are not ill with Covid and indeed, lack nothing of importance except the precious opportunities to be with loved ones. So many others are suffering so much more; it is beyond my imagination. 

I look back at my previous posts. Such an underpinning of optimism. The world pulling together.  Hope for a change in direction across the country that would begin to steer us toward not only a nationwide Covid response to reduce the deaths but a change of heart about other threats, such as climate change.   

I have not written for two months. Time during a pandemic takes on different characteristics. We are in our eighth month. It is less than two weeks before the election and a part of me is terrified, not to mention really sad that so many people apparently have accepted a “new normal”.

It is not normal, and immensely tragic, that our “baseline” expectations may have changed so much that what people believe and how they behave toward one another might have become an unrecognizable reality. I begin to recognize in myself – and in others – a shrugging of the shoulders kind of acceptance when Trump does things that are so far off the beaten track of normalcy that we tend to ignore it.  But I fear that is exactly what begins to erode our valuing of what is right, what is ethical, what is true.  We become so cynical that we begin to forget what is good. 

Optimism is being suffocated. 

I refuse to accept this as simply “the new normal”. I do not want that kind of world for my grandchildren. 

So, for the time being, each day after I extinguish the candles, I will seek to lean into the deeper, wiser, and comforting presence of some other non-human being, animate or inanimate, that represents a different kind of normal. 

What can I learn?

Here, for instance, are the fall asters. During the day, they open their hearts to the sun and to the bees, who in turn are thankful for a late season source of pollen and nectar.  But at night, the blooms close up. Botanists are unsure why this happens, but it might be simply to protect the pollen from moisture and to preserve energy for the daylight hours when the insects are more active. That sure makes sense. Whatever the case – they have adapted to a rhythm balancing outward offerings and inward preservation. 

 I need to learn to do that right now.  

Divine Messaging

I walk through our fields. We have not had enough rain, so the grasses are all a bit stumpy for this time of year.  But the mix of maturing seed heads and dots of color from small flowers still form a pleasing mid-summer palate. As I pass by, a clique of adolescent bobolinks appears magically from the density, rising up together to perch on the tops of trees alongside the field. We have delayed haying this field for the benefit of the bobolink’s reproduction, so it is a welcome sight.

The seasons progress. Because we have lived here for 15 years, we know more or less what to expect. If you live and grow things here, you know the importance of flexibility. Heat, frost, drought, downpours. You watch, and listen, and learn, and then adapt to daily and seasonal changes.

And now, Covid. We stay home.  With a garden and good neighbors, it is easy to shelter in place every day of our lives, watching the changes around us.  And yes, I give thanks. Every. Single. Morning.

I am at a loss for how to respond to realities beyond our fields. America is living through three simultaneous pandemics, caused by an insidious virus, systemic racism, and an inability to see and adequately respond to the overarching reality of the climate crisis. The uncertainty is driving people crazy. The subsumed emotions are breaking out in violence. I feel all I can do is respond to one issue at a time, while reminding myself the interconnectedness of all three pandemics is the primary lesson to be learned by us all.

I read about a recent poll that found that a majority of Americans who believe in God think the pandemic is a divine message and that humanity needs to change the way it lives.

My initial reaction upon reading this was:  Whoa! Here we go again with the concept of a punishing god who chooses a pandemic as a way to teach us a lesson.   “Zap!”   “You have not kept your side of the covenant with respect to the earth. Let’s see how you feel after more than 18 million people get sick and more than half a million (and counting) die! Maybe then you will listen and change the way you live on this earth.”

This “zapper god” is not a god with whom I am familiar.

I want to make it clear that when I say that I think there IS a divine message arising from the pandemic, I am referring to a different sort of God.

The God I know is a creative force of love, intimately involved in all processes that make the planet work the way it does. There are ecological and medical processes:  causes, effects, correlations, relationships, effectively “divine messages” about how things work, that scientists, doctors and climatologists learn to read. For instance: If habitat loss forces proximity between humans and some other animals, viruses do and will continue to jump from one to the other. If the lungs of people of color are compromised due to poverty and the siting of polluting industries, the death rate by Covid will be at least twice that of white people. If the planet continues to be warmed due to excess carbon, there is a strong possibility for hurricanes and tornadoes of an above normal frequency and severity this year.

The “messaging” is in the scientific information about these relationships.

Many experts are becoming more adept at interpretation, but most of us are not as conversant at understanding the messages, and are particularly ignorant of appropriate responses.  Bright blue chicory and ivory white Queen Anne’s Lace speak simple beauty to me, but for First Peoples, they spoke a message of gifts – culinary and medicinal opportunities. Their response was one of humility and reciprocity: the plants were thanked and the humans were careful to not harvest too many.

So yes, the pandemic is a natural “divine message”.  (When all else fails, read the directions!)  And yes, human beings: if the pandemic has taught us nothing else, I hope it has taught us that the messages still apply to us. So, I hope we consider humility, love, and reciprocity toward each other and toward the non-human world when we make our decisions in response.

Pointillism, Pixels….and Poison

The newly sprung leaves far above me spread across the blue sky like part of a pointillistic painting. They float, as if detached from each other and the earth, small etches of chartreuse, this early in the season.

Did you know the color “chartreuse” is named after a French elixir that exhibits this in-between-yellow-and-green color? The liqueur is an infusion of special herbs, naturally that color.  The formula has remained a carefully guarded secret by a monastic order for more than 400 years.

(This is what happens when you start down rabbit holes on the internet…)

Back to the leaves. They also remind me more prosaically of digital imaging pixels, an acronym for “picture element” (thank you, Wikipedia). The more pixels used in representing an image, the more information available to you.

In the case of these leaves, increasing the density will probably not tell me much more. But if I allow my eyes to simply drop down to the trunk of the tree, I receive additional information: the smooth gray bark tells me it is an American Beech. So the beech leaves dancing against the sky are the hopeful successors of the ones flattened under my feet, now decomposing in the soil into an elixir of water, minerals and other nutrients which will feed subsequent generations of leaves above.

Cycles:  composed of myriad pixels of lives and deaths, lives and deaths.

I think of all of us now, across the world, pixelated into six-foot-apart lives, the amalgamation of which creates a wonderful picture of caring and concern, if we choose to see it that way.  There is this strange contradiction: many of us are separated from those closest to us – unable to hug for goodness sake! At the same time, we feel ourselves connected to complete strangers in Japan and New Zealand and Germany and Kenya, when we see them in news reports, masked just as we are, all of us dealing with the incertitude of our individual and collective daily lives. Yes, though the threats and the challenges on a local basis may be vastly different, there remains a shared experience, not to mention a shared gratitude for the people who are essentially saving all our lives: the medical personnel, the trash collectors, the grocery clerks.

But the full picture is far from wonderful. The cycle includes too many deaths, exceeding 100,000 in the US as I write.  The New York Times devoted an entire front page to the names of 1,000 individuals, only one hundredth of the total. These names on the page are persons. Unless we have lost someone, and my heart goes out to those who have, we so easily fall into a contemplation of numbers. Names of strangers. Not people.

Recently there have been news reports of people flooding public spaces without masks and without distancing, others actually fighting with store employees trying to enforce a “mask required” order. These scenes way heavy on my mind and my mood. How can people not get this?  In a sense, the unmasked are living off the health of the collective, ignoring the possible contagion of others, and giving nothing in return.

There are t-shirts you can buy on Amazon that say “SELFISH And Proud of it.

What have we come to?

In Field with a view I explored the dangers of human exceptionalism, the metaphysical and theological implications of the vanity of self-importance on a species level. There is the possibility that we are only a passing phase in the overall history of the planet. And that was before Covid-19, which has demonstrated how the human animal is susceptible to the “whims” of another small being. “Being” might be too charitable, as it cannot replicate itself. It is just a bundle of genetic material that needs the duplicative ability of cells of a host species to reproduce a “pseudo-living” being.  I suppose from the point of view of the virus, the human animal is indeed delightfully exceptional. Easy pickings. We have no antibodies to defend ourselves.

When I think about it, humans are like a virus upon the planet, in the sense that we rely more and more upon scarce resources that have never been exclusively our own: the essential services of air, water, soil, other living beings. We so rarely recognize them, pay them the respect they deserve, or thank them, acknowledging our reliance.

Humans are pixels in complicated ecosystems, alongside other animate and inanimate pixels, from soil to sloths, granite to grouse, boreal forests to bacterium, volcanoes to viruses.

Many points of being.  I so desperately want the full pointillistic picture to be one of beauty.


This blog was started a couple of weeks ago, when the leaves were still chartreuse and small against the sky. The leaves are bigger and darker now and the deaths in the US from Covid-19 have surpassed 100,000. But the enumeration of thousands of names on the front page of a newspaper has been eclipsed by one name – George Floyd – whose death was not in a hospital bed surrounded by medical personnel dedicated to helping him breath, but by police officers cutting off his breath.  (Please note the “s” on officers.)

I am a white woman of privilege and I do not pretend to understand the poison of racism that seems to flow in the blood of all human beings. Like the virus, it affects us all differently, both in how we treat others and in how we see ourselves. I am not sure if there will ever be a vaccine. I do know that many good people over many, many years are trying very hard to discover treatments that help minimize the effects.

I also know that fire destroying businesses already gravely stressed by the Covid-19 lockdown, like the only local grocery store available in a food desert, will do nothing to help the mindset of officers like those that killed George Floyd. Sadly, the violence has overshadowed the death of the person known as George Floyd. His pixel of light is being subsumed in the flames.  I find that part very sad.

The black man most revered by this nation was so very clear: violence begets violence. He knew that the poison of racism could only be countered by the antidote of love and compassion. Yes, I know, easy for white me to say, from my secure home in the middle of fields, looking toward mountain tops. But that is what my faith has taught me. And my faith tells me that, just as God accompanies me in her most enveloping form, a Spirit of truth and love, she has imbued the world with compassion over the past few months.  As always, we are in the midst of becoming.  Always becoming an image of beauty, as pixels of love combine in new understandings, new connections, building better, to nourish subsequent generations to come.

Liver Lobes and Earth Day

The white snow covering has given way to hues of burnt umber/ beige of crushed, flattened leaves, still with ample moisture underneath evidenced by the gentle squish as my boots tramp on the woods trail. To one side, a middle-aged maple hugs the ground, the large exposed roots creating small sheltered gaps between them.   I gently push aside the leaves, and find our first serious harbinger of spring: hepatica.

This year, the search tasook on a greater urgency.  I needed this sign of spring to counter the images of 18-wheeler freezer storage containers lined up for corpses, and the faces of exhausted medical personnel, tears brimming in their eyes.

At times, I feel overwhelmed by guilt – that I have these options to look for signs of spring in the woods behind our farm.  That I do not want for food, for money, for a strong supportive community. But I recall a sentence in a recent reflection by a priest friend, that “love doesn’t keep a score of grief and hardship, so much as it assumes that all hardship is held in Creator Spirit’s embrace.”

Is that too pat a thought, I wonder, too easy for a person of faith to take off the shelf to appease a heart grieving at the inequities that this damn pandemic has blasted with neon lights across the world? Perhaps. But without it, I know I would just melt into tears of utter frustration and anger and sadness.

So, knowing that Love is alongside, embracing me and others, I go looking for signs of spring.

What a strong feeling of security there is, knowing that I will find hepatica every spring. Somewhere – underneath this tree or that, eventually – the little curled up buds will be pushing upward alongside the lobed leaves. Hepatica: from the Greek for liver referring to the lobed leaves. Ancients hoped the shape of that leaf signified its power to cure liver ailments. Since the 15th century the “Doctrine of Signatures” held that the shape of a plant indicated its curative use for humans, sort of a hint from a deity that perhaps regretted the diseases that pervaded the world.

Wafhat mind-blowing anthropocentrism. Still, the reliable appearance of hepatica cures me, at least for the moment, of the overwhelming insecurity of not knowing what the crisis will bring next week. Or next month, or a year from now.

On my walk, I searched for something that I knew from previous years would be there. And it was.

The reassurance was palpable to my soul.

Not all predictably recurring events sooth the soul.  Last week was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I shake my head. There is no such palpable reassurance when the human species concentrates just one day a year to foster harmony with the planet on which it lives. School children and elected officials planting trees, pronouncements from politicians and pulpits, editorials about how Earth Is Important.  As far as I am concerned, as long as there is an Earth Day – we are in deep trouble. Notwithstanding the laudable, revolutionary and largely successful protections passed in the early years of our caring for the earth, we are in deep trouble as a species.  Many of last week’s dozens upon dozens of recollections and commentaries and lamentations on the state of the planet concluded, rightly in my opinion, that the only way to save the world from this pandemic is to double-down on addressing the climate crisis. As Swedish activist Greta Thunberg remarked on a recent Zoom call with fellow activists and supporters… “every crisis needs to be treated like a crisis.”

I have this outrageous hope that after Covid-19 we will not need another celebration of Earth Day.  Because during this in limbo time, this pandemic spring of 2020, people will make it a habit to live differently, love differently, share differently for the sake of us all, and for the sake of the earth that needs more than an anniversary.

They say hope springs eternal.