My Dad and the Land

Johnsons 1936.jpg

[1936, his brother, sister, & my dad in back.]

My dad was born in 1930 in Gillette Wyoming, where his parents were homesteading.  Some stories I remember from his childhood there.  My grandmother made cinnamon rolls. They had a fire that burned down their house.  His mother grabbed the laundry, and all the family got out safely, but they lost their other possessions.  One time, maybe 3 years old, my dad went into town, with his dad perhaps, and when he came home he proudly announced “I buyed me this!” He had spent a coin to purchase some candy or some small toy.

The family left their homestead in 1938, when my dad was eight years old, and they ended up in Detroit Michigan.  For the rest of his life, in many ways, he was trying to get back to Wyoming.  He went there at 16 to work on the ranch of a family friend.  Back in Detroit, he met my mom at a riding stable, and we lived in Michigan when I was young.  We moved to Texas when I was 7, but after six months returned to Michigan.  When I was 12 we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, and my dad worked on a ranch in Montana. There were six children then. I was the oldest, and my sister Mary was the baby.  We went to the Catholic grade school in Sheridan.  We stayed there for one school year.

We could walk to school–I think it may have been about 8 blocks.  One time the weather reported it was 17 below zero.  My mom called another mother to ask whether she should send us to school.  Just bundle them up! she said.  I was in seventh grade that year, and was amazed that the popular kids were also those who got good grades.  I was in a drama club and a science club.  But it took a while to make friends.  By the end of that year, I had gotten close to a girl in my class whose name was Patricia Ann Rhodes.  The drama club put on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  I shared the role of Mrs. Gibbs with another student.

My dad stayed up in Montana during the week.  Actually, I don’t remember the exact schedule of him coming home.  He did go back and forth.  That year we spent Christmas week at a one-room cabin in Montana, which was a lot of fun.  Shortly after that, he stopped working at the ranch, and went back to Michigan to work again in drafting.  I didn’t know the full story until years later.  I had always thought he left the ranch because you couldn’t support of family with six children on a cowboy salary.  But really what happened was that he hurt his back in a fall from a horse.  Someone unexpectedly tossed him a bag of feed, and the horse startled and jumped away.  That was how he fell.  It was very physical work, and he was in too much pain to continue.

He told me later how devastating that fall had been for him.  He went back to his old job–but felt a deep sense of failure.  The year before, this company had held a going away party for him, and gave him a gift, a rifle I think, with many good wishes on this new adventure he was looking forward to.  So coming back was to admit the defeat of his dream.  Back in Michigan, he found a house for us to live in, and the family moved back to Michigan after the school year ended.  I cried when we had to go back.

I am thinking about how much he loved the open range, and longed for the land in Wyoming.  He found God in that land.  He said once that “people called it a ‘God-forsaken land’ yet even in that naming they were reminded of God.”  His longing for this faraway land was a part of my growing up years, one root of my own sense of disconnection and longing for the land.

I have been thinking a lot about my dad these last few weeks because he had a fall at home in West Virginia a few weeks ago and hurt his back.  He is now in a nursing home, theoretically to get some rehab and pain management, but he is feeling very discouraged, and not really participating in therapy.  He had a stroke in September of 2014, and recovered well at first, but it has been a hard two years. I am thinking about how much I love him, even though my own journey took me so far away from his world. Cowboy, mystic, dreamer… I send you blessings on this difficult chapter.  And gratitude to my sister Julie who has been caring for him and my mom close up these last eleven years.

The Chamomile & Me

From the Introduction to my new book, Finding Our Way Home:  A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community:

When I was a young adult I became intrigued with the use of natural herbs for healing. I read how particular flowers and leaves and roots were able to address different ailments of the body. I purchased herbal products in the local food coop, and steeped them in teas when I didn’t feel well. I learned, for example, that chamomile tea was calming during a time of stress. Then one day, with a group of peace activists protesting outside a nuclear weapons facility, someone pointed out to me a chamomile plant growing wild by the side of the road.

wild-chamomile

[Photo by Lazaregagnidze via Wikimedia Commons]

It was tiny, easy to overlook, with tight yellow-green berry-like flowers. Its feathery leaves branched out over a stony patch of ground.

I suddenly felt the connection. Chamomile wasn’t merely something I bought at the store. It was a plant that grew by the side of a road. Something in those chamomile flowers could ease my stress. We were related to each other in a deep, essential way—physically, chemically. And not only chamomile. I understood in that moment I was not separate from any of the plants or animals or people on the earth. We were all one, all interconnected. Something in me woke up.

But if we were one, why did we lose our awareness of our connection? What broke us apart? And more importantly, what could bring us back together? Standing outside that nuclear weapons facility, the contrast could not feel more devastating. If we truly felt our interconnection, how could we even imagine such destruction? Somehow, we had become lost, we had become divided—from the plants, from the earth, from other human beings, from the Mystery binding all of us together. How could we find our way back to each other?

…Without experiencing our connection, we cannot begin to address the dangers facing us in our time.

I invite you to join me on this journey into earth community. I offer stories from my own path, and stories from others who have helped me to find the way. Along this winding road, I had many teachers. Human teachers, to be sure, but also a red bird, a copper beech tree, a piece of bread, a common mushroom, my cats. I have not reached the destination, but I have come to understand a sense of the direction we must travel. We must cultivate deeper relationships with our fellow inhabitants of this planet, both human and non-human. We must understand that the Divine Spirit is here with us as well, not separate, but present in each being, and present in the larger reality of which we are a part.

 

Small Bird Press

Version 2

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Small Bird Press is the name for my self-publishing adventure. I  considered several other names, but when Small Bird Press came into my mind while I was on a walk, I realized it expressed so much about the purpose of publishing my book.

First of all, small birds were among my most important teachers for the spiritual journey I describe in Finding Our Way Home. The small chickadee I held in my hands after he was stunned by flying into our window. The cardinals who kept calling me outside at dawn. Small Bird Press is a way to honor those teachers.

Secondly, I had submitted my book to several publishers, but was rejected.  Most of the time, they didn’t really say why, but one publisher was kind enough to say that though my writing was good, they couldn’t take on the book because I wasn’t well-known enough and didn’t have a catchy hook, so it would be difficult to market my book. I understand this is often the way of publishing right now. So I too am a “small bird.”

But I believe that even a small bird–a person who is unknown, or only locally-known– even a small bird can change the world. When we have a vision of how the world might be, when we seek to articulate that vision and live that vision, it can ripple out in untraceable ways to shift reality. I want to be that kind of small bird, to bring about changes for whoever might listen, to shift reality toward earth community, toward human beings living in mutually beneficial relationship with all other beings of earth.

So I am delighted to be publishing as Small Bird Press. And if the message is going to ripple out, it will be because those in my small circles who share my vision are willing to share the book with others in their own circles. Find out more about the book here: Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community.

And thank you, Margy Dowzer, for capturing my moment with a chickadee in your photo.

The Book

Now available!  The book, Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Communityis being published by my own imprint, Small Bird Press, and available through lulu.com via this link.title-page 

What others are saying:

“Myke Johnson’s beautiful stories from her own journey illuminate the way to reconnecting with ourselves, each other and the entire Earth community. The practices that punctuate the end of each chapter help embody and guide the path of reconnection. A book to savor, it is also a compelling reminder of the legacy of stolen land and genocide, and of the urgency to face the past as a necessary step toward healing and finding our way home.”  Anne Symens-Bucher, Executive Assistant to Joanna Macy and facilitator of the Work That Reconnects

“Myke Johnson’s writings are inspiring, transformative and grounded in the mystic contemplative way of life.  Reading her reflections and meditations gives you a deep sense of connection not only to Mother Earth but to her own personal journey. This is a companion book for all that are seeking a simple but conscious choice of living in peace and harmony on our planet with all of creation.”  Rev. Virginia Marie Rincon, Episcopal priest and Curandera

From the back cover:

In this time of ecological crisis, all that is holy calls us into a more intimate partnership with the diverse and beautiful beings of this earth. In Finding Our Way Home, Myke Johnson reflects on her personal journey into such a partnership and offers a guide for others to begin this path. 

Learning from the Indigenous philosophy that everything is related, she found in her plant and animal neighbors generous teachers for a way back to connection: a chamomile flower, a small bird, a copper beech tree, a garden slug, a forest fern. Their lessons are interwoven with insights from environmental science, fractal geometry, childhood Catholic mysticism, the prophet Elijah, fairy tales, and permaculture design. Each chapter includes practices for further reflection and experience.

This eco-spiritual journey also wrestles with the long history of our society’s destruction of the natural world. Johnson investigates its roots in the original theft of the land from Indigenous peoples and in other violent oppressions between human beings. Exploring the spiritual dimensions of our brokenness, she offers tools to create healing. Here is a map into a new relationship with earth, with each other, and with the Spirit within and between all. Lyrically expressed, Finding Our Way Home is a ceremony to remember our essential unity with all of life. 

You can now order the book for $17.99 (plus shipping) via environmentally-friendly Print-on-Demand at this link:  Finding Our Way Home 

Version 2

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Myke Johnson is a Unitarian Universalist minister and earth activist, serving a congregation in Portland, Maine, while practicing and teaching ecological spirituality. She holds a Master of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Episcopal Divinity School.

More recommendations:

“I work with Unitarian Universalist congregational, environmental leaders across the United States. I am keenly aware not only of my need, but what so many seem to experience as a lack, a daily rift between functioning well on Earth, and Living with All Earth in ways that sustain our core. The messages and ceremonies of Finding Our Way Home are as essential, I think, as sleeping. But like sleeping, we try to do without as much as our hearts, bodies and souls need to meet demands in these times. This book is welcome medicine for the beautiful, difficult work and love of our lives.”  Rev. Karen Brammer, UUA Green Sanctuary Program

“As a student of Naiyantaqt, I have, over the long journey of my life, come to appreciate the rhythm of the Great Mystery; the wondrous Consciousness, the empowered understanding and meaning of Manitou, that exists everywhere and in all living and immobile matter. Such connections are profound, relevant, and mark the passage to the future awaiting the enlightened. I am aligned to such kinships and Myke Johnson is a long-time kinship, a seeker of the Divine, a companion in the awe of the Great Mysterious. She boldly embraces the Divine and her quest to connect with the All-Encompassing Mystery. Her book is the re-telling, the sharing of her wondrous spirit, life, and the path to her awareness. Her book will empower true seekers on this Path of Life, a path she confirms by our friendship and mutual journey together.”  gkisedtanamoogk, Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commissioner and author of Anoqcou: Ceremony Is Life Itself

“During times of chaos, whether private or public, the human psyche/spirit seeks inner and outer grounding as its home base. Using her own life as a prism of refracted insights, Myke Johnson has created a tool-kit for the rest of us to use in our personal and/or political struggle to survive, and perhaps even thrive. As she shows as well as tells us how to concentrate and tap into our deepest energy and then send it out into the universe in order to affect change, she does exactly that with this book, her own special gift to the world.”  Gail Collins-Ranadive, author of Nature’s Calling, The Grace of Place

“In Finding Our Way Home, Myke Johnson names the many disconnections that modern people constantly experience as the core spiritual issue of our time.  And then through wisely chosen stories from her own experience, she shows us how we might reconnect the inner pieces of ourselves, our relationships in genuine community, and our relationships with the earth into a more integrated whole. She helps us remember our deep belonging with all that is. And that as we engage this process, we are finding our way home.”  Rev. Deborah Cayer, lead minister, Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Durham, North Carolina

ARMY CORPS DECISION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Reposting from Andy Pearson on Facebook.

On Sunday afternoon, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, just north of the encampments at Standing Rock. This is amazing, virtually unprecedented, and a movement victory — and the water protectors who have led the fight are right to claim it as such. It’s also likely temporary and by no means the end of this fight. Here’s some context and paths forward as best I understand right now.

WHAT HAPPENED: The Corps denied the easement and ordered an Environmental Impact Statement, which is a formal study which will compare various route alternatives. Denying the easement was a stepping stone to getting to an EIS here for the Corps, and doesn’t mean that the pipeline won’t be built in its current alignment near Standing Rock eventually. The Corps is essentially hitting the pause button and initiating further study.

HOW DOES AN EIS GO? There are usually three phases to conducting an EIS: Scoping, Draft, and Final. The public can generally comment during each phase. The purpose of scoping is to identify what should be studied in the EIS — the scope. Then the Corps and their EIS contractor prepare and release a draft, which the public is invited to comment on. They then rework the draft in light of public input and release a final version, which the public can generally also comment on. The process usually takes several months, and can last for years depending on the project’s complexity. A generic timeline would be about nine months, but we don’t have any actual guidance yet on the timeline for this particular EIS.

WILL THIS ACTUALLY STOP CONSTRUCTION? Debatable. It would be illegal for Energy Transfer Partners to drill under the Missouri, but that’s not to say they won’t do it and opt to pay whatever legal penalties they incur. That would be a fairly shocking move on their part but they’ve hinted they may be open to doing it. It’s easy to imagine that an incoming Trump administration would do their best to make the penalties as minimal as possible.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR ETP TO DRILL RIGHT NOW? Contracts with oil shippers. These contracts, called take-or-pay contracts, obligate shippers to pay money to the pipeline company over a long, committed period of time regardless of whether they have oil to actually send or not. It’s a great deal for DAPL but not so good for the oil shippers, especially now that the Bakken oil boom isn’t so hot. These contracts expire if the pipeline isn’t substantially complete by January 1, and there’s somewhat of a chance that some shippers will choose to drop out at that point due to changing economics in the industry if the pipeline isn’t complete. Sunday’s decision by the Corps means that the pipeline won’t be complete by January 1 unless ETP breaks the law and drills anyway.

WHAT ABOUT TRUMP? Oh, you had to ask. He’s a problem here. Once he’s president, he’ll be able to stack the deck at the Army Corps so that the EIS is weak or biased in favor of DAPL, and he might be able to stop the EIS process altogether and reinstate the permit, though I don’t know the legal specifics here yet. It’s very doubtful that we’ll see a full and robust EIS with him taking office. The upshot of Sunday’s decision as I see it, assuming that ETP chooses to follow the law, is that it delays approval of the line until after Trump takes office, giving time for the contracts to expire and letting the worst of winter slide by without the need for full forces at the encampments.

WHAT CAN WE DO IN THE MEANTIME? We can continue the work we’ve been doing, because it’s all still relevant and helpful, and will become quite urgent again in at most a few months. We can go after the banks harder than ever to cut off funding to DAPL. We can continue to spread information, lobby elected officials, lobby the Corps, hold events, train for direct action. We can engage in the EIS process once it begins. This isn’t the end of the fight by a long shot, but it’s a brief respite between battles and a sign of how far we’ve come thanks to the indigenous leadership and water protectors at Standing Rock. Let’s celebrate and reflect and keep fighting. #NoDAPL