Ocean Love

Photo: Kettle Cove: blue-green sea, white breaking waves, rocks near me, island trees at the back

February in Maine, and it is 60 degree weather today. It isn’t really supposed to be like this. We went to Kettle Cove, where dozens of people were out at the beach. A few even went into the water in their swim suits–but not us. Margy was inspired to collect some seaweed for the garden. I decided to sit on a lovely rock, and take photos of the waves and rocks.

Margy holding seaweed at the beach.
Rocks to sit on, with tide pool.

It was so restorative–wind, sun, rocks, water–all the elements. And the sound of the waves calming the spirit like a deeper kind of silence.

I was thinking about climate change and how the weather has become so chaotic. Tomorrow we’re back in the freezing zone, between the teens and twenties, and Friday a snowstorm is on the way. But the message I felt from the sea was not about worry. It was to love the earth just as she is in this moment, to love the weather as it comes–not to always think on how it is supposed to be different, but to embrace the changes as they emerge, to embrace every amazing aspect of this beautiful planet.

I don’t fully understand this message, the activist that I am. So often I grieve for what is happening to the earth because of the greed and destruction of some human beings, all of us trapped in this pattern. And I still grieve. But the other side of that grief is this love.

The message was that we must never cease to love the earth in all of her mysterious flowerings, her beauty everywhere, even when we cannot perceive it. So what a joy when we can feel that beauty all around us. It was that kind of day, that kind of visit to the ocean.

Myke & Margy smiling, with rocks behind us, and the ocean reflected in Margy’s sunglasses.

Healing Turtle Island

Two deer browsing in the trees behind our yard.

Tonight I feel grateful to participate in the virtual opening ceremony for the Healing Turtle Island gathering. Songs, prayers in Indigenous languages, stories of grief, woundedness, devastating loss, and yet, gratitude. How do we bring healing, bring back balance in our relationships, with each other, with the earth, with spirit? This weekend will be filled with many speakers… (anyone can join on Facebook, or on Zoom, just follow the link). I don’t have a lot of words right now but one of the strange blessings of the pandemic is that because this gathering is virtual, I am able to participate. I was present for the very first gathering here in Wabanaki land, the eastern door. There will be 21 gatherings all together.

This photo is of two deer whom we sighted in our backyard on Tuesday–there were four all together. They were a gift in the midst of a painful week. I found myself just sitting on the back porch watching as they took their time amidst the trees and brush. Sitting still and watching. I feel the presence of such a compassionate Spirit through these visitors from the natural world.

Crowded Memories

Photo: puzzle pieces scattered on the table

Going through my boxes of old files in the basement, I am now working on files related to activism in solidarity with Indigenous people in Boston back in the 1990s. I found some correspondence with one particular activist, for example, and I am remembering the long process of getting to know each other, building trust, and finding ways to be helpful in that struggle. But when my ministry calling required that I move to another place (Cape Cod, at first, and then Maine), it meant that all of that relationship-building was lost, in a way, and I had to start all over again in a new place to build trust, to make connections, to find ways to be of use.

When white people are moved to act in solidarity with Indigenous people, it requires a lot of work to create relationships of trust. There is such a long history of colonization, of oppression, of theft, of genocide, between us–and a long history of “helpful” people doing damage. And yet, the more I became aware of that broken history, the more I have felt moved to participate in such solidarity. Not without mistakes. But I have continued in these other places seeking to build relationships of trust with other Indigenous people, doing the long work of decolonization.

I am not one who usually has spirit-filled dreams at night. Usually, in my dreams I am at a conference or gathering somewhere, along with a whole crowd of people, only some of whom I am acquainted with. I am trying to find my way around, or find food, or find my way back to where I was before–such mundane anxieties. Sometimes I meet old friends there. Often, I feel lost and overwhelmed by all the people I don’t know in places I don’t know.

I started feeling like that as I was going through these and other files from Boston. So many people with whom I have done work, shared conversations, struggled for justice, had significant experiences, lived in a household together, loved, hurt or been hurt by, and yet, I had forgotten so much of it. If I were not looking through these files, I wouldn’t remember much of what is in them. It all slips away with the effort and energy of building a life in a new place. Only a few relationships carried into long distance realities.

Sometimes I fantasize about not having moved everywhere, living somewhere and staying there my whole life. But I realize it is only a fantasy. This came clear to me a while back when I watched the movie Kuessipan, about two girls who grow up as best friends in an Innu community. In the description, “their friendship is shaken when Mikuan …starts dreaming of leaving the reserve that’s now too small for her dreams.” In reflecting on that movie, I realized, I would have been the one who left. In fact, I did leave a small town to go off to college, and I kept traveling to “bigger dreams.” I guess that journey is also in my blood. My grandmother left Canada to come with a foreigner to America when she was 17. Perhaps she too was seeking a bigger life, bigger dreams.

And now, here I am, sitting alone in the basement, going through memories, looking back on the many people I met over so many years. Sometimes I feel so tired. Sometimes I feel lonely in the midst of the crowded gatherings in my dreams. Sometimes it is a relief just sitting alone with the boxes, trying to make sense of the puzzle pieces of my life. It is a humbling journey. May Spirit help me to remain curious and grateful.

Offerings

I wasn’t able to capture most of them with my camera, but I want to speak of bird visitors nonetheless. This morning little winter goldfinches, with their olive feathers, were flocking to our bird feeder, and to the water, and to the dead heads of bee balm never cut down, and likely full of lovely little seed breakfasts. The seeds, and the water kept liquid by electric warming, are our offerings to the creatures with whom we share this land.

I think of February 1-2nd–Imbolc, Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Groundhog Day–as the day the birds start singing again. The light returning. Still, even though something is stirring anew, this year there were many birds and other creatures who frequented our little offerings of seed and water during the dark of winter as well. There were a couple days mid-January when flocks of robins appeared. I only managed to photograph this one getting a drink of water, but there were likely a dozen. They love our neighbor’s crabapple tree. The birds also love to perch in our fruit trees branches nearby.

Photo: dark day, robin drinking water

The cardinals have stayed throughout the winter, and I often see the female cardinal at the feeder. The other day she and other smaller birds were jockeying for position—if three were on the roost, the seed door would close—so they chased each other off long enough to get a snack. Of course, the squirrels always have to take their turns–they’ve mastered the acrobatic positions needed to keep the door open. So smart.

Storms seem to increase the number of creatures who seek out our offerings. During our last blizzard, as dusk enveloped our yard, Margy called me to the back door, where we saw two deer walking so quietly near the bushes. The next morning, I saw their tracks leading to the seeds and water. I have heard it said that one of the rituals of Brigid’s day is to give food offerings to the spirits of the land. I hope our seeds and water might be a blessing to all the creatures who visit or call this place their home.

Feminist Therapy in Boston

Two outlined hands form a triangle–a symbol of healing which I used as a logo for my feminist therapy practice in Boston.

Going through the old boxes from Boston are taking a long time. The other day, I came upon a few folders from the part-time private practice I had in feminist therapy for women. Of course, most of my notes from that practice were previously shredded for confidentiality’s sake. But a few notes and cards from the tail end of the practice had found their way into a box that was then closed up for 21 years. Anything that was confidential I fed into the shredder, but as I did so, I found myself saying little prayers, sending good energy to the women I had journeyed with in those days.

My longest-term client was a woman with a head injury. Because it was easier for her, we spoke by phone for our sessions. I found myself curious about what had happened to her, and googled her name to discover an obituary from 2014. She had died at the age of 73. I was glad to see the details of her life brought together as a whole. She had been a successful film-maker before an auto accident injured her brain. I met her several years after that had happened. I knew that our counseling sessions were helpful to her, and I also learned so much from her in our work together.

A few things that I remember: The brain is an amazing multi-faceted entity–someone could be smart about many things, as she was, and yet unable to accomplish some very basic tasks like counting or face-recognition. When she reflected on her own recovery, she knew she had disproved the prognosis that after one year she wouldn’t regain any other mental functioning. She kept slowly regaining aspects of her mental abilities. Oddly enough, online conversations were a big help to her–she was an early adopter of making friends via AOL chat rooms. Because of her brain injury, she had difficulty with sequencing–anything she needed to do had to be spelled out step by step. But she told me she began to write online erotica, which if nothing else required a great deal of sequencing. Who might have guessed the therapeutic value of that?

She told me that despite the limitations, she actually found greater happiness after her disability than before–when she was deep into the rat-race, she was successful, yes, but driven and deeply unhappy. When she had the solitude and slowness of her later life, she had a chance to heal from earlier trauma, to learn to love herself, and to find joy. She also found new ways to contribute to the world around her, especially in support of animals.

I am only writing about her now, even unnamed, because she has died. On the very unlikely chance that anyone who knew her thinks they might recognize her from these few details, I hope they know how fond I was of her. These memories awakened a very tender part of my soul. It was a great gift to be a part of her journey of life.

It was a great gift in so many ways to be a therapist during those years from 1986 to 1999. There is something quite sacred about listening, affirming, and gently encouraging–with the skills I had acquired–the healing power within each person. Often people came to me during times of great distress. I didn’t always like each person, though I often did. But with everyone, it felt like we were held, for one hour a week, in the intimate, infinite regard of a larger healing Love.

The things I ended up saving from the practice for my files were things like my advertisements in Sojourner, the women’s monthly paper in Boston, where there were usually 3 full pages of ads for feminist therapists. This is where my logo appeared month after month for several years. I saved some of the networking I had with other therapists. I saved a little sheet on which I spelled out my sliding scale–I was glad to be accessible to very low income women. I saved notes from a few of the workshops I offered or attended. As in my later work of being a minister, some of the best moments remain invisible to the world. But hopefully the ripples of those moments endure.

Winter Winnowing

At work in the basement with shredded paper, photo by Margy Dowzer

Every couple days I go down into the basement, to sort through my old boxes. I cover up with an over-shirt and apron, cotton gloves and mask, to protect me somewhat against allergies to dust and old paper. I pull out a box and open it up to reveal treasures and trash, scribbled notes and carefully typed poetry, cherished memories and forgotten moments. I have no idea when I might finish, but it helps to think of this as my Winter Project.

Sometimes I think of it as death cleaning, as in The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson, a method of organizing and decluttering your home before you die to lessen the burden of your loved ones after you’ve passed. But I am not following any methods put forth in this book. What connects is that I am weighing everything against the question “What value might these things have, after I am gone?”

When I became a feminist in 1979, I became aware of how women were hidden from history, how most written history prioritized the deeds of white men in power. Wonderfully, feminist historians, and those of other marginalized communities, have been bringing to light these hidden histories/herstories for several decades. Along the way, I internalized the belief that our own lives are part of history, too. My life is part of history.

As a childless lesbian woman, I won’t have descendants that would value my writings. But that makes it feel even more important to preserve my stories, especially those of lesbian activism, lesbian community, lesbian spirit. And so I have been thinking about what might be valuable for an archive, and in fact, I have already communicated with an LGBTQ archive that expressed interest in my papers. So this becomes an important measure for what to save, and what to shred.

But beyond what value these papers might have after I die, it has also been so valuable for me as a method to reflect on my life as a whole, revealed in what was saved, deliberately or accidentally, during various parts of my life. So far I have been going through boxes from the time I lived in Boston, from 1986 to 1999. I guess I started in the center of my life. There is a lot of shredding-I reduced the first three boxes to just one. I think after I finish with Boston, I will likely go back to the earlier boxes, and only then return to the more recent ones. Perhaps then it will be easier to put it all in perspective.

I don’t know why it has taken so long to begin this project. I don’t know why now seems like the time to do it. But in the middle of winter, in the midst of a pandemic, in this liminal time after retiring, my spirit feels called to this remembering, this winnowing, and so I keep going down into the basement to see what I will find.

Courage

Photo: Female cardinal at feeder, with three smaller birds nearby.

I am finally embarking on a project to go through all of my papers, now in boxes in the basement. These range from files that I brought from my office when I retired 3 1/2 years ago, to boxes that I have carried around since college. This week I have been going through a box of writings–poems, essays, and an almost book, dating from about 1986 to 1996. During those years, I lived in Boston, surrounded by lesbian community, making a living in what today might be called the gig economy, while focusing my time and energy on activism, writing, feminist spirituality, and social change.

It was a scary time, financially, just getting by with no safety net, no health insurance, moving from rented apartments to other rented apartments in an increasingly difficult housing market. It was also, for a while, a joyous and exhilarating time, creating chosen family through collective living with other lesbians, wrestling with issues like classism, racism, and sexism, all the while imagining justice, mutuality, and queer beauty.

Reading the many words I wrote brings me back there, and I am impressed by the creativity which filled those pages and filled my life and the lives of those around me. But there was an undertow that sometimes threatened to drown me–a shift when housing got harder to find, when joyful cooperative situations became uneasy roommate situations, when loneliness began to plague me. Still, poetry and Spirit sustained me even then. I found this poem that seems worth sharing as 2021 comes to an end, and 2022 is about to begin. May you find the courage to follow the road where your heart leads you!

1/13/93

If there can be power in a word
the word “courage”
gets me out of bed
surrounds my heart in hard times.

There are many poverties.
Each moon waning, as I just get by
financially, I find my true despair
lurks in the isolation
which has covered the walls of my days
like some asphyxiating new paint
and I feel I can’t breathe
and I feel I don’t belong here.

I remember when I set out on a path
to transform the world.
We sang then, the joy of our
meeting filling our mouths
like lovemaking, our visions
changing us into new beings.
We laughed at how we didn’t fit
our chains anymore, and big as life
we set about to craft a new home.

There are many poverties.
Loneliness is the unforgivable sin.
I have always felt I could survive
the insanity and cruelty of the world
any poverty or hardship or struggle
if only I had companions to share it.

But here I am.
Loss and need my only mothers.

If there can be power in a word
the word courage
gets me out of bed.
Courage rests her cheek against my heart.
Courage squeezes my hands into her pockets.
Courage plants her feet into the prints
of my solitary steps
as if of course this is where the road
must go and I am still
that traveler.

Winter Solstice Dawn

Photo: Solstice dawn seen through trees in our town.

After the longest night, the shortest day dawns with beauty in the sky, and draws me outside into the cold and colors of morning. Snow is covering the ground at last, which has brightened up these last few dark days. Margy and I are learning to play backgammon for holiday fun during the isolation of COVID. After our first full game, we ate a Solstice Eve celebration dinner last night. Traditionally pork is eaten at this season in honor of the European goddess Freya. Later, we pulled out runes for a message for this turning of the seasons. My rune was Gebo, the rune for giving and receiving, for love and partnership.

As the light returns, and the days lengthen, may our human hearts turn toward generosity and compassion, in reciprocity with all of the beings with whom we share this planet.

Climate Catastrophe in Disguise

Wild pansy purple and yellow, blooming in December

A climate catastrophe sometimes shows up as the fragile beauty of a wild pansy blooming in mid-December in Maine. I took a photo this morning, before the snow arrived this afternoon, our likely first plowable snow of the season. Very late for us. The unseasonably warm days feel bright and pleasant, nothing dangerous. But I am thinking of the deadly storms that blasted through the midwest last week, tornadoes killing dozens of people in an unprecedented long trail of destruction. I am thinking of giant raging wildfires in the west, and monster hurricanes in the Atlantic. Sometimes the change feels like nothing much at all, unless I stretch my eyes to take in the bigger picture.

We arrived at our current house and yard six years ago after a 4 month search to find greener housing. We were able to downsize, to add insulation, to cover the south facing roof with solar panels, to install energy efficient heat pumps, to create a garden. Our actions fit the best choices we could make at that time, to align with our love for the earth and all her creatures. In that, they were like a prayer, like a magical spell to further the possibilities of earth community based in mutual respect. On a spiritual level, I have to hope that our small choices can ripple out for good.

But these individual actions don’t make a dent in the greater physical scheme of things. The giant polluters of greenhouse gases continue to ignore the limits of earth to push for expanding profits. We, as a planet, have already exceeded the hopeful atmospheric carbon dioxide goals of environmental organizations like 350.org. Now we’re at 415 parts per million. We’re on the way to unmitigated disasters that we can no longer walk our way back from. Scientists can make some predictions, but no one really knows how the increase in global temperature will play out in the next years and decades.

From where I sit, I can feel overwhelmed and helpless. I don’t have the energy to be out in the streets anymore, an activist like in my younger days. I don’t have the money to donate to activist organizations like I used to when I was working. Many activists I respect talk about the coming collapse of economies and civilizations, even within the next decade. I don’t imagine that I have the physical capacity to survive such a collapse, given my age and health. So what is there to do?

What helps is to recognize my limitations, to take in the very smallness of my being. What helps is to see young activists in the street, sharing their anger and love with loud voices. What helps is to remember that Indigenous people the world over have already experienced the collapse of their economies and civilizations. Pay attention to their advice. What helps is to recognize the smallness of my being, and yet remember how I am interwoven with the ancestors and all the interrelated beings of earth. What helps is to keep on loving the trees and birds and frogs and even the squirrels of this small place we are lucky to share with them. What helps is to offer bird seed as a prayer in the morning. What helps is to imagine the unimaginable largeness of the Earth, our mother, and her mysterious powers that we cannot measure or predict.

Our pond, frozen, with light snow cover.

Wenuhc? Wen nil?

I have been posting recently about my latest research concerning my Innu third great grandmother, and because of that I want to write today some clarification about identity and relationship. The more I am learning about Indigenous people–through study, through language, through cultural sharing by Indigenous people–the more I understand that I am not Indigenous. This might not even need to be said, except that there is currently a problem of people with ancestors even more distant or nebulous than mine trying to use those ancestors as a way to claim status as Indigenous or Métis, to get benefits from governments, or preference in hiring or hunting rights, for example. Sometimes they actually use this to try to take away benefits from Indigenous communities.

Years ago, when I was still just beginning to learn about all this, I wasn’t sure if I was permitted to claim an Indigenous identity, or a Métis identity. A few times I did, out of my own ignorance. And it is not simple for those of us who are mostly something else, but want to honor our Indigenous ancestors. Even so, I can’t imagine trying to use it to take something away from Indigenous or Métis communities. What I hope for is to be a good relative, a friend, to use my position in this society to act in support of Indigenous communities.

For my latest presentation in our Passamaquoddy language class, I found myself drawn to a word in Passamaquoddy that has been used to describe non-Indigenous people: “Wenuhc.” What does it mean? Some definitions say, “white person.” And that is partly true—it refers to white people. But, its roots come from an old meaning. When, they say, strangers came here to Wabanaki land, the Native people said, “Wenuhc?” It meant, “Who are they?” It also held a question, like, “Where are they from?”

When I ask the question of myself, it comes out: “Wen nil?” “Who am I?” The traditional way to introduce oneself is by naming the place where you come from, and your relatives, the people you come from. But for me, as a wenuhc, that wasn’t so simple. The more I played with the concepts, the more confusing it became—which certainly is a characteristic of many of us living in the mainstream culture of the United States. I want to share some of what I wrote—but mostly just the English translation:

The early strangers said, “We are Englishmen.” I speak English, but my roots are not English—so am I English? Wen nil? Who am I? Three of my grandparents have Germanic roots. But, I can’t speak German. I have German roots, but am I German? Wen nil? Who am I? My grandmother came from Quebec, and she spoke French. I can speak French, a little. I have French roots, but am I French?

Wen nil? Who am I? My grandmother’s great grandmother is named Marie Madeleine. She was Innu. She spoke Innu. Now, I know how to speak Innu a little, only a very few words. I have Innu roots, but am I Innu? Now, I can also speak Passamaquoddy a little, but I am not Passamaquoddy.

Wen nil? Who am I? I don’t know. I am a wenuhc woman, a “who are they?” woman. I am far away from family. Sixteen years ago, I came to Wabanaki land in order to work. Now, I am done working. So, what am I doing? Am I a preacher? Am I a witch? Am I a writer? Am I a gardener? Wen nil? Who am I? Tama nuceyaw? Where am I from? All my grandparents lived in cities. Now, I live in the city, Portland. Am I lost? How do I find myself? Am I a stranger? Am I your friend? Am I foolish? Am I wise? I don’t know. Wen nil? Who am I? I am confused.

What I learn from this Passamaquoddy writing process is that I am not well connected to a place or to my relatives. My being a lesbian, my being a justice activist, my moving around a lot, all contributed to a feeling and reality of being disconnected from place and family. And given the injustice I found all around me in “American” culture, I don’t regret the need I felt to resist it, to break away from it. But in some ways, that is a very “American” way of being. “America” celebrates individual identity and mobility. It defines who we are by what we do.

When I seek to find my way into relationship with the earth, with all beings of the earth, with the ancestors, with spirit, when I begin to value this relatedness, I see more clearly how I have been cut off from places and people that I might have been from. And I see more and more clearly how I am not Indigenous. I am wenuhc. I am “Who are they?”

And that truth is real, it is okay. “Who am I?” is an open question. It is why I make a spiritual journey into earth community. I can learn. As I learn to be thankful for everything, I begin to feel how I am related to everything, despite being wenuhc.

Note: I first learned about the word “wenuhc” from my Passamaquoddy language teacher Roger Paul. More recently, the organization I volunteer with, Wabanaki REACH, posted about this word on its Facebook page, quoting Rebecca Sockbeson (Penobscot), 2019.

Photo: Pileated woodpecker on a pine tree near our house. The woodpecker is a symbol of friendship for Wabanaki people.