More White Pines

White Pine near Capisic

There is another old white pine that I see on my morning walks, next to the the Capisic Brook near my home.  Even as the old white pine at my home sent me on a search for the history of this land, so both of these pines lead me into a search for their spiritual meaning.  Maine is called the Pine Tree state, and the White Pine is the state tree.

When settlers first came to this land, they found old growth forests with white pines being the tallest of the trees in the east.  Many of them were cut down to use as masts on the English ships. In fact, any straight tree over 24 inches in diameter was marked for use by the king, but people often ignored that marking.  I read that the old-growth trees were all cut by the mid 1800s.

In the same article, they identify two old pines found in Acadia National Park as 154 and 147 years old.  That made me wonder if the method I had used to date the white pine in our back yard was accurate–if that pine was actually 162 years old, it should be on the EasternOldList.  On the other hand, if the land was undeveloped for a hundred fifty years, (just a blank space on the map) perhaps it would not be so impossible that it should be counted among these old ones.

Pine needles are full of vitamin C, and the inner bark was also edible–made into a kind of flour by the Wabanaki people here.  Among the Haudenosaunee, the white pine was the Tree of Peace–symbol of their confederation of nations, the five nations symbolized in the five needles in one packet, and the agreements they made to keep peace among their nations.

Modern science has discovered that pine trees release compounds known as phytoncides, airborne chemicals which protect the trees through anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.  These compounds also support the “natural killer” cells of our human immune system.  So walking in the woods has actually been proven to be good for our physical and mental health.

While searching the internet for the meaning of the white pine, I found that another blogger The Druid’s Garden posted this:

In my experience, these trees retain their roles as peacemakers for us today in order to rebuild human-land connections. Often on damaged lands, even if no other spirits or trees are open to communication, the White Pine will be the intermediary.

Since my purpose in learning about the trees on my land is to rebuild our human-land connection, I may see if our white pine is willing to offer that mediation.


A No-Win Gamble

The other day I read the “Medicare and You” brochure in preparation for my own “graduation” to Medicare this coming summer.  It has been hard since then to shake a sense of foreboding.  My first reaction to all of it is how can our society treat our elders with such lack of care?  I don’t mean that it is bad that we have Medicare–I wish we had something like Medicare for all–single-payer health care–in our country.  But what we have now seems so bereft of full medical care, that participants are encouraged to buy extra care to cover all the gaps in care.

But it is not merely that you can choose to spend a certain amount per month to cover the gaps–a kind of gambling in itself about whether you will save more than you will spend.  It is that you have to decide between a dozen or more types of options, which kind of product to buy–all seemingly based on making a guess about your own unknown future health needs and prescription needs.  The supposed explanations for the different types of plans amount to gobble-di-gook, if you ask me….

Does anyone besides me see this as a particularly insidious way to torture people?  “You can choose!  Read all this information!  Oh, whatever you choose today will affect your future!”  A gambling game based on what?  (Is it anything besides a way to bring further profit to insurance companies?)  Then in today’s paper I read Michelle Singletary’s column The Color of Money, “Medicare trend causes palpitations,” and felt even worse.  She writes:

New analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that out-of-pocket health care costs for Medicare beneficiaries are likely to take up half of their average Social Security income by 2030.

I hesitate to blog about this issue because by doing so I have to reveal elements of my own financial situation–and money is one of the last taboos.  But I am feeling bold today. I will admit that despite the many blessings in my life, when I stop working, I will be one of those senior citizens living on a fixed low income.  We have been very lucky–we have a home, with solar panels (lower electricity costs) and a yard for gardens.  But homes also cost money for upkeep.  I worry that eventually I will be one of those who has to decide between medical care and eating.  And I am so angry that elders are put into that position today!

In the world I dream of, “health insurance” would be something paid for by the healthy, to take care of anyone who becomes sick–which eventually will be most of us, as we age. In that world, no one would risk losing their home because they become ill, no one would have to gamble based on unknown future events, no one would be left to die because of a lack of money.  There is a lot more to say about all this, but I have to stop now and go to the ocean… get some perspective.IMG_4237

What We Are Here For


“Life is the expression and fulfillment and celebration of beauty. This is what we are here for.  We’re not here to do anything else.” (Sarah Susanka in The Not So Big Life)

Perhaps this is an odd sentiment, when so much in our country is going wrong these days. Aren’t we also here for justice, for compassion, for interconnection?  But what is beauty anyway?  Is it the unexpected sighting of a wild raccoon near the brook during a morning walk?  Is it the fluid colors of the sky in the dawn?  Is it a coating of ice or snow on the branches of every tree and bush in the neighborhood?

Why do these things enliven our souls?  Perhaps beauty is the mark of an essential wholeness, a harmony we can recognize with our eyes, our ears, our hearts, our whole being.  If that is the case, then I believe beauty also includes justice, compassion, interconnection.  We recognize instinctively the wholeness within justice, within acts of kindness, the miracle of our interconnection.

Beauty has something to teach us about how to work for justice as well.  To express and celebrate beauty is to turn our attention away from the ugly hatefulness we deplore, toward acts of creating what we aspire to.  This is why I love permaculture and solar panels and work parties and gardens.  We are bringing into being the wholeness we hope for.  I am not saying that protests are not important as well.  On the contrary.

But as Rebecca Solnit promises, in her book Hope in the Dark,

…if you embody what you aspire to, you have already succeeded. That is to say, if your activism is already democratic, peaceful, creative, then in one small corner of the world these things have triumphed. Activism, in this model, is not only a toolbox to change things but a home in which to take up residence and live according to your beliefs, even if it’s a temporary and local place… Make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit.

May you be a beacon of beauty today!

Wounds Remembered

View from our tent MD

[View from our tent Friday morning, photo by Margy Dowzer]

Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island was a powerful, moving, four-day gathering, with teachings and ceremonies led by Indigenous elders from near and far.  It included the stories of so many people, many of which are not mine to tell. But I want to share some of my own story at the gathering.

Wabanaki means people of the dawn, and there were ceremonies at sunrise each day led by Bobby Billie, a spiritual leader from the Seminole in Florida. I am also a person called to the dawn, so I was present each day for that time.

The first day, several of us had gathered near the arbor in the mist around 5 a.m., but no one had yet arrived to lead the lighting of the fire.  So I prayed my own dawn prayers, and felt this message from the sun–“You are all bathed in love.”  Later that morning, Anishinaabe women from the Midewiwin Lodge sang a song about the love the Sun has for all of us.  I was so moved by the melody, the voices, the drumming on the Little Boy drum.  It went straight to my soul.  They said it was about the first woman to walk the earth, expressing her joy at seeing everything in creation.

The first day was devoted to healing the wounds carried within the hearts and minds of the people from our long history of violence.  The wound that became clear to me was a Great Forgetting:  first there was a great disconnection of my ancestors from their connection with all of creation, and then there was a great forgetting so that the people would be unaware that they were wounded, disconnected, and thus never realize that they had once been connected.  At the end of the ritual, we each were invited to offer tobacco to the fire and make a solemn promise.  My promise was to remember, to remember the wound and to remember the connection.

Also coming into my thoughts was the herb that has appeared on our land–St. John’s Wort–which has traditionally been understood as useful for depression, and also as a wound healer.  I seemed to hear in my mind, this plant can help when you remember the wound of disconnection, when you open to the pain underneath the great forgetting.  I had harvested some of the plants earlier in July, and they were infusing in oil at home–the oil turns red from the plants.  When I got home, I also harvested more of the plants and hung them to dry in our garage, for making tea.

I know that there will be many more rememberings, lessons I carry from this time, but perhaps that is enough for now.  I do want to offer my thanks to Sherri Mitchell who has carried the dream of these ceremonies for many years, and who called us together and enabled it to come alive.


Not Just for Native People

Today about 160-200 people gathered in Augusta Maine, in solidarity with the Native Nations Rise with Standing Rock march in Washington.  Organizer Sherri Mitchell commented how important it was that non-Native peoples were showing up–both because for too many years Native people have been struggling without support from the white community, but also because these issues really affect all of us.  Issues like water to drink, on which depends everything else about our lives, or the problem of toxins in the land, like uranium mining and oil pipelines, which so often have first been situated on land where Indigenous people were living, but then spread everywhere.

People Gathering in Augusta.jpg

[People beginning to gather at the Augusta rally]

I think about how my activism on these issues is often perceived by (white) others as something I am doing “for” Indigenous peoples, or a “special interest.” Perhaps I am misperceiving it, but I get the impression that some see it as too “narrow.”  But Sherri gave voice to what feels true to me–that Indigenous issues are tied in to so many other issues that we are facing in this time, issues that will determine the future of our planet.

I tried to articulate this in my book, Finding Our Way Home.  So many of the issues we are facing are the result of disconnection from the land, from other people, from the spirit within and between all beings.  So many of the issues we face are a result of the original colonization and theft of this land from Indigenous nations.  There is such a pervasive overlay of denial around the true origins of our nation, that it is easy for me to feel tongue-tied just trying to speak or write about it.

After leaving the rally in Augusta, I went to see the movie “I Am Not Your Negro” (directed by Raoul Peck).  What a wake-up call from James Baldwin to white America–again, confronting the pervasive overlay of denial about racism in America.  Can’t we see that racism makes white people monsters!  Our country will rise or fall depending on healing the wounds of colonization and racism, and we can’t heal what we aren’t willing to acknowledge.  Or as James Baldwin said it so eloquently, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

I grew up in a bubble of “innocence.”  I remember when white people applauded the innocence of children who knew nothing about racism.  But “innocence” is not what we need to heal–we need to wake up, we need full vision, we need to face it.

Some of my colleagues in ministry speak of their congregations growing weary of our preaching about racism, such a downer.   I don’t know if my congregation has grown weary of my words about racism, or my work supporting Indigenous rights.  But here is what I want to say.  It doesn’t feel like a “downer” once it is acknowledged.  Yes, it can bring up tears and rage and regret.  But there is also a sense of relief that comes from experiencing what is really true.  There is a sense of solidarity.  Because it gets to the heart of what is wrong in white America, it gets to the root of what is wrong in all of America.

As I said, I don’t feel very articulate today, but I feel inspired by the rally, inspired by the movie, encouraged in the fog of the everyday illusions that comprise so much of our country, to #staywoke.


Business Is Funny

title-pageMy book, Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community is now available for $17.99 through,, and via special order at your local bookstore through Ingram, as well as directly from  You can follow the links, or search using my name.  It may ask you, Did you mean “Mike Johnson”?  Say, no, “Myke Johnson.”

A funny thing.  If I go to its listing  at, it also says there are “2 used and 11 new copies” available from other sellers. But obviously, there are no used copies in existence yet–this is a print-on-demand book that was just released.  But there are all kinds of discount booksellers who list it at prices varying from $14.52 to $24.44 plus shipping.

From the business side of things, it is still better for me (financially) when folks order it directly from or get a copy from me in person.  This is because other sellers take over half the list price, so I receive about a third of what I would receive if someone ordered it directly from  On the other hand, if someone orders it from their local bookstore, it helps to support local booksellers, which is fabulous. And I myself use for its convenience and speed, and its free shipping when I accumulate a few titles. Plus, you can look “inside” the book on their website.  So all in all, it feels good to have it listed out there in multiple venues, so folks can get a copy in the easiest way.

It has been illuminating to learn more about the business side of book publishing.  I don’t expect to make a lot of money from this adventure in publishing, but I do want to get the message out to wherever it might be welcome.  It is up to me to do the promotion and marketing for the book.  But it won’t really work without some help from my friends. Thanks very much to those who have already purchased a copy!

And thanks very much to some wonderful members of my congregation who are hosting a book launch party this weekend.  If you are near Portland, Maine it is from 12-2 at the Allen Avenue UU Church on Saturday, January 14th.  There will be copies of the book to buy, a reading of selections from the book, music, refreshments and I will sign your copy. Everyone is invited.

Other ways you can help:  If you read the book and appreciate its message, tell your friends about it or give it as a gift.  Share it on Facebook.  You can also help promote it by writing a review under its listing at, or and then sharing it via Facebook or Twitter.  Thank you in advance!

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.


[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.