I saw my first spring migrant Monday: a Red-winged Blackbird. 
      I shouted across the kitchen and dining room to Willson or Bob, whoever could hear my happiness. I'm not really sure how to explain this spike in my heart, this connection, the meaning of that one individual's appearance that is itself wonderful and also signifies that there is a hole in the dam of winter, and spring is starting to spurt through. 
     Maybe glee is the right word?
     The Monarch butterflies are roosting in Mexico right now. They overwinter in a small area of cool montane forests, clustering densely on Oyamel fir trees like orange cloaks. Until 1975 no one knew what happened to Monarchs in the winter; no one knew that most of the Monarchs from across North America funnel into this hidden, miraculous place and layer themselves over each other, tens of thousands on a single tree, for nearly four cold months. No one knew that the Oyamel fir - Abies religiosa or Sacred Fir - was so perfectly named not just for being the source of Christmas greenery but for being the bearer of so much fragile life and beauty. 
photo from Wikimedia Commons
      What happens when we discover these miracles? When you see a Monarch in your garden in Maine and realize it is dependent on a particular Oyamel in Mexico? When one of the first migrating blackbirds chooses your apple tree outside your kitchen window to rest and find food? It's connection, and to be connected to the living, natural, miraculous world is arguably something we all desire, deep down. There is actually a biological hypothesis about exactly this called biophilia, first introduced by the great scientist (and my hero) E.O. Wilson in his 1984 book of that name (Biophilia). 
     Back to the Monarchs: read this excerpt from a letter by a local Mexican woman visiting the Monarch sanctuary last week:
"Twenty or more Oyamel firs majestically held the weight of enormous clusters - wonderful copper-gold and dark brown. The beauty was overwhelming, and could make anyone in the spectator’s group just cry silently...  Turning each others’ eyes around and seeing many kind eyes and silent responses to one’s own, made us feel, I can assure, one of the most wonderful moments of life’s divine contemplation." (Estela Romero for Journey North)
     Do you feel it?  
     Bio = life, philia = love for   
     It's pretty much one of my favorite words.

     Almost a month ago I was in Arizona sitting among thousands of Sandhill Cranes. They come at midday from their morning forays to congregate in a shallow wet pan called Whitewater Draw. We waited and a few drifted in. We waited some more and more came in. It was getting noisy, and awe-inspiring. The birders came and went, and Bob and I stayed, unable to pull ourselves away.
And then more, and more, and more came in, squadrons appearing on the horizon in our binoculars like thin lines of smoke at first and then more clearly becoming a formation of cranes. Right behind, another squadron would emerge from nothingness. They came in like planes lined up in the sky for landing, separating into ones and twos for the final approach. Long legs extended, 
wings arced upward to break the forward motion, they hovered for a moment over the landing spot then dropped to make contact with a single bounce like a hop. Then they folded their white wings with a little shake, and stood erect on the mud or in the ankle deep water, looking like a sleek visitor from the dinosaur age.
     But literally, there were thousands of them, tall and squawking to each other with their red crowns. To be surrounded by that sound was mesmerizing. And humbling. And... biophilic. I was among these marvelous beings and I mattered not a whit to them. What a sense of completeness I had. I was part of, not separate.

     It doesn't take being among thousands of cranes, or journeying to a mountain refuge deep in Mexico, to make the connection with the creatures of the natural world that we crave. It just takes paying attention with an open heart.
     Biophilia. It's not really a new idea. The Lakota people have a prayer phrase "Mitakuye oyasin" which holds the sacred understanding of the oneness and harmony among all forms of life. But I am not Lakota. So I will stay in love with biophilia, and offer prayers of gratitude for my place here, connected with all life.
To get a really good sense of the biophilic quality of sitting among thousands of cranes, listen with headphones on and full volume. They were loud.



     As I write this, dawn is coloring the sky on a cold, solstice
morning. The snow is shadowed with lavender, tree silhouettes are sharp before the pale orange sky. Already the birds are moving into the feeders: nuthatches, goldfinches, juncos, chickadees, titmice and a cardinal darting in and out, the only movement on the frozen landscape. It's like that moment just after you inhale, and everything is still, before you exhale... and yet, life keeps pulsing and darting and flitting through that moment. Irrepressible. It's not a simple metaphor for me, because I want to sit with that moment-of-the-held-breath idea, and I want to go with the life-keeps-going idea, and I can't have both at the same time. And yet, here it is in front of me.
     I have an intention. I'm going to write about my amazing, beautiful, miraculous terrarium this winter, and let it be a conscious teacher for me. Already it is a source of joy. But I want to dive into it in a more humble, transparent way, as a student before a teacher. Writing is one of my pathways into my own spirit, and by doing so publicly, it's like I'm sitting on that cusp of transformation that is the solstice, that is the moment between inhalation and exhalation: I'm taking the unformed but incubating thoughts within and bringing them into the light.
     Get ready for a winter of metaphors. 
     So my terrarium. 
     Here it is when I set it up in early December:

There's partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) in the front left corner, bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) at the end of the arching stem behind, the tall thing I think is Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora),

then on the right side there's some moss  (I'm not sure which moss, does anyone know?), a white pine seedling in the back right corner, and some woodland grass, possibly Carex pensylvanica in the front right. 
     However, the magic is in what we don't see. I put this together on December 6. It looked like a still life for almost two weeks. Then things began to emerge. This is what I love! The possibility! This happens every spring out there beyond the window, in the woods, without fail, and who is lying on the ground day after day to observe it? I feel so blessed to be able to witness it in here on my window sill. The birth of possibilities. It leaves me speechless. And yet trying to give it words pushes me into being more conscious, and this takes me deeper.
     Here is the terrarium today, on the solstice:

                                         Do you see the new spear of grass,


the thing that might become a Canada mayflower but is still a mystery,


                                          the snail,

the woodland bug that looks like a piece of old pine needles? 

     What a miracle! No metaphors right now, just sheer joy in the becoming that is happening before my eyes. Our eyes. 

     Happy solstice.


Hearing the difference between a Phoebe and a Chickadee

     The dawn chorus has started. I love this! It's like hearing the sun approach the horizon, before the visual brilliance takes over my senses. The migrating birds will be flooding in soon, proclaiming their nesting territories with energetic song, but we are in an early moment when it's easy to pick out some distinctive voices. 
     Two that are often confused are the Black-capped Chickadee and the Eastern Phoebe. Everyone knows a Chickadee, right? It says its own name: "chick-a-dee-dee-dee". And the Phoebe says its own name: "fee-bee". 
     Not. So. Simple.
     Most birds have more than one vocalization. Chickadees have two common and very different ones. Their call is the "chick-a-dee" one. They make it when they are alarmed, escalating the number of "dees" with their escalating alarm.
     The Chickadee song is the one that we are hearing frequently now. It is a melodic two notes, the first one always higher than the second, and it sounds like... "fee-bee". Hence the confusion. Here it is.

Male Chickadees will start singing this in January, and to me hearing this singable and whistle-able song signals the return of the sun's light. It makes my heart happy.
     It's the Phoebe's song that is their dominant vocalization; their only call is a soft chip note. Phoebes are migrants here, and we just started hearing them recently. In fact they are one of the very first to return, and because their song is so prominent, usually I hear them before I see them. It's a glorious moment, because to me it means the slow plod towards spring is about to pick up pace dramatically. 
     Here is the Phoebe's song. It is a raspy (not melodic) two phrases, the first of which poses a question -- "fee-bee?" going up, and the second answering "fee-bee!" going down. Sometimes it's vice-versa

And for fun, here is a track that has both on it. I just recorded it two days ago. You might need your earbuds since the birds were farther away from me. It starts with a Phoebe. 

Now go outside and listen for yourself. And if you want to hear their other calls or read about them, click on Eastern Phoebe or Black-capped Chickadee to get to my favorite source for bird info, allaboutbirds.org from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 
And... the bird drawings are by Nina. Beautiful.


Confession of a Climate Change Denier

- Deep breath -

     I have a confession to make. There is a part of me that is a climate change denier.
     It resides somewhere in my subconscious. It doesn't affect my acknowledgement that climate change is being accelerated by human actions. But what it does affect is my response: I am frozen, I deny it.
     I wonder if I am not alone in this. Perhaps I share something with Senator Inhofe, or my cousin, or the guy on the radio yesterday. I wonder if deep down, there is too much pain in accepting the possibility that we have changed the world in a way that will cause suffering to millions of people, including our own children. I know I can barely write those words. Why do I have the ability to do so, whereas someone else really, really can't bear it -- so they bury it? 
     I am not so different. Yesterday I opened the paper and there was a story about the drive to repeal CAFE standards for automakers, the freakishly warm February we just had, warming oceans and the projected devastating effects on them -- then today's paper reported EPA chief Scott Pruitt says CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming. I closed the paper. I didn't read any of those stories. It is just too painful. And that is a form of denial. Maybe Scott Pruitt is just one rung lower on the pain ladder than I am, and it hurts so much that he denies it's there. Or maybe on the spectrum of fight or flight, he's fight and I'm flight.
      In an odd way, I'm feeling connected to the people I want to blame. I'm not too good at wading into the dark muck and fighting. Whenever I call my Senators with a plea to do something, I start crying. So I don't. I rarely rally against anything. I don't go to activist meetings. I don't want to be surrounded by doom. So if I'm not part of the solution, I'm part of the problem, right? I'm kin with the deniers.
     I'm reaching out to the climate change skeptics and deniers right now, both hands. Not as a group, but as unique thinking and feeling people. Look deep within yourself: are you denying climate change because allowing the possibility opens the door to fear, fear for your future, your family, life as it has been? I get it. We're not so far apart. 
     Let's just leave it at that, for now. Pain as common ground. But maybe from that place... maybe we will be able to stop being frozen in our attitudes towards each other.
     Thank you to all of you who are out there pushing for actions, policies and technologies that will help us all. You are warriors for the good of the planet. We need you. I am eternally grateful.

     I am not a warrior, right now. But I'll keep helping as I can, with words, financial support and personal mindful choices. And with my hands extended to those who, like me, may be unable to look directly at the pain. 


Looking out, seeing in

I wrote the following in support of an organization that strives to connect youth with wilderness. I feel even more strongly now in these days of turmoil that if we can ground our children in the strength and gifts of wild places, as wild as we can get them to, they will have a chance to discover the strength and gifts in themselves that they will need as they go forward. It's a window that opens onto my deeply held beliefs about nature, about parenting, and about the well of possibility that bubbles in our young people.  I'm sharing it because as parents, sometimes we need to look through our children's eyes.
                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~
     I think it was the car ride home when she said it. Jo was in the back seat gazing out the window, far from her canoe's stern seat on the Missinaibi River. But I think that's what she was seeing in her mind's eye, the long view over water and scrubby vegetation that opens up to the sky of the far north:

“You know, the more beautiful stuff you look at, the healthier your eyes get.” 

"Everyone must believe in something. I believe I'll go canoeing."
~ Henry David Thoreau ~
      All summer this theory, proposed by her bowman Annie, had been a guiding point for them. Living with the land, following the water, reading the sky, their journey took them far from the ease of home. With each sunset or waterfall, I imagine them turning to each other knowing that yes, their eyes were growing stronger, and so was their friendship, their inner strength, their physical endurance, their freedom.

     This is why I support the work that organizations like Wabun do. They do what I as a parent can't do. A journey into wilderness with capable peers, supported by a base of experienced and tested staff, strips these young people of the noise and stress and temptations of their home world and adds the self-knowledge, surety and confidence that comes when life is simplified to its most basic – and beautiful – self.

     I've been a camper on wilderness journeys myself. I've led them. It was with awe and hope that I watched my own children leave me to embark on their own journeys. And Jo, my daughter in the back seat? Now she's head staff at Wabun leading young women on their own journeys towards Hudson Bay.

"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness."
~ John Muir ~
      Friends of Wabun* was formed to support these kinds of organizations and the youth who seek these opportunities. I give out of gratitude for what I consider the most important, self-defining, and empowering experiences my children have had. I give because I believe that these organizations need to stay alive. I give because I know that young people from all walks of life need this, and their world will be a better place for them and their peers. I give because I want their inner-looking and their outward-seeing eyes to be strong. 

                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~                    ~
*The organization I support is Friends of Wabun. Whether it is through urban-based programs working to get youth into natural settings for a meaningful experience, partnerships with indigenous communities, camps like Wabun, or other organizations sharing our goals, our work is to support the confluence of youth and wilderness. A statement of our guiding beliefs is here


A Letter to my Children

     My dear daughters: 

     I was hoping to share with you this morning the glow of making history together. Yesterday, I really felt our connection as women for the first time. Your initiatory Presidential election vote offered perhaps the starkest differential between candidates this nation has ever seen. I truly believe our responsibility is to vote for the best candidate first, regardless of gender or race or religion, and it was a triumph to be able to choose superior intellect and experience residing in the character of a strong woman. We still won that. Hillary Rodham Clinton won the battle for integrity, never compromising her compassion for people with her drive to keep the country safe and prosperous.

     Don't despair. We are Americans. We. Are. Americans. We voted. We will continue to vote and choose our own government, and that -- for all its periodic tumult -- is one of the greatest blessings of our nation. Your voice did count, and it will count again.

     It is time now to listen. It's time to understand why Donald Trump was elected. It's time, as women, to combine our own compassion with our intellect and see where we can say "yes, I hear you, let's work together to try something new here". Anger, entrenching deeper and planting our self-righteous flags, name-calling, and cynicism do not serve our country -- and they fester in our souls. Retreating into self-pity does the same.

     We are women. We have the gift of compassion and connection. Enough people in our country are so hurting or fearful that they voted us into this new territory. I challenge you, my daughters, just as I challenge myself, to tune your hearts towards that hurt and fear, and find some way to be open to what needs to change. Ignore the chest-thumping. Learn mediation skills. Build on your own values: take our angry, fearful, poor, rich, disconnected fellow citizens out into the forests or mountains or parks near you, exposing them to beauty. Build gardens together; create art. In every person you encounter, find the inner place where you connect. There is spirit in every one of us, and from your strengths, you might be able to be part of the Great Healing that needs to happen.

     I realize this is for you too, my son. It's not just women that are hurting today, and it's not just women who can be compassionate. Bring your gifts to this work we need to do together, and perhaps in four years when you vote in your first Presidential election, it will be a different story. Now, let's hug each other, and let's get going.

Love, Mom


Sensing our connection

I have this cool thing called an energy ball. It's my favorite prop. 
Innocent looking ping pong ball 

Picture this*: a group of people is sitting together in a large comfortable room, mostly strangers, uncertain about what's going to happen. An instinct drew each person to this place: an awareness that something is missing, a hollowness perhaps, a curiosity maybe, almost always a longing to get out of the schedule-driven expectations that dictate their life. They want to make contact with their own inner self, to see if there is comfort there, a recognition of what they used to know before life got so crazy. But they're nervous because this is so personal and here they are with people they don't know. This is when I pull out the energy ball. 

"Ok, everybody hold hands with the person next to you." Tentative obedience. "Now...", I pick up a ping-pong ball and hold it, touching a little metal contact strip: "you touch it here" I say to the person next to me, indicating the other little contact strip. Suddenly the ball lights up and flashes making spooky noises. Delight surges around the group, the reality of energy flowing through us dawning on them. We really are connected by energy. It is one of the fundamental things we want them to take away from the workshop: we are all connected, influencing each other and being influenced. Awareness of this brings a great wealth of resources, from sensitivity and understanding of others, to insights into challenges, to patience and even love for oneself. 

I felt it this morning when I took the dogs out to walk through our fields. They were on my list, and I needed to get them out so I could get to the other things.
It hit me mid-field: the light was filtered, the tree leaves copperish, the air cool but soft -- nothing was breath-taking. Then through my unseeing self-absorption I heard the crickets doing their late summer "ch-ch", maybe for the last time now that it's November. I heard them with something deep inside, that memory place that sounds and smells can evoke: "ch-ch". And my whole body relaxed, my mind relaxed, and I saw the beautiful trees in that soft light and gentle air and felt myself sink into connection with where I was. 

This is when it's time to drop the explanations. I felt it. Is this what it's like to have roots that reach through the soil, supporting and nurturing me, holding me steady? Is this what it's like to be one of many grasses in the field, feeling the same air riffle through us? If the energy ball was here, it would light up.

And it's not a "oh that's nice for you, Libby, but I'm here in the real world" thing. Being outside is my easiest pathway to connect with our inter-relatedness. There are other ways. Meditation, creativity, love, for example. What is important is that we cultivate that awareness and keep it with us as we navigate our task-driven days. When I come back to "the real world" with that inner sense alive in me, I see the people I talk to and the work I'm doing with something like a cushion around them and me; it's a little easier, a little more spacious, and I'm more open to what is possible. 

I forgot to say that in that moment of hearing the crickets "ch-ch" and feeling the return to my senses, the words that came out unbidden were thank you. Thank you. We are not strangers to each other. We are among life everywhere, participants together. Connecting. 
 *this describes a moment from our Opening Pathways LLC workshops