Retreat with us

     We are approaching the in-between time. Daylight is noticeably longer; there is a quickening in the movements of the birds and a very subtle reddening of the maple buds. But snow still blankets the land, and the wind is sharp. This is a time to consciously seek balance.
     Come retreat with us for an extended weekend, March 5 - 8. A little back story: last spring, a soul-friend and I started offering workshops to guide people into their natural creativity as a way to discover what their intuitive selves might want to express. We called this process of centering, creating and connecting "Pathways". Now it is a small business called Opening Pathways, and we are offering our first retreat.
     This residential retreat is for women only, this time. The full moon will be with us, and the equinox approaching. We will come to balance through movement and stillness, sound and silence, going inside and outside, honoring light and dark, being creative and contemplative, alone and together. Each morning, you may choose to go for a sunrise walk, do a yoga awakening, or sleep in a little more. After breakfast, we'll have an opening circle and activity. In the afternoon, there will be another offering as well as unstructured time. Evenings will find us howling at the moon, having a dance party, or quiet in ceremony – as spirit calls us. Come curious, courageous and compassionate, towards yourself and all of us. The leaders are participants as well – we are in balance in circle together.
     If you are interested and want more information, contact me by submitting a comment to this blog post (don't worry, I won't publish it), or send a request to us at PathwaysMaine(at)gmail(dot)com. 
     Who knows what you will find on retreat. Definitely rest and restored energy. Maybe the light. Maybe yourself. 

Following the Light

     Even locked within the cold and snow this winter in Maine, there has been sunlight. And all the snow makes things even brighter. This was a revelation to me years ago when I moved east from Cleveland. I grew up oppressed in winter by Lake Erie's endless brooding cloud mass. It was intolerable. I left. Here on the coast of Maine, the sun shines in winter. And now, as the last days of February are before us, the light is carrying more than balm for the soul, it's carrying promise.
       My natural history calendar where I've recorded seasonal changes for more than a decade says that we may be seeing the first returning migrating birds any day now.  These joy-producing sightings are neither robins nor bluebirds. No, these heart-lifting rays of hope, the first winged travelers from the south, are turkey vultures soaring in their V-shaped flight above the highways, looking for road-kill. You can start peering out your car windows now, here in northern New England. If you're looking for spring, the turkey vulture is your best friend.

Turkey vulture. Melissa BoyceBright
     What? Vultures gross you out? Bare-headed carrion-eaters, devoid of color and song? How can this creature be the one that leads us into the light?
     I have two responses. The first is that, ecologically speaking, there is some evolutionary advantage or ecological niche that their early arrival enhances: they win by being first. But metaphorically speaking, wondering about this question can open some powerful insights.
     If everything is always sunshine, if we wear optimism to shield ourselves from the ugly or the painful, then we miss one of the most important pathways into light that living offers us: the path of darkness and shadow.
     Stuff happens in life that is bad. Pieces of our world that we rely on fall apart. We get sick, sometimes very sick. We slide down the slippery slope of addiction. We are spiritually seduced by charismatic people: friends, teachers, lovers, co-workers or employers, and they take advantage of us while we are either blind to their faults or we doubt our own intuitive whispers of alarm. The bad stuff is ugly. It feeds on dead meat. It is dark.
     And it also can show us how to follow the light.
     I have not been hit by all the rocks that life can throw at me.  But I have my scars, many from the list above. And I've stood beside friends and family suffering terribly from the horrors of war, from mental illness and from life-claiming disease. 
     Somewhere in the darkness -- or beside it, in front of it, behind it -- is light. They are never not together. But the journey to the light is through, not around, the dark. In Christian theology, there is a concept called the Via Negativa, which essentially says that since God is so indescribable, so ultimately unknowable, we can only describe God by saying what God is not. In a similar way, I think the bad stuff in life can help us find our way to our enspirited selves, and to the life forces connecting us. Not because the darkness contrasts with the light, but because together, the darkness and the light make a whole.
     I am not a natural Eeyore. Neither am I a Pollyanna. Sometimes it takes the distance of time, an act of forgiveness, or a recognition of my attachment to either an expectation I have or my own self-righteous victimization to see through the darkness. Seeing clearly what my responses are to the bad stuff is how I can begin to move with it and through it. I need to become friends with the vulture.

     I love the humor of the universe. The earth is tilting on its axis so that we in the northern latitudes will -- eventually -- experience melting and new life. The first sign of hope is the carrion eater, whose scientific name Cathartes aura means "golden cleanser".  I look forward to seeing his beautiful naked head. 

Turkey vulture. Roy W. Lowe


The Coming Season for the Monarchs

     There is hope. 
     On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a partnership with the non-profit National Wildlife Federation to take focused action to save the monarch butterfly population, which is in steep decline. They backed their words with money, setting up a fund with an initial $1.2 million which will be matched by other public and private donors. They are also directing 
USFWS photo. Sully's Hill Game Preserve, North Dakota.
another $2 million to restore 200,000 acres of habitat largely focused in the critical Texas-to-Minnesota corridor. Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on native milkweed, and its rapid disappearance due to habitat loss and herbicide use is a warning not only for the monarchs, but for the entire interconnected ecosystem. (You can find the press release here.) 

     What makes me tear up is the list of projects that are being funded (don't laugh, I really did). Everyone from the corporate partners of the Wildlife Habitat Council, to U.S. and state Forestry Services, to national and local conservation organizations are working together. And this is really cool: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is establishing a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) for Monarch Conservation. "Corps members will be placed in urban areas and would develop outreach and environmental education materials, create schoolyard and community habitats, train volunteers in seed collection and planting, and other outreach-related activities." Specifically, the money will "Support youth placed in strategic urban areas in the monarch’s range for periods of 4 to 8 months". Click here for a link to the list of projects.
Overwintering monarchs. USFWS photo.
     There is more good news: the few monarchs that made it to Mexico for the winter are surviving. Conditions have been favorable with no reported winter storms. I will stop all my complaining about the snow and arctic cold that this winter's storm track is throwing at us in New England if it means the monarchs remain safely unaffected by polar vortexes dipping south. They just need to hang on a little longer because in only a few weeks they will begin migrating northward towards the new schoolyard milkweed gardens and restored greenways we are planting for them.
     I feel like I want to thank someone. Thank you U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for using your resources to put governmental clout behind this effort. Thank you National Wildlife Federation for reaching across the U.S. to help form a mosaic of conservation groups, education partners and private landowners to work within this cooperative effort. Thank you regular people like you and me who have talked about it, posted about it on facebook, raised awareness, stopped spraying for "weeds", and stayed informed with resources like Journey North's monarch migration and education website.
     Last night at dinner, Bob, Andrew, Anna and I were talking about whether taking individual action to slow climate change was even worth it, given the magnitude of the problem. Despite some cynicism that arose, I think we agreed that we must act, both to do our own small part, and to urge the leaders of the large governmental and economic systems to cooperate. The story of the monarch is food for our souls: we must continue to do our small part, and we must cooperate -- and it is starting to happen. Thank you. There is hope. Let's keep it alive. 


Fear of the Unknown III – Facing Fear as a Pack

     That was really hard (see previous post). I had to look into a dark place in myself and see the fear, crouched and gnawing at me, that I have been hiding from. Now that I've named it, what do I do? You can't choose your dreams, but you can choose your response. Naming and standing up to fear is the first and often scariest step, but I'm still frozen until I move through it.
     My mammalian self offers these responses: fight, or flight. When it comes to catastrophic climate change, neither is really possible as an individual.
     Fleeing is what most of us do, including our elected officials. Isn't that what the deniers are all about? They are so afraid that they deny climate change even exists. And the rest of us, myself included, try not to remember as we live the fossil-fuel-dependent lifestyles that would take wrenching acts to break free from.
     And fighting seems futile: Even doing the good things we do – driving hybrid electric cars, putting solar hot water and photovoltaic systems on our roofs, buying carbon offsets – won't hold back the flood waters. After all, what can one person, one family, change?
      So where does that leave us?
      Come on people: we are herd animals! We live in packs, tribes, colonies. We survive precisely because we are not self-sufficient: we cooperate. And the leaders of our pack are failing us. How can an aging man with an eternal suntan not understand the power of the sun over fossil fuels ground from Canadian shale? He's holding on to the way the world was when he was younger. And then there are the 28 from the other political party who voted in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline – what kind of investment is that for our future?
 These “leaders” need to hear from us, to be reminded that their families will suffer, that we are afraid, and that we have the ability to turn climate change around if we act NOW. They need to know that America can be a leader in the world, that we can have a strong economy based on clean energy and conservation, and that they will be honored for leading us to that world. But we have to growl and snarl and nip and bite and take them down if they won't get out of the way, and let the practical visionaries lead our pack.
      Fear has frozen us for too long. People vote to stick with what they know. So there is another way besides snarling. Let's use our voices to show the beauty and safety of a world that we can get to by changing our ways. We have to draw the picture of an asthma-free world with low health care costs, where chimneys are historical artifacts of the industrial age and noiseless cars and trucks quietly zoom down highways; where roofing materials harvest the sun, pipelines carry solar-generated power, and the weather no longer makes regular headlines.
      This requires us to speak up. And this is the one thing that each of us individuals must do. Say that you are afraid, if you can say it. Say what you want in a re-structured world. Say it again and again. Nip at their heels, and it will start to hurt. Give them a way forward, and maybe they will finally move. 
      I commit to writing a letter or email every week. I'm putting it on my calendar to remind me until I've done it. Join me. I need you. You're my pack.