Searching for Meaning

Do we ever really stop? Do we finally come to a place of deep understanding with a solid feeling of connection that lasts? Do we arrive there after years of turmoil and searching, content that we’ve arrived and never have to ride that train again?

It seems that during the winter season, we are called upon to go inside and sit with our questions. Where I live in the mountains, ready or not, winter comes with a definite icy awareness. I am indoors more. Today we are in the midst of a series of storms. To me, a storm feels somewhat dangerous. Being from the foggy city of San Francisco, regardless of how many winters I’ve experienced in the mountains, I feel insecure. I watch the snow rapidly falling, swirling, landing and sticking to the trees and ground. I wonder if it’s going to overwhelm me.

Although I understand the necessity and the actual blessing of snow, it unnerves me. It’s hard for me to appreciate the absolute beauty of snow although I sit within a warm and cozy cottage. It remains a foreign element to me. This feeling is exacerbated by STORM WARNINGS, AVALANCHE WARNINGS, the dread of power outages and downed lines. It happened one winter since I’ve lived here…we were without power for five days. It had been a heavy wet snow and took down electrical lines. Large tree branches had fallen across the streets making driving impossible and walking dangerous. I was fortunate to have an alternate heat source that didn’t rely on electricity. A few of us gathered and huddled around the little oil stove. When the power finally returned, I was flooded with relief.

Being without electricity for that period, I entered a primal part of myself. A part that is based in survival. And the certain awe that nature holds the final card. We witness it when we experience or hear about hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Our ancestors lived in a pre-technology, pre-electricity era not so long ago. They didn’t have the cushions of safety and security that we’ve come to expect in these times.

Sometimes, there is a quality of merging that takes over. I notice (despite the refrigerator’s occasional loud hum) a feeling of deep quiet. The snow has a way of muffling external noise from the nearby highway. And within that quiet, a calm descends. When I sit on the enclosed back porch and knit while staring out the sliding glass door, this feeling can supersede any fear. I have momentarily accepted winter, the snow and my place in the order of things. That is a place where I’d like to live from more regularly. In that place, there is quiet revelation. I don’t have the need to know more in such moments. The quest for meaning releases and I have an experience of deep peace and connection.

In the New Year, I desire that for myself and I pray that it extends around the world…the experience of deep peace and connection.

Blessings to you in the new year and always.

Solstice 2022

It’s been so cold where I live. The plowed snow has turned into blocks of ice and each footstep down an icy path has to be watched. Last week, following a friend down such a snow-covered trail, I did the splits. She was ahead of me chattering away and was oblivious to my near fall. A man driving a snowplow nearby, applauded my quick recovery.

Yesterday, I drove south an hour to feel the warmth of sun and the busyness of a city, especially busy during the holiday season. This is a season that we have masterfully manufactured and turned into a time of stress for some and profit for others. While there, I went to Barnes and Noble Booksellers to get myself a calendar journal for 2023 and a wall calendar for my daughter. I note the ways that we mark time. My new Jane Austen calendar journal doesn’t show Solstice. I think that it should and I write it in the little square.

Shouldn’t every calendar should show the days of turning. The days where there is a pivot, a change in the light and the dark. Tonight marks the longest night. In Pagan cultures, this has been and is a cause for celebration. The longest night marks the rebirth of the sun. As winter stretches out before us in the northern hemisphere, with Solstice, there is also a rebirth of hope…that spring is going to come. For now, there is a need to contemplate, to release what no longer serves us and to plant the seeds of what we want to grow this year. Planting them in the deep dark within, like the flower bulbs in the garden, we harmonize with the cycles of nature. I wonder, if I lived in alignment with these cycles and let myself be guided by nature’s calendar, might I feel less bound by the man-made pressures of modern living.

It’s a quiet Sunday morning. I sense the desire to pause, slow the day down and give presence to the tasks that I’ve set before myself. And not to be concerned if everything on the list doesn’t get done. To make it alright that everything isn’t checked off the list. Tonight, I plan to participate in a free online Solstice event with Michael Meade, author, mythologist and storyteller.

A poem I wrote as I begin this day…

The days of turning
the longest dark
the deepest inward opportunity
But we’ve created a fantasy world
of distractions, diversions
that distance us from nature’s cycles
And we wonder why we’re
“out of touch” with reality
why we falter in our daily lives
We live our lives virtually
because it’s what we’ve been handed
by those who decide
what entertainment is,
and tell us what we need
At the end of the day,
I resort to such distractions
because “the world is too much with us”

Today, I pray for the pause…I want to slow things down and experience each thing that I do or say as the miracle it is. Anything, everything is worthy of my attention, deep noticing and gratitude.

Blessed and happy Solstice to you. May you find what you’re looking for today and always.

Loneliness and Creativity

Observation on a Buddha Rock

I know loneliness
a rock separated from a streambed
My particular glamour
is less appealing here
Like this displaced rock
am I commonplace
or too old

This rock
a misshapen Buddha
solitary Bodhisattva
witnessing the cleaving
remembering the whole

What dissension shattered humankind
into separation
Lonely and separate as this scarred rock
perhaps once praised for its cool detachment.
Who cares to take the time
to decipher the untold encrypted story

A star has fallen
to the bottom of the sea
fossilized
while a starfish rises
in the darkening sky
experiencing
alternate realities

God is in us–
is all right with the world
Has the solitary rock learned compassion
Is that the panacea for loneliness

by Christine O’Brien

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In her book, Freeing the Creative Spirit, Adriana Diaz guides the artist/reader/ creative explorer, into many exercises that enable creativity. The subtitle of her book is: “Drawing on the Power of Art to Tap The Magic And Wisdom Within.” One of these exercises invites the reader to find a rock. And then, to sit with the rock, examining its many surfaces. To see the rock as a living being and to become in some way intimate to its experience. To draw it from its various angles and perhaps to write about it as I’ve done in the poem above.

We seldom do this, stop and be present with an inanimate object. Who has the time? I certainly didn’t when I had a bustling household with children, husband and pets, a part or full-time job, extended family. I wonder though, if I had taken the time, even once-a-week, if I wouldn’t have been more present, more grounded and more available to myself and others if I had paused to deepen a connection to myself and to something in nature.

I titled this blog Loneliness and Creativity because when I feel lonely and venture into the creative space, loneliness disappears. In the naming and writing of this poem, the feeling of loneliness dissolved into “art.” Have you experienced that? It’s almost magical, in fact it is magic. It’s an alchemical experience. The base ingredients of one’s loneliness, feelings of isolation or separation blend with the pen, the paper, the paint, the brush, the clay, the camera–whatever the medium that you are using–and are changed into something higher and lighter.

I’ve experienced this more than once. And I know that I’m not the only one. When Covid hit the headlines in 2020 and we were told to isolate, I began to post photos on my Facebook page of the beauty that surrounds me living here in the mountains. Those of us who live here see it daily. However, I have family and friends who don’t live here and since I believe that beauty lifts the spirits, I made a commitment to do this. In this way, I connected with others indirectly. And, I also allowed myself to be the witness with the camera who recorded this beauty. And this beauty was a salve for me too.

All of this to say, we each have creative resources. Regardless of what any former teacher or person of influence in your life might have once told you, we are all artists and our unique way of expression has value for oneself and others.

What we live inside of…

We each have our daily experiences. In the short story, the author documents a slice of life, or a moment in time. Both the ordinary and extraordinary are explored –whatever the writer finds interesting and/or mundane can be told. I share the following experience because within each day, I find that there is an opportunity to learn, to discover, to understand something else, someone else…or myself.

When I leave my bubble (Mount Shasta) and travel even a short distance away, I get to see outside of the familiar. I carry my beliefs with me…but if I stay open, if I look and listen, I hear (and sense) all sorts of things.

Another small mountain town one hour to the east of where I live, is surrounded by the abundant beauty of natural wonders. There lies a beautiful mountain lake, an astonishing waterfall and vistas that take the breath away. And yet, according to the liberal woman behind the desk at the Chamber of Commerce, the local citizens’ views of the world are ingrown and staunch.

I inquired “What is special and worth seeing (aside from the astonishing waterfall and beautiful mountain lake).
She said “Not very much.”

She moved here from Hawaii about ten months ago. She lived in Hawaii for forty years. She farmed the land, grew organic vegetables, and sold them to the local restaurants. The high cost of living had finally pushed her out. She has a sister here, so it seemed the obvious choice of where to go. She misses her organic garden, a broader perspective and environmental awareness.

“Is there somewhere you would recommend to eat?” I asked.

“Nowhere,” she said. Then added, “At least you have a health food store in Mount Shasta!”

And, yes we do.

As I headed for the door, she tossed me a final possibility “There is the Stand By Me bridge…the one made famous by the film Stand By Me.

But she had no idea where it actually was.

I left there to go to a neighboring town about ten miles away where I remembered having a good sandwich several years ago. A sign on the door read “if the lights are on, we’re open”…but no one was there even with all of the lights on. I was directed to the local hotel that “serves a good lunch” said a woman in the parking lot who also tried the door of the café to find it wasn’t open.

The hotel is an old building from perhaps Gold Rush days. I walked into what I thought was the entrance and it turned out to be the bar. Three men’s heads turned as I walked in. Obviously not from here, was written all over their faces. The bartender directed me to the café. The waitress was dressed up in a skirt and heels and her hair wrapped in a do from another time. She was pleasant and noticing you’re not from here, are you.

I ordered, what else, cheese burger with fries. It was obvious sandwiches and burgers were their specialties. The locals came in as I sat eating my lunch, not so inconspicuously, and she was suddenly overwhelmed with too many customers. Slightly eavesdropping, the conversations were the daily ones that people have with family and friends that you see all the time. And, of course, there were the sideways looks at me.

After I paid my tab, I headed to the restroom “First door to the left,” the waitress directed.

“Nope, not that one,” someone from a table shouted at me.

I proceed to the second door to the left.

“Not that one,” someone from another table shouted at me.

Third door to the left…ah the prize. Isn’t it always the third whatever that is the magic door, key, word.

I slipped out the back of the hotel and headed to their astonishing waterfalls. There’s no question about the popularity of this place which boasts a campground and State Park. Love of nature brings people from all over here. We have that in common. Perhaps that’s a good start, finding out what we have in common with those who we don’t agree with politically or otherwise.

What do you think?

Aha’s: Part Two–You’re Not Alone

We got married at age 19! We had been married for seven years. Our daughter was five years old. My immature husband had tugs towards freedom. He didn’t want to be married anymore. He never discussed his unhappiness or yearnings–one day, he just announced that he was leaving. In shock, I begged him not to go. Couldn’t we possibly work things out? Why didn’t he talk to me about his longings? But then, he talked so little. He was after all, a macho man who heroically kept his feelings and thoughts to himself. I remember dramatically falling to the ground and grabbing his leg as he tugged me across the kitchen floor. That was it! He was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. I had no idea where he was going. He left no way to contact him.

That night, I cried into my pillow as my daughter slept in the room next to mine. The next day, one of my brothers came to stay with me, sleeping on the living room sofa. I had to get my bearings, figure out what I was going to do. We had bought our little fixer-upper house at a “steal” so our mortgage was reasonable. I could manage the payments with support from him. But I couldn’t think straight. My mind was going in a roundabout–what had I done wrong? Why did he leave us, me? Was I really on my own? How could I be a single mom? I wasn’t prepared for this. My mom had stayed with my dad through every sort of hell. Aren’t we bred to stay in a marriage no matter what?

After a week or so, I told my brother to go home. “I’m going to have to make it on my own sooner or later,” I said. “I might as well start now.” That first night, I got my daughter to bed at the usual time. The long evening was ahead of me. I was emotionally exhausted. I thought I might as well call it a day also. The bed faced the doorway to the kitchen–it was an old house probably built in a hurry, without a hallway. I remember lying there, crying. I said in a muffled voice, “I’m alone, I’m so alone.”

In that precise moment, I felt the most calming presence. It seemed to be present in the doorway, although invisible. It spoke clearly, yet without a voice: “You’re not alone.” The sense of calm deepened. I felt no fear. I fell into a deep and restful sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I needed to do and I proceeded in that direction.

A week or so later, my ex-husband came back. My intuition said, “Don’t take him back. He needs to grow up.” My upbringing said “You need a husband, a man. You can’t be a woman on her own.” I let him return and life got very difficult after that. He became a raging alcoholic and I stayed through it all until our two daughters were grown and left home. You can be married and feel the loneliest when there isn’t open communication…or love.
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The message “You’re not alone,” held my hand through many a lonely time after I finally left my marriage. Sometimes, I try to recreate the experience and that calm feeling that accompanied it. At the beginning of winter, lessening of light and shorter days, I can slip into an existential loneliness. Sensing into this existential feeling, I began to realize that loneliness is a human condition and it’s also not true.

On one such wintry evening, I was working on a painting of a polar bear. I couldn’t quite capture something as I painted. I stopped and sat down with my pen and paper.

“It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
the stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting does anyone care?”

In that poetic moment, my own loneliness joined with a polar bear out there in the frozen wilds, alone on an ice floe watching his world melt. What was to become of him? My loneliness met with what I perceived as his loneliness. I was immediately less lonely. I was part of something larger than my small self in my little cottage. I was part of this earthly home, connected to that polar bear, to all of life.

When I can fully grasp that I’m not alone, I invoke that deep calm.
“You’re not alone.” Those words resonated with me then, and they do today.

Put on Your Science Cap

I was talking with my younger brother last evening. I didn’t want to get into anything too heavy as it was late and I don’t like to end the day on a low note. However, the conversation moved from him getting a root canal this week, to the pain in his recently replaced hip and then, onto the Ukraine, Russia and NATO. That quickly morphed into a discussion about Climate Change and the Climate Refugees in Alaska due to the permafrost thawing! Permafrost was the word that stuck with me this morning.

I do what anyone who is curious does, I googled PERMAFROST in Alaska. That lead me to Google and a definition for permafrost.

“a thick subsurface layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year, occurring chiefly in polar regions.”

Then back to an article about Alaska and how the thawing of this layer of soil, the permafrost, is affecting some of the indigenous tribes in Alaska.

We may think that we live in a protective bubble, but bubbles have been known to burst. Foresight, in such cases, is better than hindsight. I’m not sure what we’re waiting for. Women are the ones who are most intimately connected to the earth. We are her spokeswomen. When is there going to be a stepping forward and a united “We’ve had enough! There’s a better way.” We can’t be so timid as to let things go from bad to worse thinking that some savior is going to descend and rescue us. We are the saviors of the world and that is without conceit. It is with ownership of a shared responsibility for not only ourselves but all the other species on this sacred planet.

When are we going to be mature enough so that we can see that helping our neighbors (and that includes everyone with whom we share the planet) really should be our chosen task.

For inhabitants of earth to go forward, and that’s you and me and our neighbors around the planet, we’re going to have to understand some cause and effect. What we’re facing is larger than a pandemic and not defensible with war weaponry.

Wasteful War

Wasteful War
© by Christine O’Brien

Allow the earth to drown you in her beauty.
Then there’ll be less desire for wasteful war.
Without restraint, succumb to her bounty
Such a complete surrender, do not abhor.

Why do we march to the battlefield still
Inventing disagreements to stoke the fire
What inside of us do we try to quell
If we win, are we right and they the liar?

What, pray tell, is the point of any war?
What victory so sweet that sheds blood?
Are we being true to some ancient lore?
Can we decide midstream to change this plot?

Please drown me earth in your beautiful flood
This cause of death I’d deem worthy, I would.

*********
Yesterday, I took a walk in nature. I walk daily, weather permitting. I walked beside a lake, Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta, CA. Along this trail, they have placed one picnic table with benches. I stopped to sit and gaze at the sparkling water, a few ducks, the trees. I had a little book with me, Sanditon by Jane Austen. Apparently, this is her last work and incomplete. I’d been watching the series on PBS and wanted to see how close they stayed to her book, at least the beginning of it.

Sitting there, having this momentary leisure of time and the beauty of place, I felt fortunate. I could feel what it is to have an experience of peace in beauty. I desired this, something like this, for everyone. I guess I was imagining then a world without war. A world where we are satisfied with caring for what we have and we don’t have the need for conquest and acquiring more.

Today, I walked by the lake again, a different trail. I met a man walking his dog…a stranger. We had a casual conversation and before long, I could see he appreciated nature and longed for peace. I said something to him like “We need leaders who love the earth and value all of life,” and I added, “like you.” He laughed and said that could be his campaign slogan. And then he said that someone who favored burning coal would say “We’re not voting for you because you’re going to undermine our industry.” And I said that his response could be “Let me offer you an alternative.” Isn’t life strange?

My brother, Bob, is a musician and poet and has worked for the Oceanographic Society. For most of his adult life, Bob has protested against war, fought for nuclear disarmament and has been an animal rights advocate. All of these combine to show a man who lives his values. He was out there this past weekend joining with others to protest war.

It’s sad to witness how there are a few men at the top who hold the world hostage.


Does the Sea See Me?

from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions, El Libro de las Preguntas.

“When I see the sea once more
will the sea have seen or not seen me?

Why do the waves ask me
the same questions I ask them?

And why do they strike the rock
with so much wasted passion?

Don’t they get tired of repeating
their declaration to the sand?”

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

My daughter and her husband went to Tahiti a few weeks ago. They were celebrating their wedding anniversary. I was anxious about their trip as the Covid-19 Virus was at its peak there. They were both fully vaccinated, but even vaccinated people are contracting the virus. Thankfully, they are fine.

This was their first time in Tahiti. My daughter was good about keeping me in the loop by sending a daily photo or two of the tropical waters, so clear and warm. They stayed in a little hut at the end of a short pier. They walked down a few steps and they were in the water. One day, my daughter, Annette, sat on a chair with her feet in the water. For two hours, she watched two fish build their nest. They swam below, scooped up sand and gravel and swam upwards to deposit it in the nest. Two hours, it took them and my daughter sat there, mesmerized, watching them.

She said, “Afterwards, I didn’t want to wade in the water. I didn’t want to tread on anyone’s nest.”

She did go snorkeling with her husband, once. There are sharks in these waters and although there have been no recent attacks, Annette was a bit nervous. What might swim out from behind a reef? Regardless, she got into the spirit of what it was to be on this island. After her return to the States, we talked on the phone. In describing the impact of her trip…

“Mom,
I was the island
I was the water
I was the fish
I was the sky
I was the earth”

She said that she felt sensory overwhelm…that there were fish the colors of which she had no name. The whole energy of the island touched her in a way that she hadn’t expected and couldn’t explain. She cried a lot, she felt elated, she was in awe.
She said “There is a whole civilization under the sea. We have no idea.”

****
I told her “Now, you are an advocate for the ocean, one of its protectors.”

I sent her a copy of Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us. Here’s a quote from Carson’s book:

“Eventually man, too, found his way back to the sea. Standing on its shores, he must have looked out upon it with wonder and curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage. He could not physically re-enter the ocean as the seals and whales had done. But over the centuries, with all the skill and ingenuity and reasoning powers of his mind, he has sought to explore and investigate even its most remote parts, so that he might re-enter it mentally and imaginatively.”

― Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

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We do have a romance with the ocean. As Neruda queries whether or not the sea sees him, generally, humans seem to be ignorant as to what the ocean provides besides fish. We have neither fully realized nor protected the ocean’s necessary ecology for our planet earth. Humans continue to use the ocean as a dumpsite for our waste. And as we know, plastics and other non-biodegradable wastes are harming life under the sea. We are a very egocentric breed who considers that everything is here for our use or misuse. We lack gratitude and a sense of reciprocity. Perhaps, there is more environmental awareness being taught in our education system, but we’re slow to evolve our ways of using the earth.

“…The ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. Climate regulation: Covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns…”

from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Pablo Neruda had his questions, you probably have yours and I certainly have my own. Why is it so difficult for humans to connect the dots of our existence on earth. This interdependency?

Paying Attention

How come we elect leaders who don’t know how to effectively lead? How come we don’t elect leaders who embody the higher values of humanity? Why do these men (as they are mostly men making these big decisions for the whole planet) have the idea that to over-power is real power? Where did the notion that conquest equals power originate? What has lead them to believe that war, a show of physical bravado and military invasion, somehow lends them an air of superiority? As they force the submission of others with less defenses, they assume that they gain respect.

Why we vote for leaders who don’t value human life, planetary health and who disrespect the rights of all is beyond my way of thinking.

I wrote this poem on September 7, 2020 when the world was facing into the unknown of the Covid virus. So much has happened since then. Sometimes, poetry is a way to manage the confusion and emotions that we experience.

Paying Attention
by Christine O’Brien

One daughter thinks that the world
might be coming to an end
The other daughter focuses on
getting her daughter to her 8th grade Zoom classes
I paint a painting of a clouded leopard
indigenous to Southeast Asia
He was believed to be extinct
not yet, not quite, but they’re rapidly
taking away his hardwood forests
Before that, I painted the Spirit Bear
who lives in sector five of the
coastal rainforests on the islands of
British Columbia
His forests were designated to be decimated
by lumber companies
It was proven that this bear is a unique species
neither albino nor mutation
For now the forests are saved
What havoc humans have wrought
who can forgive this?
How are we communicating with one another,
as human beings?
When one says one thing
and the other hears something else
what hope is there?
And then, there’s the debate about wearing a mask
Meeting friends, one wears a mask that slips
below her nose frequently
the other doesn’t wear a mask at all
I wear a mask, pulling it away from my face
occasionally
so my words aren’t muffled
What are we doing?
In 1918, there was no vaccine research
People either died of the virus then or
they developed an immunity
The man who came to sand and stain the deck
has a crush on who he thinks I am
He says that he doesn’t want another woman friend
he wants a girlfriend and his blue eyes pierce my own
Slow down, way down
The lizard I photographed
the one that posed on the boulder beside the lake
I read that their pushups are meant to show
prowess
or to claim territory
the little studs
Native Americans perspective is that life goes
in circles
not linear
I like to think as my sister-in-law suggested
that we are in the continuum
Forget numbering your years
Be in it, this life, this continuum, this unknown
risky place

My Next House

I found my next house and have moved! it’s not far from where I lived before, but in a more forested area. This little house used to be an art studio. It is distant enough from the main house on the property to be private. In fact, it’s on two acres! The house is a sweet space, two stories and truly in the trees…that’s all I see when I look out the windows–pines and cedars and manzanita. Yet, there is plenty of opportunity for a successful garden. I dug up the herbs from the planter that Philip built and transported the wood sculpture and the herbs here. That’s a good place to begin the new garden.

I’m going to take gardening seriously regardless of how long I stay. Yes, the garden supersedes everything else for now! It is my shaman, my teacher, my mentor. A rock garden, an herb garden, flowers along the pathway to the front door, flowers in a barrel. Perhaps build a shrine to the losses I’ve experienced over the course of my life. What else? Vegetables? Hmmm, maybe not. We do have a good farmer’s market nearly year around.

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Thank Goddess for the garden. I can be a heady person, thinking and pondering life. And politics! I wonder how we can finally learn to cooperate? What can we agree upon? What are our similarities? Where do we connect? Perhaps we have to ask ourselves new questions to get different, hopefully better answers. How do we define peace? Does it need to be redefined? Can we celebrate our differences rather than let them divide us? I read the mission statement of the United Nations:

United Nations mission statement is “the maintenance of international peace and security.” Eradicating conflicts across the globe is the pivotal duty of this organization. Its focus on this area is because it seeks to: 1. Improve Lives and 2. Transform Communities

While the mission of the United States Department of Defense is “… to provide the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security.” A contradiction within itself it would seem–deter war by engaging in war. My sister and I were talking last night. She said that she would have thought that by this century, leaders around the world would have found a better way to deal with conflict. Me too!

****
The tulip is a different religion than the carnation. The daffodil is a whole different race than the forget-me-not. The rose does not reign as queen over the daisy. The yellow goldenrod is companionable to its neighbor, the purple aster. They all appreciate a soft spring rain, playful warm breezes and are lulled by the songs of nature. They all welcome the bumble bee. They each want to be the most that they can be. They each have something wonderful to offer. They’d hope the same for us–freedom to be and share our gifts.

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Competition has been “the word” for a long time. The world grows smaller and it seems right that cooperation becomes the word of now.