Here and Now and Change

I am here. It is now. Now has challenges. The climate changes and devastations, the ways we’ve been misusing the earth. There is a price to pay. Civil unrest. Political themes and schemes. A pandemic that seems to be ongoing without an obvious resolution.

There are things that bind me to life. There are times when part of me wants to escape. I have no wisdom for others. None. Today looks like winter due to the cast of smoke. I find myself craving winter. Winter like an oasis in a too hot, too fiery, too smoky, too long summer. We’re coming to dread summer in the mountains and in the lowlands of the west coast of California. Carefree times–no more.

How can I impose happiness these days? Where in my psyche is there an understanding of how to be in these very risky, uncertain times? I can’t feign happiness.

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“The Only Constant in Life Is Change.”- Heraclitus

This seemingly opposite quote was coined by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

There are times in our lives when we choose change. They are choice points and there can be an easy flow towards the choices. When I met the man I was to marry, it felt like I was in the flow–grown up, living at home, working at a steady job, meeting a man who wanted to marry me…accepting his proposal, moving away, having children. All of these seemed to be in a natural flow. However, in retrospect, I realize that I didn’t give a great deal of thought to the choices. I followed the strictures of a too restricted childhood. Everything was virtually mapped out for me and I complied without a great deal of thought. So while I made choices, while they seemed natural, in many ways, they weren’t my free choices.

At other times in my life, change was forced upon me it seemed. “Grow or die” sort of imperatives. I can look back and see where I made choices that supported growth. Returning to college in my thirties, taking creative writing classes through a woman’s re-entry program. These were self-empowering choices that helped me to make the next changes in my life. Through the creative writing class, I became enamored of poetry. Poetry became the connecting force to my deepest feelings and desires. This deepening of self-knowing helped me to make the choice to leave my marriage, finally. A change, a leap that I knew I must make.

How are you with change? If it is a guarantee that change is the only constant, why do we fight against it? I suppose it is a fear of the unknown. We have the familiar…it’s like the security of the womb before we’re pushed out into a larger world. What awaits us? We want to know something before we can really know it. This then calls upon our adventuring spirit. The admission of: “I don’t know. I am curious. Let’s find out what’s next.”

Then the second quote, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” One understanding is that yes, change can be thrust upon us by outside circumstances, turbulent times. However, in order to truly go forward, we must meet that change with our own deepest understanding and heart-wisdom. All of this is easier said than done.

I am, you are, we are enigmas to ourselves, aren’t we?

Frolicking

Frolicking in my fool’s paradise

How long can this go on?

The air quality had been so pure

Now the wildfires have begun north of here

I plug in the air purifier

and pray it cleans the air

fools paradise

head in the sand

feet in the air

or head in the clouds

feet on the ground

which is preferable?

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Another summer of smoke.  The wildfires began in June in the forests and mountains of northern California, USA.  And in the flatlands south of here.  Then, there are new ones cropping up to the north, east and west.
Yesterday was a pure air pristine day.  We are dependent upon the direction of the wind.

Earth, air, fire, water.  What is your relationship to them?

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Living in the mountains for twenty-two years now, my connection to the earth has been amplified.  Although, before this, I grew up and lived by the ocean.  I would never say that I understood the sea.  I had an intimate relationship with her nonetheless.  I sought her out for comfort…and found it.  Her dynamic qualities captivated me…they do today too when I visit.

And the mountain has its own trance.  As I continue to write this post, it’s now mid-August and we’ve had two months of smoke.  Waking to smoke daily, a pall over the new day.  The spirit descends as I pull back the curtains to yet another day of smoke…

But today, the sky is blue and a smile wraps my face…we are so dependent upon our elements.  Across the planet, weather–the elements–is the media star these days.  Floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes–we are bombarded.  The earth certainly is demanding our attention.  Is she giving us feedback for the ways in which we’ve disrespected her?  Can we see this as feedback, learn from it and do some things differently, more respectfully, reverentially?

Global warming, media fact or fiction?  Where I live, I have no doubt of climate change.  I don’t need to read the news to know that.  Why is there an argument…what sort of lens are people looking through that they don’t see this?

Chavez Ravine

Have you noticed how, when affluent individuals or corporations want something, they don’t care who gets crushed in the process?

Watching a film on the life of Fernando Valenzuela, former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, I learned that the land upon which Dodger Stadium was built was acquired by forcefully evicting the residents. In the first half of the twentieth century, Chavez Ravine was a semi-rural Mexican-American community in the suburbs of Los Angeles. By the early 1950’s, it was home to over 1800 Mexican-American families. These families were not offered alternative housing for relocation–they were forced out and left stranded.  The owners of Dodger Stadium won…the mostly impoverished Hispanic families who lived there had seemingly no right to protest.

The Panama Canal was built with the slave labor of the men who were promised money and a better lifestyle as they were deceived into digging the canal…an act that established the United States of America as a super power at that time in history.  Was the loss of lives & the abusive treatment of laborers justified by the accomplishment of connecting two oceans and making for easier trade routes?  Five thousand (5,000) human lives were lost during the construction of the Panama Canal.  How does one measure success then?

Corporations are the modern day Goliaths and the little peon people are the Davids who oppose this giant.

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We had our recent battle with the Goliath, Crystal Geyser Water Bottling Company…what would make me trust that a corporation, once they have their foot in the door of our community, would care about seventy-five home owners in the immediate area or the three thousand residents of the city of Mount Shasta?  How would taking the water from this mountain affect the mountain itself? Why should the citizens allow this corporation to get away without doing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR)? What makes me believe that even in this time of drought, that the voices of affected individuals would be heard?  Corporations appear to have immunity from the law.  Citizens don’t appear to be protected by the law. 

The fact that corporations are considered as a “person” with the same rights as a person has undermined and mocked human rights.  The truth is that not by any stretch of the imagination is a corporation a person.  Where is the equality when a group of citizens with limited financial resources oppose a corporation with vast financial resources?  Not.

Water is a human need…how bizarre that it be taken from the land of origin, bottled, shipped & profited from while the community of origin receives neither guarantees for its own water needs and use nor remunerations. 

Are rights only ours to fight for? 

If the Crystal Geyser deal was a true collaborative effort, then the community should have been involved from the beginning and not be notified through an after-the-fact newspaper photo of the ribbon cutting for the Crystal Geyser Bottling Plant!  Where were our city council fathers when this was being formulated?

While we elect and entrust our city officials to represent the best interests of the community and the environment, it is neither blind nor mute trust.  It has to be an educated trust.  We, as citizens, do not hand over our power to the elected officials.  We educate ourselves and ensure that they are true to our communal values of preserving the pristine quality of this area in order to provide optimally for ourselves and our families and future generations and for the wildlife that thrives here.

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Earlier this year, 2021, after seven-and-a-half years of opposition and court battles, Crystal Geyser withdrew their interests in the water bottling plant in Mt. Shasta:

A newspaper article read:

“Fierce and persistent local opposition was at least one factor in the company’s decision to back away from plans to bottle and sell Mt. Shasta’s famously clean water. The announcement came during a Mt. Shasta city council meeting last week.”

I’ve learned that any victory is temporary. The fight for rights, whether it be personal or political, has to be sustained over time.

Poetry and the Common Ground

Poetry takes the everyday events and elevates them. Poetry takes the extraordinary events and translates them into something relatable. Poetry can be anything from passion overflowing on a page to a quiet meander beside a forest stream. Poetry is inherently an avenue for self-discovery and deepening. It fosters relationality with the reader.

Where do poets come from? Years ago, in my late thirties, I returned to college. I signed up for a women’s re-entry program with a designated curriculum. Creative Writing was one of the classes. Within this writing class was a segment on poetry. Poetry had always seemed unattainable–both in deciphering what the poet intended to say and in writing my own pen-to-page poem. I hadn’t realized that at this single moment in time, poetry was exactly what I needed. In the morning, I’d roll out of bed onto the floor. Poems gushed from me into my notebook! I was astonished. Suddenly, I who had been brought up to be seen and not heard couldn’t stop writing poetry. Poetry provided an opportunity to write about my life and to integrate the experiences of my life. The poetess in me was born!

Awhile later, I read some of my poetry in intimate circles, then in front of larger audiences. Typically, the women in the audience connected with my words, with me through my words. While the poet and/or writer writes alone, the words of one woman’s experience, my experience, created a common ground–a place of recognition for the listeners. When shared, the poetry became a link between me and other women who know what it is to be a woman in these times. The struggle to claim one’s own identity, to find her voice, to grow out from under the societal expectations of what it is to be a woman–i.e., the common ground. Bringing light to what has bound us, vanquishing the inner shackles that don’t encourage our wholeness, our truth–now laid out before you and me through a poem. How grateful I am to have found this voice in me.

Writing poetry, we don’t merely look and see something objectively. We become deep see-ers. The writer connects with her subject in a visceral way. The poem then has the capacity to bring the reader into the experience. Another crucial thing, when we see deeply and connect with something outside of us, we establish a relationship with it. From that perspective, we begin to see it’s value and the part that it plays in our lives.

Poetry has the capacity to connect us to the themes of our lives–and there lies the common ground once again. We each have life themes that we share in common–birth, death, love, angst, hope, freedom, faith, fear, trauma, renewal, grief, quandaries, and more.

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What is the value in claiming your inner poet in the world today? Your inner poet is a soulful creature. Engaging soulful awareness of yourself widens the opportunity to do so with others and of what we name as inanimate. Everyone and everything becomes more than merely players and props. The inanimate is then valued and we begin to care more deeply. Things are not there only for our pleasure, entertainment or consumption. They are appreciated for what they intrinsically are. And then, there’s the possibility of fully embracing the earth that is our very sustenance.

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What is the poetry that connects you to yourself, your neighbor, to other women or men, to the earth, to life? Trust poetry to provide the common ground.


Forecasting the Weather

I wonder when people first began forecasting the weather.  When did it actually become a science with some predictability?  I learned that “It was not until the invention of the electric telegraph in 1835 that the modern age of weather forecasting began.”  It became more of a science through the research of two men in the Royal British Navy, Sir Francis Beaufort and Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy.  As is typical with any new discovery, these men were initially ridiculed in the press until their work gained scientific credence.   Their findings are the basis for today’s weather forecasting knowledge.

I imagine that indigenous cultures have always been and continue to be in touch with this phenomena. They lived and live their lives in close connection to the earth, to the land from which they’ve risen.  They have an understanding of this planet and its intrinsic relationship within the entirety of the cosmos.  They certainly related to the moon and its cycles.  While there may have been superstition around extreme weather patterns–thunder and lightning storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters–they had a sense of their place in the earth’s unfolding story as told through nature’s cycles and rhythms.  I can only imagine what that would be like, to have such a deep connection.

Every man I’ve ever dated understood weather-forecasting and the terminology associated with it.  They  described what it meant if a storm rolled in from any of the four directions.  Each one of them explained this all with great seriousness and in detail…”This storm is coming from a westerly direction.  You see, at different latitudes, the earth has conveyor belts of air which affect weather like the westerlies and the trade winds.”  At which point, my eyes would glaze over because, let’s face it, I’m not a weathergirl in that sense of the word.   “That storm was unlike the one that is forecast for today”…a man at the video store said “it’s coming–see those clouds piling up–the storm is coming from the south.”

Just tell me if we’re expecting rain or snow, how many inches, high winds or sun, thunderstorms, temperature extremes–How many degrees Fahrenheit?  The rest is beyond my comprehension.  That said, I look daily at the ten day forecast. I’ve done this over the past ten years at least, maybe twenty since I first moved to the mountains.  In San Francisco, my home for nearly fifty years, the weather was predictably foggy where I lived.  Although, of course, I can’t explain why fog forms.  The rare sunny day was a surprise, a pleasing one.  Anything above 80 degrees entitled every San Franciscan to go to the beach!

Anyway, our meteorologists have the ability to forecast when a storm is coming, how big of a storm (how many inches of snow or rain), the temperatures–freezing or moderate, how long the storm is going to last, etc.  When I first moved to Mt. Shasta, CA, I often heard the refrain:  The mountain makes its own weather.
In other words, regardless of the forecast, the mountain has its own climate.  They also say, If you want to know what the weather is, go outside.
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Things are changing though–climate change is real–are we comprehending that now?  Do we see how the way that we use the earth, is affecting some of these changes dramatically?  We are in summer where I live in the mountains of northern California.  We are noting that it is fire season.  A time of wild fires and uncertainty, high risk.  We have had many drought years.  This, I can understand without elaboration.  I’m in the middle of it.

It’s not too hard to see that we don’t want to go in the direction of the choices that we’ve made heretofore in regards to climate change.  What, my dear reader, are you and I going to differently?  When do we begin
to be the change that we want to see?

How Wise Are You?

Is wisdom reserved for the elders? Can anyone, at any age have wisdom worth sharing?

How does one measure wisdom anyway?

I define wisdom as learning from experience and applying it to how you live your life.

One dictionary definition is “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”

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Do we learn from our experiences? Are we able to coalesce all that we have learned into a body of wisdom from which we make future decisions? That would be ideal. Then, I surmise, we would be able to learn from history. Even though something hasn’t been part of our personal experience, every historical event is held in the collective memory. Somehow, deep within, we know that we don’t want to repeat what lead to World War II, for instance. We’ve seen enough films and read enough books about the atrocities, haven’t we? Some of us have had relatives or acquaintances who’ve lived through those years. We might have heard their stories.

Yet, one can only wonder how far we’ve come when we see egocentric leadership who fans fervor in his/her followers. When division and dissension are made to look appealing, necessary or as the only way to make change–any wisdom seems to go out the window.

So, we don’t really have wisdom then. We’re wishy-washy, easily lead and already traumatized. We’ve lost touch with a grounded sense of truth that comes from honoring oneself and the other with compassion and creativity at its basis. By a grounded sense of truth, I mean the ability to sit quietly, go inside and ask the questions that lead you to deep (perhaps universal) truth. Compassion because it really is true that until “you walk a mile in my shoes,” you won’t know what my life has been. And creativity because creativity says “let’s do this differently…let’s collaborate…let’s figure this out together.”

Wisdom, that elusive exotic bird, the prize of a lived life or occasionally recognized in the naivete of youth. We should be praying for this. For leaders who have this quality. For leaders who love life and all of its inhabitants. For those who love the earth, our home in the universe. And we need to cultivate it in ourselves. Daily.

One way is to get out in nature as often as you can. And sit there. Sit there until you feel a deeper and truer rhythm.

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Do you claim your learned lessons? Have you freed yourself from the pretense that you don’t know what you do know? As a woman, there have been times when I let myself be smaller and didn’t own the wisdom I have. Perhaps I didn’t want to make someone else, usually a man in my life, feel inferior. That, I now know, serves nothing and no one. We don’t have to pretend to be less wise than we are. I don’t have to be less wise than I am. You don’t have to be less wise than you are.

Enjoy your day!

Nature, the Harmonizer

When I’m in harmony with the natural world, the ducks are drawn to me.

Mountain lakes are amazing year around. If the winter is cold enough, Castle Lake freezes over. You can walk and/or ice skate on it. I have walked across it–yes, walking on water! It takes a bit of daring. We’ve seen those movies where someone falls through the ice. I don’t walk on it unless there’s been a long and hard freeze.

Now, it is spring and the ice is floating on the water as it melts into this new cycle. The wild ducks are flying in and skittering to a halt upon the lake.

This particular day, I arrived, walked towards the shoreline to take a seat on a boulder. Coming from my busy day with the energy of busy-ness, the few ducks by the shore swam hurriedly away. I sat for awhile, being there in the quiet and dearth of bustle. The beauty takes my breath away. Such awesome beauty brings tears to my eyes and seems to settle into my being. There is the rising awareness, a renewed consciousness, that there is so much more than I perceive.

When there is no hurry, nowhere else to be, nothing that I need to do–when I’m fully present–a calming effect occurs. The quiet of the outer natural world envelops and penetrates until I’m one with it. When that happens, I am no longer perceived as separate.

In fly two wild ducks, landing in their ungracious-seeming awkwardness. It actually looks like fun, as their webbed feet make a splash landing. One of the ducks swims off in her exploratory way, grubbing for food. The other one swims closer, very close. I watch her for a few moments. I expect her to fly off when I rummage in my back pack for my camera. She doesn’t flutter a feather. When an animal stays within range, I figure they want to be photographed. They remind me, and through my photography, I remind others that we share this planet with such an array of amazing creatures. There is always the daily miraculous when we pause to be aware of it. And, that we remember we are part of it, not separate, is imperative in these times.

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Sitting in nature, taking quiet time, revives and resettles your whole body, mind, spirit system. From this space, this place you are able to harmonize with your natural surroundings. Then, there is the opportunity to carry that energy out into your daily encounters. The world sorely needs harmony with something higher than what the media offers.

What Money Can’t Buy

This morning, an exceptionally beautiful morning, while watering the plants in the front yard and on the back deck, it occurred to me that there isn’t anything that I could buy that could add to my appreciation of this moment.

The air is clear, the water is pristine, the sky is a brilliant blue, the plants are appreciating my attention. I am simmering oatmeal with the apples I dried last autumn. I add toasted almonds and a touch of honey with a dribble of half-and-half for the occasion. Perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon.

“Happy. Thank You. More Please.”

This is actually the name of a movie from 2011. The premise being that noticing when you’re happy, give gratitude and let the universe hear that yes, you’d like more of that which makes you happy. Hmmm.

This morning, rather than battling the negatives…I notice the wonders and what makes me happy. Yes, it’s all fleeting…but we’re so quick to say what we don’t want and build defenses against that, whatever it is. When, in fact, we can say I want more of that which makes me happy. Please and thank you.

Realizing that buying and owning something else isn’t going to bring me any closer to happiness than I am right this second, I settle into this moment.

Part Two:–same day.

Didn’t I say that it is all fleeting?

Being in the flow, when things are going in your favor, that’s great. Isn’t it! I notice how I can get into trouble when I multi-task–which I have a tendency to do. I could attribute it to being a Leo with double Gemini in my astrological birth chart. During the childrearing years, I learned to multi-task quite well. I always envied the way my ex-husband could devote himself fully to one project at a time. He didn’t have to change diapers, supervise the children’s work and play, clean house, do the laundry, cook dinner, plan the next grocery shopping expedition…he could focus on painting a wall in the living room for eight hours straight without interruption–when he finally got around to it.

Today’s flow was interrupted when I began the multi-tasking. Watering the front and back gardens mixed with painting a portrait mixed with cleaning up the kitchen mixed with cooking and proceeding to burn the broccoli for the quiche I plan to make. So with the house smelling of burnt broccoli, having turned off the sprinkler in the backyard and laid aside the painting, I remember that flow is best when the focus is on one thing at a time. I remember, when I am present with that one thing at a time, I give attention to whatever the task at hand is. I feel more in balance.

What about you? This morning? Do you take note of the gift in the fleeting moment? The one that money can’t buy? The one when something beautiful strikes you and you pause to be with such beauty. Taking time to treasure that which makes you happy…I recommend it.

Writers, Rabbit Holes and Curiouser and Curiouser

My watercolor version of Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland (in the attic)

Alice of Wonderland fame had a curious nature.  Falling down a rabbit hole probably wasn’t brilliant.  However, it lead her into a fictitious world, one that Lewis Carroll fabricated brilliantly.  Was it a political parody?  A not so subtle way to expose and mock the then current political climate in England?  Was it only a fantasy, a child’s tale?  To be taken at face value?

Regardless, writers are curious beings.  They pursue various white rabbits in their quest for a story.  They research and sniff things out.  They discover, uncover, unearth, expose and bring things to light to share with their readers.  Ha!  Curiosity, it has been said, keeps one young.  The exploration can lead you into all sorts of encounters.  However, if it’s a white rabbit that you meet, you might be careful about who you tell.

In my childhood, the oft repeated phrase was “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.”  What clever person invented that one?  Asking questions and having a questing nature is how we discover and learn about the world that we’re born into.  The autocratic family system in which I grew up disallowed individual thinking and discouraged asking questions.  You were served what you were served and it was for your own good–you best swallow it in its entirety.  Some of my siblings chafed under this rule and were given the strap.  Others went into denial… ‘everything is fine’.  And then, the belief that everyone lived like this seemed true.  There wasn’t a lot of connection with the outside world.  Isolation is important in this type of system.  

It takes awhile, after one leaves such a home, to feel safe enough to express yourself freely.  It takes awhile to even realize what your own thoughts are.  But when you begin to come out from under the veils of fear and trauma, you start to notice things around you that just aren’t right.  And  your questions rise to the surface.  If you feel safe enough, you pursue those questions with an avidness, a rising hunger, a quest for your own truth in the midst of a world in chaos.  So, your early childhood, in a sense has trained you to recognize the non-sense that much of the world is buying into.  You have insight into the fragmentation, the separation, the isolation, the not seeing what is really going on (i.e. the elephant in the living room).  When your experiences take you into situations where questions aren’t encouraged, you have a nose for something isn’t right here.  

What I’m noticing is that there are many people across the planet who don’t question the status quo.  I witness how we continue allowing atrocities, warmongering, class differences, economic stratification, ageism, sexism, racism–all those ism’s.  And then there are those who do question, thankfully.  Climate change is real…do we stick our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise or do we roll up our sleeves and head into the fray and see if we can learn from the wiser elders, the indigenous ones, those who love the earth?  

No one person can address all the inequities by themselves.  I wonder what might happen if you or I or anyone chooses one thing to be curious about, to study and learn about?  At some point, you might feel the desire to share what you’ve learned.  At times, you could feel inspired to speak with newfound authority on  your topic of choice.  You might be inclined to educate others from that place of passionate awareness

One thing!  One thing only to be curious about and to explore.  What would you choose?

How to work with the “Malaise”

Malaise: “…a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”

How are you coping with it? The long stretch of not being sure how to proceed? The risks, the frustrations, the doubts and uncertainties, the news, the misinformation, the truth that “no one really knows for sure.” What are the long-term consequences of getting the vaccine? How long does it last? What’s the best one for you? What’s the best one for me? Who can you go to for answers? What if you are one who chooses to wait and see before you get the vaccine, if ever? What is the underlying cause of this virus? Where did it actually originate? What’s the best preventative? Can we gather or not? How many feet apart? Wearing masks, indoors or outdoors? Double-masking? Whaaaaat?

And do we have to face more of this in the future? Is it a result of climate change and what we’ve been doing to our planet? The virus goes to the lungs…are the lungs of the earth sending us a message as we carry on with our deforestation…the trees, the lungs of the planet? A good question–is the earth giving us FEEDBACK? How are we interpreting this?

Some of my friends are trying to live their lives with business as usual. There are others who are working around the curtailments. There are others who go between the malaise and working on one or another projects. For them it’s like swimming against the currents. Progress is slow, if any. Sometimes they go sideways, detouring into a mindless distraction. Some have a new addiction to the news, their computers. And they are suffering for it. As for me, I’m trying to sort through a lifetime of writing. And to maintain the little cottage where I live better. A little garden. The goal is to bring some order to the world that immediately surrounds me. The one I think I have some control over. In incremental ways, daily. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or overnight.

What about you? How are you coping?

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I wrote this poem in March of 2012. I don’t remember what was going on in my life at the time. It was a year after my mom had died. A year and a half since my dad had died. I’m guessing I was rousing myself and redirecting my life after the challenges of their final years. The thing is…perhaps we’re always rebounding from something or other in our lives. Yes, it’s true, the magnitude of what has resulted from the virus is different because it’s global, not only us. Yet, we do know some of what it takes to rebound.

Betweenland
by Christine O’Brien

Footing is precarious
The old, familiar ledges
eroding beneath my feet
before I have something
solid in place
If trust were substance
I’d stand upon it
finding safe ground
in the midst of dissolution
From there,
I’d look out upon inner continents
–the old ones disappearing
as the new ones surface
The discontent and yearning
from which they’ve sprung
in my own sweet soul
calling more of me into being
The woman that I am
standing on this plot of land
looking across the horizon,
now so close,
to see the other one
stretching out his hand
towards me