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Flowers

I wrote this poetry and took these pictures on a trip to British Columbia with Kathy via Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park. It was for my mother’s 88th birthday and, at that point in her life, each birthday was an important event. She was the last of her generation in our family, on both sides.

I took pictures of two flowers common to temperate areas in North America: Fireweed and Paintbrush. Fireweed is hardy and is often found in areas which were disturbed by fire or oil spills generally spreading out in open areas left behind. It is part of the first step in ecological succession.

 

Appearing amidst destruction,

Flourishing,

Restoring,

Inviting to embrace.

Filling alpine meadows,

Colouring once damaged landscapes,

Lighting paths,

Giving hope.

The Indian Paintbrush or Prairie-Fire is widespread and was used by Indigenous peoples for food, hair conditioner, and to treat rheumatism. This is an example of the coastal variety.

Painting the world alive,

Gently,

Sensously.

Off Nature’s palette,

Dancing vibrantly,

Living colours.

During these times with the COVID-19 health crisis, which revealed the deep social, economic, and political fissures in our world and the social activism emerging after the murder of George Floyd, Canada has to take time to look at its own history and treatment of marginalized peoples. This begins, but does not end, with how we treated and continue to treat First Nations’ people. This is a song by a local singer-songwriter, Connie Kaldor, who sings poignantly about the murdered and missing indigenous women across Canada. The report, completed in June 2019, had over 90 recommendations, which have not been acted on. In Canada, protests against systemic racism highlight this lack of action.

 

Beauty

This tree stood all by itself on the crest surrounded by the pretty ones. What attracted me was it stood out from the crowd and thrived. I alluded to this in On the Edge. They were in the same area as we drove up to the Columbia Ice Fields in Jasper National Park. These trees do not just survive. They thrive in demanding conditions, sometimes for 100’s of years. There is little soil, water, and nourishment on the embankments, so they appear stunted. It thrives on the margins of its ecosystem. Perhaps, we find beauty in places we do not anticipate. We have to be ready for this or it will slip by.

In today’s environment, with calls for greater equity and social justice, it is not enough to ask people to survive with less than living wages, inadequate housing, little or no healthcare, etc. as if that is a major accomplishment. We must allow them to thrive as humans.

I took one class in special education in my B Ed. and another in my M Ed. I learned we have more in common than makes us different. Paulo Freire wrote of unity in diversity; John Dewey about communicating what we have in common to form community, and Parker Palmer about the paradox of living in community and with solitude. If we are more alike than different, we have a lot to communicate. It takes listening deeply, reflecting critically on one’s views (biases) of the world, and ethically transforming (moving beyond) the world, particularly that which is immediate to each of us. It is not enough to reform, but it may be a start to the process. It is becoming more and better, individually and collectively, in ways we cannot anticipate and can not be fully finished. There will always be good work to do, not matter how far we come.

On the margins;

Thriving–

Separate from the crowd.

Elements taking a toll;

World weighing heavy;

Thin, mottled.

Standing proud;

Reaching high–

Believing in something better.

Valuing who you are;

Individual, non-conformist–

Separate from the crowd.

Lonely, not alone;

Spacious, gracious solitude–

Revealing your own beauty.

Today, as I cruised Facebook, I found Parker Palmer posted Mary Oliver‘s poem The Summer Day. I love the closing lines: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It is a wild and precious life.


Stairway to Heaven

Kathy took these pictures at Sunwapta Falls in Jasper National Park. The Sunwapta River flows from Athabasca Glacier and the falls plunge over a hanging valley left by receding glaciers about 8000 years ago. The path down to the overview above the falls is unique with the tree roots playing an integral role in the stairway. The “staircase” is a product of human and nature wearing the surface. With the help of the stairway, I got closer to the edge than I usually do.

I wrote the following poem to accompany the pictures of the and borrowed the title from a more famous group, Led Zeppelin. I took time to read about the meaning behind the lyrics. It appears to be a statement about money not buying one’s way into heaven, whatever one might think that is.

Gnarled and gnarly,

Wending its way upwards,

Nature’s stairway

Revealing beauty.

Gaining confidence,

Moving safely,

Finding my way,

Fuller, richer.

Nature awaiting,

Golden rays find space–

Guiding steps,

Shining on each step,

On a ‘highway to heaven.’

For those who want to compare my poetry to that of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, here is a version of the video.

The Weighing

Jane Hirshfield wrote the following poem, speaking to hope and resilience. At the end of our rope, we find we have more to give than we realized. It is a sense “this to shall pass” and we can only live in the present moment, which is fleeting.

Hard times reveal fissures in our world and society. Look at who has been hardest hit by Covid-19: people of colour, elderly, poor, etc. We can then see the fissures and who is left out. This became clearer with George Floyd’s killing. It is not enough to question who is left out, but how these humans are left out, dehumanized in the process. Injustice calls us to take account of the life we live, the world we live in, and ask how do we make this better, for each human being we encounter. Injustice calls us to weigh how we speak and act towards one another and to transform who we are for the better.

There are no easy answers to large questions, despite what politicians, carnival barkers, and reality TV hosts would have us believe with their divisive language and actions. We can embrace that we have more in common than separates us. As Paulo Freire proposed, there is unity in difference beyond superficial multiculuralism.

The heart’s reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.
As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

When I hike in wildnerness settings, I wonder what is around the next curve, over the horizon, on the other side of the mountain, below the surface, etc. I am unaware of so much. What is essential is I lift into critical consciousness what I can to better understand how I can make the world a better place and act on that as best as I can. I will likely never get to the other side of Kootenai Lake or the mountains on the far side, so I can only imagine what is there, a utopia of sorts. The same applies for the world we live in. The difference is we can incrementally get there, together.

As I am called to be a steward of the world, I am called to be a steward and servant in leading others. Without fully understanding where I am going, I am going there.

After I posted, I was listening to the radio and they played this song. It seemed appropriate.

Listening and Learning

I was going to press a wonderful post from Cheryl’s blog called Living in the Gap. Unfortunately, she does not have a press facility, so I did the next thing. I copied a paragraph from her post that I relate to:

“Am I ready to look at the part I play in the current reality, come out from the safety of the suburbs, and confront my own racism? To take a sober look at my own bias, privilege, and exclusionary practices. This is when I want to curl up like a pill bug and roll away, but this movement is not about me, it’s about listening, learning, and leaning into the race issues currently afflicting our country.”

We are in an unusual moment with the protests. They call us to stop and listen to one another in ways we may not be used to. They also call us to ask questions we have not asked in deep ways, such as “how do I confront my own prejudices? Am I even willing to confront them?” I use the word prejudice to open the space a bit more. It is not only about race. It is about gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.

Currently, I am co-writing an article for publication using Paulo Freire. Freire used critical theory and I paraphrase him here. He said prejudices are interwoven, arising from individual lived histories passed from one generation to another in unquestioned ways. It is listening to others without taking on a saviour role, without drowning their voices, and hearing them speak about their reality. They await opportunities to be raised into consciousness and critically questioned. How I understand this is through a Socratic lens where skepticism begins at home. How do I make the world better, more just, more democratic. Freire suggests it is a slow process. In his book, Pedagogy of Hope, he acknowledged using gender exclusive language in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, published 30 years earlier. He learned to use more inclusive language as he became critically aware of the harm done without it. It was a small and necessary step.

Freire argues we need to listen to one another, not denying difference. Instead, he calls on us to accept “unity in difference.” At our core, (in French coeur is heart and core) we are each human. Too often, we talk over each other and listen to defend entrenched positions. A key theme in Freire’s writing is human “unfinishedness,” always becoming. I reflect when I took-for-granted privilege and wonder how I might overcome this. It is not easy. It will not be finished. I understand my role, as an elder, as one of serving and listening. Leadership is serving, transforming, and mindful, rather than transactional and hierarchical.

Robert Greenleaf stated “the best test [of servant-leadership], and difficult to administer, is: do those being served grow as persons; do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous while being served: Since so many people seem afraid to grow, the true servantleader who brings it about is an extraordinary person.” If I look at the next generation and they offer me hope that there is better to come, perhaps I can take some solace in that. Without hope, we wither and flee from the scene, abdicating our responsiblity to one another.

I leave you with a video of Langston Hughes’ poem Mother to Son. If I expand the defintion of pedagogue to its broadest etymology, it is how elders interact with youth, allowing them to dream. Hope is not about a lack of obstacles. After all, no life is a crystal staircase and that is most evident for those on the margins of our societies, including in Canada with its history of residential schools and mistreatment of people of colour. It is, as Freire suggests, being willing to struggle and fight to overcome overt and covert injustices and inequities we encounter and witness. It is listening and testifying in those moments to offer a hand to those in need, regardless of race, gender, orientation, creed, and class without being dogmatic. How do we testify in each of those moments? It is not succumbing to historical amnesia and existential weariness.

 

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Collectively Eliminating Racisim

via Collectively Eliminating Racisim

This is a great post by Shobna. We each have a responsibility to our part, our small part. We can only change the world we are immediate with.

For me, Michelle Obama‘s quote points to Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” How often do I critically examine my actions, my words, my life? What privileges run below the surface and privilege me in my life? Where can I go without worry of being stopped and interrogated?

Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh remind me of the intertwined nature my life of as part of a larger garment of inter-being. What have I done to make the threads that link me to others stronger, healthier, and more whole?

Wendell Berry in his poem, Be Still in Haste, speaks to the need to pause. In each ensuing moment, I begin anew to set the world right. This moment is always the first.

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment
looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first.

Find a place where you are comfortable and reflect on life. For me, it is a walk in nature. I took the following picture in Jasper National Park several years ago. I could sit on the edge of this lake, soaking in the majesty and reflecting on how I made life better in the next first moment.

DSC00379

Refreshing Pauses

I need to recharge my emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and physical batteries. In a conversation with a colleague in Spokane, we talked about how we were on the go constantly, busy and, when we got to Spokane we slowed down. I fall into a trap of busyness, which brings about a sense of dis-ease. Regardless of how much time I spent in Spokane, I soon realized I fell into a different rhythm of life, one of ease.

Thomas Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about an active life, one full of busyness, leaving humans depleted. The result is I need times where stress and busyness is reduced to be more present and aware of the life I live. For me, time used to read and write provide necessary breaks.

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” (Thomas Merton)

“We have to learn to live our life as a human being deeply. We need to live each breath deeply so that we have peace, joy and freedom as we breathe.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)

I wrote this poem about a need to recharge batteries, about being present for others, returning hopefully a better person. It is also about finding deeper meaning in my life not always readily visible as I rush around. Black Elk‘s (Heȟáka Sápa) quote inspired the poem, reminding me much of living is recurring in a circle.

Heart opens quietly,

Listen deeply,

Worth waiting.

Lingering in solitude’s support,

Sheltering in its comfort,

Inviting me in.

Not escaping,

Circling back renewed,

Wholeness restored.

Community beckoning

Refreshing pause,

Recurring alchemy of both revitaling.

Companion

Etymologically, companion is breaking and sharing bread (panis, pa, and pain) with one another as we come together (com). It is associated with being on a journey, meeting others on the path, and stopping to eat with one another.

Companion lends itself towards metaphor, taking us beyond the literal. Faith and cultural traditions have stories related to helping one another, showing compassion and companionship to others. The word compassion means to share the joys and sorrows fo one’s life with others. When we do this, we do so because we can relate to what someone else is experiencing e.g. the loss of loved one.

On this quest we call life, we can questioning what it means to live this life. How do I share it? I am reading Parker Palmer‘s On the Brink of Everything. Parker repeats this need to understand and share in, sometimes, unexpected ways. It is not a calculated process, which humans often can fall into. After all, to be human is to fall short. It is to do the proper thing and bring out the better angels in ourselves and others.

I tend to think a lot, but this is a time where I am thinking even more. What forms of leadership do we want moving forward? How do we bring some harmony to a world often divided? How do we engage in meaningful dialogue to listen with open hearts to others who have much different experiences?

Arise,

This morning.

Tentatively step into the unknowable,

Discerning one’s voice afresh,

Discovering one’s purpose anew.

Asking,

What nourishes, waters, and heals one’s soul?

Who walks with us?

Who joins us?

Who shares the journey?

Who breaks bread with us?

How do we find refuge in one another?

As we pause and share the path,

Never quite able to step into the other’s steps.

Take care,

In one’s questing,

Speak mindfully, heartfully, graciously

Hear mindfully, heartfully, graciously

Your self and others encountered.

I took this picture in Waterton Lakes National Park. When I hike, nature reminds me to sense how much is closer at hand than I realize. What don’t I see? What don’t I hear? The coronovirus gives me time to reflect and question my priorities. What do I value? Am I true to my values? There are things and people who remain invisible and unheard, yet may be closer at hand than I realize. How do I become a companion and share in their journey without imposing?

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Regardless of where I am, I am in relationship with other humans and the world we share. It is easy to take these relationships for granted. Over the years, I discovered, children and youth embrace differences more readily than adults.

Through the use of satire, made up words, and unusual characters, Theodor Geisel, better known to us as Dr. Seuss, took a stand against bullies, hypocrites, and demagogues. In this way, I think his characters depict pluralism we live in. Yes, there is no Lorax, Yertle the Turtle, or Cat in the Hat, but we can learn to appreciate and defer to their beautiful differences. Even within  differences, I find more similarities and common ground with others, a sense of community of humans.

We need this in the world we co-inhabit with other sentient and non-sentient beings. Too often, people who masquerade as leaders tell us to see difference as a problem, to exploit Nature, and to separate ourselves from our better angels. Perhaps our better angels are Thing 1 and Thing 2.

298x322 Unique Dr Seuss Images Ideas Dr Seuss Art, Dr

I retrieved the Thing 1 and Thing 2 image from Clip Art Mag.

I took this picture Sunday at the Japanese Friendship Garden. Even in the midst of an urban setting, like Phoenix, we discover spots where nature and humans co-exist in almost perfect harmony. In truth, we are never separate from nature and humans. It is only in our thoughts we are separate, somehow superior. When we are present and mindful, we recognize there are no boundaries.

Here are four of my favourite Dr. Seuss quotes:

Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact.
And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act.

On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.

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