The Portfolio

February 2013

I caught my big toe on it, tripping forward before my eyes became accustomed to the darkness of the closet.  Flipping on the light, I saw my heavy black art portfolio lying flat on the guest closet floor. It had slid down from its position wedged between suitcase and wall; well out of sight.  On a whim, and with a sudden awareness that it had “presented itself” on this day, I greeted this old friend, unknowingly consenting to dance with the spirits contained here.

They did not disappoint.

I hauled it out of the closet, surprised by its weight. It landed on the seldom-used dining table with a thud. I must have had premonitions of what waited inside because I didn’t open it right away. We acclimated to each other for a day or so. I didn’t recall the last zipping up, but I did remember buying this portfolio from the Shangri-La of Art stores in Manhattan many years ago. In its younger days, the portfolio’s professional demeanor had heartfelt significance to me. It held impetus, and confidence, at a time when I sought those attributes from sources outside of myself. Genuine imitation leather, a sturdy zipper, archival black paper sandwiched between sheets of heavy acetate, it had all the earmarks of a deep respect for the products of the mysterious and cooperative craft of making “art.”

When I finally opened it, I felt a rush of pride for the colorful creativity. I had a fun jaunt through some early Graphic Design, careful drawings, and peaceful Long Island beach scenes in pastel and paint. I honored each with a quick phone photo and thinned these by half. I released from my care, a folder of black and white photography of people I no longer know, printed in my own darkroom and the heavy presentation boards of past assignments. Having moved many times in the last ten years, I am mindful of the weightiness of the “frames” of life. “Take the meaning and the love; pass the frame on.”

It felt nostalgic, it felt cathartic. 

“Why do we need to drag things around with us, to prove to ourselves that something happened in our life that moved us deeply?” I asked myself. Isn’t this what a life is, a continuous movement? Creativity and curiosity stirred into a simmering pot of experience. That’s the life I imagine myself into daily. I patted the layout for illustrated children’s book fondly, gathering up all the “coulds, shoulds and might haves” and poured them into an invocation for a new wave of creativity for myself, “Let me bring forth what is here NOW.”

Of course, the paradox, the inside-out experience, waited patiently in the back of the portfolio.

“Don’t assume you will remember how it was,” it said.  “Let the words, the photos, the scribbled notes and the artwork show you what life brought forth for your evolution. How can we tell how big this tree has grown if you don’t recall the winds, and the ice storms, or remember it as a sapling?”

They were together, at the back of the portfolio, seven collages made in the final months of my Mother’s life.  There were more, this had been almost a daily practice. Some of these, I had judged unworthy at an earlier time. I can see the Formica-topped desk, in the rented home with the big windows, bad heat, and blue leather couches.

We had rented a home on the frozen shore of a lake in Saratoga NY to be close, to help, to care and prepare for what she had told me in early Fall was coming soon. We had left home and hearth, children, dogs and a precious practice in Santa Fe to be here. I cannot imagine what I would be writing today if we hadn’t chosen this path. I would not be even a similar person.  “Showing up” is really only terribly painful and horribly difficult, if you don’t do it when it is needed most.

February 3, 2013, Saratoga Lake, NY

My most evocative collage is visually the most soothing. The only title is the date on the back: Feb 3, 2013.  Ten years exactly in 1 day. Imagine my surprise! Feb 3 is propped up here in front of me bombarding me with so many screaming emotions it is almost too hot to touch. And yet…it is balanced and visually pleasing, unless you get close in and really look. I wonder if I was able to feel this when I glued these papers in place? I can see it now, and I feel compassion for myself in the maelstrom.

Did I see that the lotus leaf is sliced in half, creating a boundary between worlds that can only be breached by the deep purple of an amethyst crystal?

The world below, with its Cerulean blue fluidity, is beautiful and absolutely unavailable to she who dances above. Did I see that the legs of the young girl in the party dress are unnaturally contorted?

Her face, upon closer inspection, belies terror, not laughter. She balances on one foot on the tip of a pyramid cut from a photo of a giant multifaceted diamond.  

The crown of her head is pierced by the sharp spines of the leave above her.

The falcon flying towards us screams his warning, “It’s coming, it’s coming.”

Did I know what I was saying then? 

Do I understand what this means to me now?

And who is talking here?

The collage process started in a small artist supply and frame shop on the main street of Saratoga.  I was buying some drawing pencils and I noticed a handwritten sign. “Mat board cuts, $5 a bag.” A large clear plastic sleeve stood leaning against the counter. It was stuffed full of every color, and size of scrap mat board. These were the inside pieces, that which is cut out to form the frame, the “discards” from the custom framing business.  The photos came from donated magazines from the library, in an endless variety.  It became my practice to work out complex feelings that could not be voiced via scissors and torn paper sitting at the desk or on the floor before the frozen landscape of northern New York.  The rubber cement probably didn’t hurt either.

There was innocence back in January. It’s Easy I Think” Jan 17 2013 shows us a dark winter sky and flight to golden freedom coexisting.  Natural elements, the gilt of gold leaf, a feather, pine needles, and hope for easeful movement. I realize that today I still hold this image of the movement we call death.


“Disoriented,” February 19, 2013, Saratoga Lake, NY

Feb 19 2013 “Disoriented” created the day before what was later named, “The very good day.” A last day of grace.  She felt good, said goodbye to beloved neighbors in a glow that preceded her gentle, generous goodbyes, amidst the smiles and deep sleep of Hospice support. In “Disoriented,” all my allies are here, water, feathers from those of the air, a single Oak leaf dropping back to the rejoin the elements. There it is: safety, resilience, and reassurance.

A Hard Walk in March 2013

“A Hard Day in March 2013”  This was not responsively made, it was anticipatory. By March 1 we were headed home, driving back to New Mexico.  It is sad, bleak, grey and cold. I don’t remember it that way.  I recall a deep disorientation, but I felt taped together, glued and tied with string, fully depleted but resting in “No stone unturned-ness.” We did the best that we knew how to do, and now it is time to rest and recover.

So why am I sharing these and what does it mean to me now? I have no idea. 

There is no grand denouement or sparkling epiphany. 

There is a continuous unfolding of the mystery of what it means to be alive as a human being. A continuation of my life that I share with others, close ties and tenuous threads that seem to break, but probably don’t. 

Why did I write about this today? Because the portfolio slid down the wall and I stubbed my toe on it, and I got curious.

Maybe that’s all we need to have, curiosity and a willingness to look with compassion at what it is to be human.

And Then She Was Gone

Reflections on understanding how to embrace the loss of my sister

My sister Susan died on May 12, 2022. These words are true. For me, they hold an impression of unreality.  I don’t as yet, recognize my life in this configuration. While I no longer view myself as a shredded sail after gale-force winds, the awareness of her death walks with me, everywhere and every day. It is this spirit, this guidance, that escorts us through this life passage that I call Grief.  It has so much to teach, if we can bear to let it touch us.

 I have a long affiliation with the study of the end of life. I hold this life passage as pregnant with opportunity for all involved to grasp more of the great Mystery; who are we, what are we, and what are we doing here? This is the stuff of Vision Quests and Vigils,it is rare and precious knowledge. It arrives through our relationships, emotions, mental constructs, other people’s words, even exposure to intense events. These seem all designed to be absorbed by the heart, accepted by the mind, and installed within intentionally as a system upgrade, and to be retold to whoever will listen.  The revelations of grief arrive via an impossibly high price tag.  Possibly the best we can do is to experience our grief, and let it “have at us” with as much courage as possible. Why then, is this so difficult?

Sue was a heart-centered person, quick to love and easily injured by thoughtless words. Her heart was her Achilles heel.  It was literally broken before she was born.  A small hole between the atriums rendered her heart fallible, weakened.  The pioneering heart surgeons of the 1960’s repaired that hole when she was ten.  They were unable, or unaware, that an extra blood vessel continuously overloaded her heart-lung system and this would ultimately create an untenable situation. Hers was a heart that could never catch up physically. Therein was a blueprint for her life.  Hers was a body that made living in it, more difficult, from her very beginning. Her real stamina lay in the emotional realm. When she chose to, she loved with infinite strength and unshakeable resilience.

Across the last two years, her life narrowed to an ever diminishing and tenuous path dominated by breath and heartbeat. She walked the edge of a cliff of independent life, or dependency, and never fell off. She could describe her task and practice of compartmentalizing any thought or emotion, event, or interaction, that would cause the mysterious “keeper of the heartbeat” to lose footing. She learned to parse out actions in small doses. She learned to leave other’s emotional baggage untouched.  Such was her last year.

 From my vantage point, she became intimately familiar with her own body and soul. My heart beats happily and my breath goes unnoticed until challenged with hills, elevation, or too much ballast. Her heart was transparent in its fragility and strength, and her awareness of both possibilities was an integral part of her experience of “life.”  Eventually, she embraced the obvious need for these dear companions to part ways.  Her body was just too confining and her soul had been patient.

But that is my imagining. Completely tidy head talk that serves nothing, not my life or hers. I really can’t know what her process is, or was. On this day I can see that what I am really doing is mourning the loss of her in my life. A physical structure of my life is gone. As one of four sisters we were a scaffold, we now are a tripod. I am an unreliable witness, shaken to my core.

 I am grateful for the end of suffering and fear that she managed with such dignity and grace.  And it was suffering. In the last hours of her life, she graciously received the anticipatory grief of dear friends and family. I saw a different version of Sue emerge. Shyly at first, and then with increasing conviction, I saw something being revealed. Compassionate yes, but her view felt more expansive, inclusive of her life and ours, not seperate but as part of a continuum.   As I watched her silently, I named this to be her SOUL.  It appeared to me to be shining out through her eyes. It was a part of her that I have never seen.

“You will be broken for a while, and then you will be better.” She said. These words spoken quietly rang out like a clear bell.

I knew there was something different happening when she assumed absolutely no responsibility for another person’s emotional state, or their task of mourning. Possibly she could see the denouement and the purpose of the pain and suffering? Or was she was already headed home, and this was a courtesy call to those who couldn’t yet understand.  And that would be all of us who watched her transfigure, we just didn’t have the same view.

And that’s OK,” I hear myself think.  “There is nothing so terrible here, life and death are the same movement.  Out of one world and into the next.   She is graduating, we will be fine.  She will be free, all is well.”

And then she left and the world turned over.

All of us, her children and siblings and friends were cracked wide open when the portal opened and she slipped into what my Grandmother called, “The next room.” My mind’s platitudes were a thin trickle compared to the roaring flow of life that swept into the room and floated her willingly into the next life. It is so much more powerful than we expect.  I can feel now that she held parts of me and I of her, and it’s time to give them all back. 

On this day, I believe this is one of the tasks of grieving. And I have just scratched the surface. There is so much more here to understand.

Thank you Sue for all you are.

Precious Things

“Find a precious thing, something that matters to you, and holds meaning in your life,

and write about it.”

 I choked on these words. That this writing prompt would arrive today, was more than irony; it was a taunt. This was the frequently postponed day that I had set aside for my personal expression in language. Precious “things” were the last thing I wanted to entertain. In the midst of movement, “things,” held no shiny appeal to me on this day.

 I have spent several weeks packing, sorting, and severing connections to all manner of solid things. Too worn sneakers were easy, gathered rocks from my travels, travel well.  It was letting go of the “Precious Things” that hadn’t left the plastic bin in years that held the angst. I know for sure that some of them were, yes…precious. I had traced the provenance of one bin of condensed personal history back 4 moves and two cross-continental truck rides.  And yet, it had never left the box to be welcomed into my daily presence.  It was just that laden with ambiguity.

I have held an image in my mind of my then, 3-year-old Granddaughter dancing on the ottoman, belting out “Let it go! Let it go!” This has always been my anthem. It does get easier with age, but I am getting close to bone here. There were some things, precious and otherwise, that rose like misty malevolent specters as I cracked open the lid. They snarled at me as the smell filled my nose, “Are you REALLY going to just stuff me in a garbage bag to be forever entombed in a Florida landfill? Really?? What kind of person are you to be so callous?”

No, I did not plan this day, my self-granted day of creativity, to dialogue with relics of the past. I will not go to Goodwill and reclaim my faithful backpack with the hidden passport pocket that helped me feel plucky and brave in Shanghai.  I will not mourn the loss of a soft velvet blazer in chocolate hues that was a staple of my wardrobe of confidence when I held a position of respect in difficult scenarios.  It doesn’t fit anymore and hasn’t for quite a long time. I didn’t let this go with callous disregard, I sent them out with love, seeding to the next wearer some ineffable quality that had used me as a host.

Yes, I asked for this. I asked for the prompt, I asked for the experience. These terrorizing words didn’t drop down out of the heavens.  I had invoked these weekly inspirations as a gift to myself, on behalf of my silent and seemingly dormant creativity. There was no concrete reason why the words stopped flowing and the canvas was blank. No reason except my abandonment of the importance of sharing ourselves and our gifts with others. This is Phase I:

 “I am addressing this situation by clearing the flotsam. Creating space that allows the surprising and exciting pivots in life that are the true freedom of personal evolution. I’ve never seen a tortoise with an extra shell.” -Me

 Yes, this is a “walk your talk” week. Re-reading the prompt, I thought out loud,

“I don’t do precious.”

 I had made a pact with myself that I would feel all that there was to be felt. I would acknowledge and experience any and all unexpressed emotions as they were evoked. If I need to cry in joy over my daughter’s Minnie Mouse nightgown in size 3, or my son’s fuzzy yellow duck, so be it.  I am dismantling this home and hearth with the lofty intention of consciously creating a life more congruent with freedom and immediacy. Nothing new can come in while the cupboards are full, hence, the metaphor, “Let’s clean house!”

 I named it “Zen-sizing.”

In two weeks, we are moving to a smaller and more intimate home, a short distance from here. After 3 years, I am leaving my 33 trees on .3 acres behind fences of iron and electronic gates to reside in a home where my neighbor sleeps only 15 feet away. I am, however, in the same Crow air space. The same Osprey flies overhead, and the cadre of Ibis that patrol these over tended greens, do so on both sides of the street. It is not a big leap.  It is a movement towards freedom of spirit, via traveling light. 

The ability to move with the wind is important to me.

I need to rest after this sentence. I need to pause. I will breathe, and reaffirm that this is my very intentional and well-guided choice, however panic-inducing it may feel in this moment.  It has been a quiet and solitary journey.  This week, my own “knowing” is nagging me like a whining child with a mild fever. My inner SHE is demanding that I listen and respond to that soft and persistent voice that has no need for the validation of past things or precious icons.

 My desire to express my authentic self has been brilliantly embodied by my life’s partner’s beloved dog. I am being haunted by a Golden Retriever and his need to always be in connection with his people. His knowing eyes, his coy movement onto the forbidden couch all communicate, “Home is where you are.” He who naps frequently knows the ways of wily wisdom, and he is a master. He is completely true to himself and never misses an opportunity for self-expression.

I can see him sizing me up.

“She doesn’t like cloying sentimentality.” He thinks. “I will be her faithful, albeit not courageous companion. Better to “cleave unto” she who is here.” And indeed, he has. He has aligned his innate divine skills of support and love to match she who is assigned to his comfort. All is well in his world because he has someone to mirror his warmth and love. His is the most mutable of souls. Mutable is good, mutable survives all. Mutable gets the treats.

It is my overarching, inner “SHE” that has waited in the ethers to be heard. “SHE is attentive to every detail of my mutterings and machinations on an unimaginable scale, across a thousand lives, above time. SHE is the voice of love, the force that animates our lives.  How often are we too busy DOING and tending to things, to acknowledge that miracle of being alive? And its corollary; the power to change our life, by changing our thoughts and actions?

 I am convinced that it is the HOW of life that is the whole story. I can feel the call to simplicity and freedom. So why am I letting myself be engaged in some introspection of the flotsam of life? Because I invoked the clearing of the obstacles.  If you invite the Shadow to visit, it’s best to let her in lest she get surly in her impatience to manifest what you have invoked. I decided that I would indeed dialogue with something precious today.  I will speak and listen to… an empty box. What does spacious emptiness have to tell me?

“Take all the time you need,” SHE says with a touch of sarcasm,

“Throw up as many obstacles to your life’s path as you will to need to justify your thoughts and fuel your actions.

Have fun with it!

Create your intrigues and your endless messes. By all means, find someone or something to blame. Go ahead! Stuff your emotions!

Take your time, I’ll be here when you are ready to experience yourself.” Said SHE.

The mud on your boots from the manure of life is easy to see when you track it in through your heart and home. This is not a muse, it is the voice of the energy animating my inanimate matter, in my particular flavor. This is why I am here.

Again, I need to pause, revelation doesn’t blast its way in through the constricted pathways of a conventional life. Unless of course, you ask it to, by invocation or intention. Which I can see now, I clearly have done. By design, I think revelation meanders a path through each life like a slow-moving river, complete with curves and eddies and piles of silt awaiting a good stormy cleanout. In allowing myself to be prompted by the prompt, I have called in the storm.

 This isn’t an airy enquiry of “what’s important to me?” This is the raison d’etre of stuffing infinite multifocal spirits into stiff limited human bodies.  It’s not the challenges that will send you crashing, it’s the chafe of too small thoughts, and too small actions, in too small bodies.

“My feet are leaden but my wings still work.”

 I heard myself say this out loud to this too cavernous space of 1987 edition of suburban swampland reality. Once I opened the door, the flow of suggestion was seamless. Not so much a Post-it note on the Fridge as jolt of high-octane imagination where everything is possible. Divinity is everywhere if you can just find the remote.

In one of my “old house”, to “new house” jaunts across the street, I saw an alligator, a big one.  The kind that doesn’t move even under scrutiny. She was lying in the sun beside the manmade pond that drains the rainwater between these two communities. These communities that I have come to understand as the Insular and the Collective.  I have named them for the amount of space between these containers of intentional lives. I have lived in Insular but I am moving into the Collective.

I understood the omen when I saw her. She was laying provocatively just outside the flimsy protection of a tidy screen porch. I have been digesting the scene slowly with some detached humor. Nothing is wasted, everything will be consumed by something. Transmuted and reimagined endlessly, the energy of life asks only to be expressed.

The how is up to us.

Impressions of a Mad Tooth

I had a metal implant base screwed into my jawbone yesterday.

A minor incursion into my physical domain, yet the invasion was important. My physical body is my own miraculous corner of “nature incarnate.”  Within all her intricate interactions I like to think that I drive the evolution of this vehicle, but it is more likely my conscious self is a passenger in my physical and psychic interactions.  I believe the processes we call life are not meant to be smooth sailing, they are meant to teach and reveal. Within these events, we remember ourselves in all our fragile glory. On this day, I was impressed by our ability to grow endlessly, and the storage capacity of a single tooth. 

The left side of my face, specifically the bone of my lower jaw, has announced itself regularly across my adult life. Aware of the constant threat of deep decay inside my jaw bone, my body had countless times enacted my defenses. This time, in July it used a healthy neighbor tooth as a painful alarm bell. This time, the need for action made it all the way upstairs.  I was contacted for some definitive action. So of course, I did my best to shut it down quickly.

“Get this thing out of here!”, the bone complained.

“Not so fast!” I said.  “This is complicated! Some antibiotics and oil of oregano, it will fade away as it always has…”,

“Not this time,” The tooth replied.

It didn’t fade away. It had my attention. Attention begat movement, emotions showed themselves and I began to feel “sick” all over. I imagined the bacteria reaching my brain, my heart. The stashed material smelled like the mysterious thing at the back of the refrigerator.  I began to remember the where, and when, it had begun to live with me.

The last intruder that had rummaged around in my #20 lower jaw tooth had cut the lines of communication. I felt no pain here, I felt very little at all.  And pain is important. Pain is communication at the body level. It is the text in all CAPS that reminds us that we are living this life IN a body, and the body requires some attention.

Twenty-five years or so ago, I received an urgent message from the bones in my jaw via the sudden onset of excruciating pain radiating outward from a failed root canal. My trusted dentist, the creator of the Root Canal, referred me to an Oral Surgeon.  After a full day of agony waiting for a callback, I was fit into a busy schedule, treated with general anesthesia and an apicoectomy, and sent on my way. The treatment was brusque, but the pain had been great.  I was grateful for the relief.  Grand sums of money were paid for the privilege of receiving emergency treatment. I went home with a swollen face and ice pack with the expectation of healing after some rough treatment.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realized that the left side of my face, lip, chin had no feeling of any kind,  it was like touching a rubber mask. The soup was dripping out of my lip, running down my chin, unbeknownst to me. I returned to the office where I was reminded curtly and in angry tones that I had agreed to those risks before the surgery. Apparently, on the way out of my mouth, he un-willfully damaged the nerve which connected the left side of my face with the rest of my countenance.  Who knew that we are precisely divided into quadrants by our nerves?

Yes, it was an embarrassment for a year, or two, or three.  My family was instructed to always make me aware of the food on my face and thin liquids without straws were ruled out when eating with non-family members. I had an uneven half-smile at best.  There was nothing life-threatening here, compared to what others endure, they were small challenges. Losing your smile and the ability to eat neatly is definitely  “life shrinking.” A firm kick into the zone of self-consciousness.

 In order to not be reminded of these uncomfortable feelings, and my lack of action in response to my bad treatment, all manner of words, feelings, and experiences from this escapade were packed up and put away promptly. I returned all unexpressed emotions from which they came, firmly stuffing them back into tooth #20.

This summer, when the area began to swell with a large, but painless abscess, my body made it known it was time to address tooth and trauma. The subsequent “redo” would not only be the remedy, it would allow the soundless wail of non-acknowledgment of harm done. My bones were demanding that I regain my sovereignty as “keeper of the precious body” and redeemer of the soul part that was shamed.

Across the years I spoke to him; “You could have said, I am sorry this has happened, I hope it will repair soon.”

Instead, it was,

“Didn’t you listen?” He chided me.I told you this before I started. There is nothing I can do for you.”

This is classic shaming of a victim, bullying at its most basic.  It was effective because I didn’t fight back, at all. I can barely recognize myself in this scenario. 

So where is the evolution and the soul growth? Times have changed.  I am a more conscious being, in a more conscious time and place. Today I would not have left that office without having more information, and being clearly understood. This time, twenty-five years later, I did interview the surgeon who looked at my x-ray and was able to see and explain the error, and it was an error. An error in judgment, an error in surgery. I wonder how many other people were harmed?

I decided to exorcise this old trauma.  Once acknowledged it all flew out: the shame and embarrassment, the self-consciousness, the unexpressed anger.  How can it be that it was sitting right there tweaking me daily with its “food trap” ways, requiring constant tending of brush and floss to keep it from exposing itself? And I didn’t notice…? How can this be?

I am awake now. I have evolved along with the expectations of medical care. For this procedure, I told my bones what was coming. I went inward and said clearly, “I have requested this action for the good of the body, I gave permission on our behalf, so please be helpful in this transaction. I am allowing a skilled person to invoke deep sleep to my conscious self, while you, my physical part, will remain alert and aware.  Not to worry; the drugs will disconnect the need for pain, all is well. Yes, there will be intrusions of drug and metal. Please tap our resources and calm the body.  We will benefit from our strong immune system, there will be no need for excessive bleeding. I trust these people, they will do a fine job of it!”

Intention and invocation are the best allies.

I gifted myself with deep sleep with no Novocain for the extraction, and again for the miracle of a titanium root that will last beyond me.  An expensive choice that I made on my own behalf. I told my bones they will be so much stronger now. I have taken away the rotten part, they are free to concentrate on good health instead of holding the lid on keeping one of life’s incidents under wraps. In this time, this Oral surgeon’s office was something different.

There was acknowledgment, there was compassion, and there was choice.

“This is unlikely to happen again, but I can offer you a different way, it is up to you.”

I think that is all we need, respect, choice, and integrity.

Inside the rain C. Martell

Finding Your Way In the UK

Despite a medical emergency and an evolving pandemic we have had a gentle time of it here in Molesey, UK. As a result of unexpected eye surgery, our trip home was postponed, for a month. At first glance this was an “impossibility,” but that’s the beauty of the no choice scenario. It has to work, and therefore it does. It’s a bit like “stay at home” for the indefinite future. The words are only inconceivable, the first time around.

Our friend drove our car and our two big dogs from Florida to New York, as taking them home with her was their only good choice. London colleagues offered support and creative contingencies, even as their own lives were turned inside out. New friends and old friends checked in on our progress. We were all stumbling into uncharted territories. Thankfully the intangible called Civility is still practiced here.

Yes, it had its dicey moments. Room service trays became suspect. Towels and trash were traded at the door to limit everyone’s exposure. Two of our hotels closed, the last literally locked the door behind us. Another was volunteered for medical workers. The need for all of us to “stay at home” went from unlikely to probable to imminent across a few days. We said, “Yes, thank you!” for the connection of colleagues and friends and the silver linings appeared almost before the cloud showed up.

We found an AirBnB, a small house with a patch of yard, a sunny kitchen and friendly neighbors. Interestingly enough just a mile or two from Henry the VIII’s former residence on the Thames, 12 miles upstream from our start in central London. A food shop was walkable. “Who sneezed on my food?” was no longer a concern.

Molesey Heath

The materials of a comfortable “exile” arrived; in the equipment of more convenient work space, a hamper of exquisite delicacies fit for “the neighbors at Windsor” and the makings of a very favorite cocktail. Each reflected a particular expertise, a personal choice, all steeped in thoughtfulness. Safety and gratitude go nicely with a crisp white wine and good olives.

We have found ourselves sustained in our brief moments of homelessness with graciousness and generosity from a value system that once ruled the world. This experience could have felt very different. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs were met beautifully, and with good humor. We have been held in practical, elegant and memorable ways and we are very grateful.

Heeding the Heath

We are here in the UK, ready to go home to Florida, I hope. The world has changed so much since we boarded the plane six weeks ago. I’ve been given the opportunity to look at the reaction to this pandemic from another culture’s perspective and from an alternative version of myself.

I was at a workshop in Scotland when I heard the eye injury news. I was packed up and sent off to my personal emergency with warm hugs and promises of prayer and connection. I was worried, fragile as a cracked egg, and yet I was absolutely confident that all would be well in whatever form it would take.

My partner was alone in an Emergency Department scenario, in a foreign- to-him city, shocked by the loss of half his vision and facing surgery. He was supported by friends and colleagues, certainly a safety net and I was on my way. But it was very stressful for him to navigate Taxis and hotels on one eye. It was an all new experience, but there was an end in site. He had awareness of the events of the world, but Covid-19 was not at the forefront of his mind.

Yes, both of us were experiencing an awakening to a frightening new reality, but our perceptions were different, because our nervous systems were in different states. Contrast this with the experience of watching the CNN report in our hotel dining room when I got back to London.

Amongst the shocking headlines of March 12, 2020

“We are experiencing a worldwide pandemic and President Trump has suspended travel between the US and Europe.”


We sat in the “still open” restaurant and ate the last dinners served there. The barrage from CNN on the wall was continuous, it could have been monotonous, had it not been so terrifying. Everything was repeated in a loop, over and over. For the first time, I felt the cold hand of fear on my neck and a cascade of “what if …!” possibilities rolled through my mind, courtesy of CNN US.

The Coronavirus pandemic will be a great teacher of many things, including what a steady diet of Fear will do to your nervous system. A daily or all day dose of manipulative Fear via news channels, and constant rumination on victim numbers and you will have fried your nervous system. You are awash in stress hormones and your immune system is stressed. Don’t take my word for it. Google: relationship, nervous system, immune system to find the expert opinion of your choice.

We need to evolve behind survival mode. I have seen smiling neighbors, friendly greetings from 2 meters, even openness. I like this reality better, the one that I can add to; the best that I have to offer.

It isn’t a question of who is right, as it is a question of what world do you wish to inhabit? What body do you wish to occupy? Perhaps the best motivator for coherent attuned action is concern for another, and the best antidote to fear is connection to others, without judgement. In this extraordinary time, this is my hypothesis and I am doing the research.

I’ve had a month to think about this. A quiet introspective month of “stay at home” activities in someone else’s home in a different town and country. There have been no overdue projects, no gardening or reorganizing the garage. It’s an extraordinary potential that I have always had, I just didn’t respect the concept of “being,” as much as I was aligned to “doing.”

We found an AirBnB, a small house with a patch of yard, and a good kitchen. It backs up unto a naturalized area called Molesey Heath. At 17.6 Hectares (44 acres), the entire neighborhood could go walking simultaneously and we would be barely within a “wave and a nodding” distance. Healthy calming activity for families and I have heard this questioned as “inappropriate or irresponsible in US venues.”

The Heath supports lots of sharp brambles and swarms of birds. Pithy Willows covered in thick ivy edge the ponds for ducks and visiting swans. Children and dogs remember their wild natures in open grassy meadows, as their parents follow along. It is well walked and very absorbent of excess anxieties.

And yet, the Heath has not always been so green. Its generative nature has suffered some hard blows and survived. In the past half century it was a quarry. That empty space was filled with people’s garbage, it was used as a landfill. Due to its continuing methane production, this land cannot be used for development. Its high level of pollution is what maintains the Heath as a green space. Walking this battle scared land gives a new perspective; it has been stripped of its structure, stuffed with toxic trash, and it still supports life. I believe the spirit of transformation has talked with me on my walks, and I have listened, I hope. “We are a whole lot tougher than we think.”

Our “keeper of the left brain” has an injured and malfunctioning right eye. His surgeon explained that visual improvement will hinge on the ability of his brain to modify the sight and his brain’s interpretation of this information from his formerly dominant right eye. It was a relationship that fit so nicely with his dominant left brain thoughts, like math and language. In order for vision to improve, a change in perspective must evolve. He will have to lean in to the right; into the land of creativity and expansiveness. I expect this means that I should lean to the left, just a wee bit.

After delivering this very mixed bag of information, his eye surgeon turned to me, “What do you think?” he said. “When the quarantine ends do you think it will go back to the way it was? When we were so busy all the time? I live out in the country and I am enjoying the time I can spend outside with my children so much. I don’t think I will want to go back.”

And there it is. This is someone whose nervous system is intact. He is able to ask this question because he feels safe and supported in his environment even though he is a “front line worker” standing in a hospital in London where any, or many people could potentially hold an illness that could harm him or his family.

How is it that he is able to experience an existential opening that potentially could alter his entire life, in the midst of this scenario? Because he recognizes that the illness is just the vehicle, for the inspiration. It is just the reason for change, we have to make the change ourselves. It is our job to be inspired to reach out and create a different life, if that’s what you want. If not, the elevator to normality is downstairs, on the left but the line is long and tedious.

Ask yourself-Does it make sense to constantly bring unbridled fear into the news reports everyday? Does it make sense to watch it?

The Virus is as unaware of the catastrophe that it is causing, as the people are who killed the animals that carried it. They thought it was dinner. To waste your energy on fear is to waste this opportunity to create a different experience, to evolve. And the price has been dear.

This illness is only the vehicle, it is the opportunity. Don’t get caught being stuck on the vehicle of transformation like a bug on the windshield. Don’t let anyone hijack your nervous system.

And let’s be real here, if only for this moment.

We hold complete disregard for all the other creatures that live here with us. We kill plants, animals, trees, everything without thought, or sympathy. Why should we think we are immune to an event like this? It is a very great privilege to be a human being, and it is an impermanent one.

The Heath told me this:

It’s time to tend your own garden. You could choose to enjoy this.

Take good care of one another, this too is joyful! Take good care of your families. Take good care of your thoughts, let them be expressed, gently.

Put your children back on your lap, put the dolphins back in the sea, read a lot, and most important of all, love yourself.

The Heath

The Grace of Trees

“I had a walk in a beautiful garden today,”  I wrote in my notebook.  The garden is Syon Park, a private place that using my American sensibilities, belongs to the same family, more or less, for hundreds of years.  This 20 acres of verdant English Garden goodness is open to the public with a paid ticket, and to the surrounding community with a subscription pass.  A quiet back gate was available to me. This unexpected magnificence was due to an arrangement with the Hilton property that was our temporary address during this siege of virus versus humanity. Good health and goodwill pulsed there amidst swaying daffodils and ancient wood. I found my way there at least once a day and sometimes more. 

TreesSyon Park – w:

On the first day, we found an enthusiastic garden intern struggling with the muddy division of a deeply rooted clump of perennials.  She clearly knew the plants personally and was happy to introduce them by name. By the next day, there were only the signs of work, all tending had ceased. Wheelbarrows were tucked into leafy corners, and piles of trimmed branches and vines stood waiting, like our room service trays that were left outside the door to be picked up “sometime later.” It became rare to see any other people on the rustic and formal paths.

Syon House and garden have had a colorful past. I was surprised to find that Pocahontas, came to visit in 1616 and stayed nearby.  

Pocahontas in England

With her father’s medicine man, and a dozen other support staff from her own “kingdom,” they came to be seen. In current retrospect, this journey was intended to raise funds for the failing Jamestown experiment by showing how the indigenous “savages” of the New World could be civilized and Christianized and reimagined as pliable allies.  As guests of their  Syon Park host, this New World entourage would have walked these same grounds, just like me. 

Pocahontas, whose real name was Amonute, didn’t make it home again.  The respiratory illness that made London unhealthy for her, and initiated her move from the city to the healthier countryside surroundings, claimed her life. Sailing down the Thames almost within reach of the open sea, she died of a Pneumonia or a TB type illness on March 21, 1617, at the age of 21. She was buried in Gravesend an “ancient town on the Thames,” which some believe was named after the Bubonic plague that killed 100,000 Londoners. 

 Human history is interesting but it was the trees that captured my attention. Invincible, nearly immortal trees live here. Massive in size, behemoths all, they are matriarchs and patriarchs of their own family lines.   Despite their unusual size, their bark and outlines were familiar to me, as many were transplanted from Eastern North America. 

They are the largest, oldest trees of their particular breed in the UK.  These are called “Champion Trees” here. As the young gardener told me, “Even the people at Kew Gardens come HERE to see our trees,” as she pointed to a Swamp Cypress with the girth of a Sequoia. 

These trees garner such respect that some of the bones of this tree community, are left where they fell after death.  A swirling base of an ancient Weeping Willow, the very heart of the tree, lies recumbent in a naturalized field of yellow daffodils.  On another day, I could imagine children climbing over her, reaching for footholds on this imaginary mountain. Everyone knows that Willows; especially the Weeping kind, love children, and the feeling is mutual. 

I leaned into these gracious beings in this strange time. Unexpectedly a few days later, we were “dislodged” so to speak. This Hilton property had contracted with the UK National Health Service to put up their “soon to be needed” hospital staff in this hotel. An excellent place for their upcoming guests, and a welcome reprieve from impending closure and hotel staff layoffs. I asked a nervous front desk host if the garden would remain open for these frontline people?  “Indeed,” he said. It was their plan to continue to leave the back gate accessible to their guests, despite the lock-out of local residents. Physical distancing of a different variety was about to be initiated. And in the strange synchronicities are our standard, we left Syon Park on the 403 year anniversary of Amonute’s death.

The tree “rule of thumb” is simple:  “As Above, So Below.”  Roughly what is seen above the dirt has a mirror image; below the dirt.  They have survived, even thrived throughout human turmoil because they have both. They are deeply rooted in the Earth, and extending themselves upward, reaching to the heavens at the same time. Sounds like a good plan. 

May we weather this storm with our grace intact

Thank You Dorothy MacLean

So here we are.

Is it a place of horrific reckoning? Or a place of deep contemplation and regard for what we hold dear. Is it a fearsome challenge to maintain our personal status quo? Or is there a soft voice that whispers, “We are one, all is well.” It is long after time to remember what powerful beings we actually are, when we see ourselves, in each other.

Last week at this time I was stepping in to a circle; of unusual people, of potent possibility, of unlimited potential. The scene was set: Northern Scotland, at Cluny Hill, a former hotel near the town of Forres. A retreat, a workshop aptly named “Living Your Life Purpose.” It was facilitated with skill, transparency and boundless, undisguised love by two long time residents and practitioners of the Findhorn qualities of consciousness and exquisite attunement to others.

I had powerful sweet roommates, ate vegetarian and took multiple walks in the forest everyday. We sat in a circle for 8 hours a day, took meals and tea together, and sorted out our personal snarls in the safe and loving hands of our fellow travelers.

This week finds us in London. I was plucked out 2 days early when my soul mate and life’s partner experienced a detached retina. I watched Scottish landscape speed by before dawn. Edinburgh came and went. An exiting Scottish gentleman offered his single window seat in a sun beam, seeming to know I would prefer quiet landscape to the 4 seater socializing. Tiny Spring lambs tucked into thick early grasses belied human emergency. I wondered then, “How long will they live?” In the cab I read on my phone that a friend and Reiki mentor had returned to light, passing peacefully as my train pulled into the King’s Cross Station.

Surgery was done on Friday the 13th in London. On the same day, Dorothy Maclean, the last remaining founders of the Findhorn Community, the largest Eco-community in the world also returned to light.

It is our turn to co-create the world we want to. live in. I will remember the dance of freedom created by unique individuals that chose to be in that circle. Held by and holding each other, we were our best versions of ourselves. It is an invitation. Or you could panic, reach for scarcity and fear. Your choice, I’ll be sitting over here in LOVE if you need a hand.

Peeking Behind the Gossamer Curtain

Three years ago on this day, on a silent clear night in northern New York, we stood quietly around the suddenly still body of our amazing Mother. She died there in the wee hours, in a gentle handoff from the physical folk to the ethereal extended family. It seemed to me then that she somehow exhaled herself into the next realm. Her arrival was planned, practiced and practical; her fragile body was beginning to deteriorate. Once she could no longer walk in the woods or kayak the edges of water, it was time to move out.

Her Spirit died into the next world while the moon was overhead. Her earthly remains left her 14th story “tree house” for the last time in the mid-afternoon of that same day. Lovingly tended by her daughters, just as our Grandmothers would have done, she appeared little changed.  It seemed she was just finding her new abilities, illuminated, but just so much happier. Dressed in her favorite gown, itself a shiny beige veteran of two grandchildren’s weddings, with warm socks, she held tightly curled fern fronds and flowers from a Spring that hadn’t yet arrived.  She had gone on: “To my next adventure.”

It was our job as children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, neighbors and friends to wave good-bye, preferably smiling. If you couldn’t muster that, no worries, she was going anyway. In her last gaze I think she saw all, understood all, felt all, everything that everyone did was all- O.K. in her book. Had she been alive, she would have taken just the tiniest nibble from those ferns, …just because they were so beautiful.


Fern Carol Martell 2010

“I am ready for my next adventure”

These were the words she used to explain why she was ready to die, and why she would go willingly. I believe she was still smiling when her “earth skin” was slipped into the plain pine box of her own choosing. It was Amish plain pine, freshly sanded and unfinished. By necessity it stood overnight in a funeral home surrounded by gilded guilt and the heavy décor of regretful sadness.

Her casket; if you would call it that, stood proud and simple. Had she still been there she would have remarked about the grain of the wood, caressed it with her hand, her long arthritic fingers seeking the lifeforce, reminiscent of ET’s heart touching scene. Wood grains were a passion with her! She would have found the rough place I remember seeing. That sticky knot that made me wonder if this pine box was still planks when she died?

I remember we opened the dark shades in the “room of sadness.” We opened the top of her box to tuck in bits of memory; tiny flowers and the secret missives from her favorite fans. I recall a flash of future déjà Vu that I would recall that exact moment in the future, which is today.

“My Angels Were Here”

My Mom was unusual in that she welcomed death into her life with curiosity, anticipation and a smile. While others may choose to clutch and cling to their life with the last drug and surgery, she opened the door to the next life with intention. She made her path clear of medical interventions, she asked for comfort and respect, and not much else.

She entertained the angels of transit into the next life quite regularly. She left notes to this effect, found later tucked into “must read” books and under cushions that we would move, “after.” I imagine she offered her visitors a keen interest in the subject of afterlife, and a cup of herbal tea. They seemed to stop in frequently, in her dreams, and at the edge of sleep; appearing from behind what she described as “gossamer curtains.” Those words always accompanied by a graceful arm movement that denoted her feeling the fabric and a subtle sense of the sound of bells.

They came to gently welcome her to her new existence, we mused. It was not unusual in the months before she passed to see her eyes shine in anticipation for her path, and in compassion for ours, as it was revealed. She kept it mostly to herself except when my path crossed theirs at her front door and the mystical mist still lingered about her.

Three years later I have grown skin back over the wound of loss. This is not a victim place, it is the work of grieving. Grief is love that echoes back at us when its target can’t be found. It takes a bit of time before we can scratch out the old address for our loved ones and forward our thoughts to:

Mom, Your Next Adventure, Somewhere in the Ethers, 87503

Now I can look at her transformation with appropriate joy. I can appreciate what a renegade she was; a consummate explorer in the unknown realms. Or did she know exactly where she was going because she had already been there?

Whatever the case, from my current position of safety and observation I can ask:

Where is it written that death must be faced with fear and pain, angst and anguish? At the end of a life, one could choose acceptance. I believe there is another paradigm that exists in parallel to the no hope “Grim Reaper” cheat death scenario. I want to take the Angel option; beautiful beings providing whatever you need for a sweet transition “Into your next adventure.”

Loving conductors, great music and sweet peace? Interested? Ask them.

I think my Mother works there, her name is Gloria.

In Search of…Revisited Again


The Devas hold the schedule, I hold the hose.

I am accustomed to tending my own garden of Psyche daily. I work each morning as a medieval monk tending the medicinal herb garden. It’s solitary work. Strong medicines need quiet voices and patient hands. In this garden of “Know thyself,” and it’s corollary “Know Everyone Else”, the Devas hold the schedule, I hold the hose.

I seek the smallest of keys, the softest of voices whose demands create heaven or hell here on earth. I am a devotee of the siren called Relationship. Without relationship, love is lost, if love is lost; all is lost. The answers to the “good life” quest are all right there, floating in the rich soup of interrelatedness. It is appropriate then, to find myself here. Queries of life should be answered in the field, library research is far too easy, far too clean. It is a shock to witness the deep clouds of aged aloneness that are all around me. Their solitary presence as palpable as the gnat that floats in my coffee, right under my nose.

Why do so many fragile elders live out such lonely endings to their “Well-lived” Lives?

These are the superfluous thoughts that I ponder in my garden. In Florida, the hearing is hard and time runs short-endlessly. Thoughts are cheap; connection requires deep attention and careful listening. If I wish to hear them, I will. Once heard, I will have to listen, and I already know the sound is deafening.



Indo-European, Sanskrit word for God, originally thought of as feminine. The modern word Goddess has changed connotations to represent a lesser form of divinity. Deva had the meaning we typically think of as the word God today, however God was thought to be the Great Mother.In Buddhism Devas are highly evolved beings who inhabit different levels of existence. Devas are commonly associated with great beauty and bliss.Modern New Age versions of Deva’s are thought of similarly to angels, nature spirits, or fairies. Pronounced Day-va.

Is there anybody there?


In the heat of August, our 1960’s era Florida ‘hood seemed nearly abandoned. Air conditioning and cicadas hummed in unison, shades pulled against the relentless sun; we are all hunkered down in our separate oasis. In gentler October, I came to discern the fainter life force: there are many more people here than meet the eye. Empty carport and weekly mowing does not necessarily denote a Michigan snowbird’s empty winter escape. Is it a clever vacation timer changing channels in the late night TV glow across the street? Or is there a gnarled hand on a sticky remote picking endlessly at the arm of a single recliner in that darkened room? When I look at the blank face of that picture window, I wonder what looks back at me.

By November, my own lack of critical agenda mixed with the timeless energies and endless ebbing of those in 30-year retirements. Only then did I begin to hear them. I accepted the possibility that hearts too fragile to be “out and about” lived amongst us; close by and yet unseen. Yes, some of our neighbors have been here a very, very long time. Current wisdom calls this “Aging in place.” With enough resources one can stay home until you die, sometimes alone, sometimes leaving another alone for the first time in many years. Sadness and fear are the concrete reinforcement of loneliness, once hardened, it must be hard to get free.

How can I help and why don’t I want to?

An opportunity to interact with a silent neighbor arrived via Postal indiscretion. West became East and switched mail brought an impromptu visit from a frail neighbor. I didn’t recognize the Deva in the background right away. She stood no taller than my chin. Her razor sharp blue eyes shimmered above the optimistic swash of pink cheeks. Our visitor knocked on the door with authority belying her tiny stature. I was surprised by the friendly face; she took that in stride; she needed to sit down. Lowering herself into the nearest chair, she announced herself and her mission. Panting a bit, she noted my painting of wings on the wall nearby and identified herself as a fellow painter and designer.

Had I not been wearing my Florida Fairy foiling earmuffs, I would have identified her immediately as one of the “nature folk” or “faerie people.” Diminutive in size but powerful in Spirit, these beings are part of mythology worldwide. Mythology means “replaced by a different idea,” it doesn’t mean “extinct.” It has been my experience that occasionally one of these Folk will drop into our amplitude to whisper in our ear


or whack us up the back of the knees while screeching “WAKE UP!” directly into our hearts. She had appeared at our doorstep having trekked down a half block on slippered feet to deliver a bulk rate package gone amiss.

“He” was just out of the hospital that very afternoon from a hernia operation. The timing of this sortie was just so untimely. I was so taken by this elf in my living room and the stream of wordless language flowing out of her that I forgot myself and offered her whatever help I could.

“Oh no, we’re fine. He just isn’t feeling very well.” She said. Another sign of the Wee Folk; reverse hyperbole.

Then I heard the Deva, “She wants you to come with her…”

I walked her home, offering first to drive the span of four driveways and a street. She reminded too much of the gentle gray doves we see splayed out on the road because they just won’t hurry. She told me of his stomach pains and his surgery, her cancer and her painting, “He” was installed on the couch when we got back. There would have been surprise on his face as we walked in together, but it would have taken too much strength. He was saving what he had to speak gently to his partner.


He told me he came here for the small airport; he was a pilot then. She said they bought the house for the pool; so much fun for his grandchildren. He said, “They are grown now, haven’t been here in such a long time, but they used to like to come.”

There were ghosts of good times watching them; the reapers of regret piling their sheaves high. I sat and listened. I learned about life and longing and love. I called on every angel I knew to help them, and to help me know how to leave this house without bundles of baggage that I didn’t pack.

She showed me the pool; vacuum bubbling away on its appointed rounds. When had someone had last jumped into that clear water? Was there ever sand on the floor and food in the fridge? When was there last a child sleeping in the three empty guest rooms with sheets on the beds? My silent questions were sucked into flocked walls and thick carpet and left unanswered. The density in the room dared me to stay longer.

“No food, no wine, no fun!”


She waved at the artwork layered on bookshelves and the cases of small cans of liquid diet stacked in the Formica kitchen. Paints were laid out on a card table in the sun. “Do you paint now?” I asked. She said smiling, “Not in a long time, my back hurts too much.”

I asked if it was hard to not eat food anymore, cancer had taken that too. “No food, no wine, no fun!” she said.

I sat for a while in their living room taking in the dire straits in this home. Health completely gone, mobility quickly disappearing, they were collectively a ship with ravaged sails facing an oncoming storm. I looked for despair but couldn’t find it, neither could I feel anger. It did seem that sadness took up the best part of the couch. The professional part of me asked, “How long could these two support each other and their own disabilities?”

The partner part of me knew the real answer: until “Death do they part”, and probably beyond.

I walked home with my bundle of information in a language I didn’t understand. It was heavy and bulky, it smelled a bit rancid. I resented carrying it home, but I did. I put it in my studio room under an unfinished painting. I hoped they would talk between themselves and get back to me on its meaning.


Well they did. It came to me in the form of a recommended article from a dear old friend from my ancient past. A fellow sojourner in the early days of our “We can do more.” The basic theme was: ideas in the Ether, stay in the ether, unless they are processed via focus and form into concretized products. She wrapped love around that article and sent it out. This my friend, is the product of that bundle. Thank you

To our silent neighbors all around

I know you are there, I hear you and I send you love


January 20,2016

I revisited this story written when we lived in Venice Florida

Our tiny sweet lady’s husband died shortly after this was written, she followed, just a bit later. One of the children moved into all those empty bedrooms with a shiny clean pool.

Our “across the street” invisible TV watching gentleman also died that winter while we were away for a weekend. Turns out he did have family. Shortly after, I was holding the hose on some parched Gardenias when I saw a young man move away from the foul voices of the “house emptying crew. ” He moved behind the dumpster to sit on the back bumper of an old van. Out of sight of the the others, he bent over and sobbed a river of tears into his hands, shoulders heaving; it was a heartbreaking scene.

All that sadness, anger, depression, whatever the emotions that existed in that living room must have been still there. There’s always someone in each family who chooses, or is chosen to hold that basket. The house had been foreclosed upon, those that went in didn’t stay long inside. The living conditions inside were just that bad.

I said a prayer for this sad boy and I thought our tiny neighbor from the wee folk was right there next to me. When we were done, she looked up at me with a look that told me, “You don’t understand now…but you will.” She patted my arm, gave a little wink and walked back up the street to her old house. I was happy to see a bit of Spring in her step now.

January 25, 2020

And Florida continues to teach, thanks for the lessons my friends.

I know you are there, I hear you and I send you love

All paintings by Odilon Redon (

The Card


Yes, yes they do, in ways we cannot imagine. Actions, in the shape of words or thoughts, are the creations and products, of a physical life.  I think these are immortal, where our lives are not. The energy of our thought and word is jettisoned into the world, fueled by our intentions. Once created, their destination and timing is beyond our ken.

Can an act of expansiveness and gratitude operate above time and beyond your life? Can our interrelated connection to others invoke a response, a communication, a communion? This isn’t a casual existential query. I got this answer right between the eyes this week!

 How does a note from my Mother written 10 years ago, to a person no longer earthbound, arrive in my mailbox carrying a response and remedy to my current and immediate inner angst? How does that work exactly?

Could be “The Dance…”

At the still point of the turning world (from The Four Quartets)

by T. S. Eliot

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

A few days ago, a pure agent of change was dropped through the center of the wheel of my life, It was a catalyst to remind and inspire,

 “Think connection, think creation, remember there is only the dance!”

It was the last evening of our family gathering. The nostalgic joy of kids and grandkids in one place was intact, but the door was open. Time together was trickling out. I was feeling the loss of the children that had already headed home to the west coast, and anticipating two more “take offs” the next day. There were too many empty chairs, a sad dog, and lots of recycling. 

I could have moved directly into gratitude for what had been shared, but I did not.  It could have been the movement of planets, or the tenacious plaque of personal history.  Whatever the cause, I needed to feel the sadness of not seeing their faces, or feeling their energies in our everyday life. But emotions are weather.  Best not to deny a thunder storm, better to let water and wind have at you, and scrub you clean.

The force of “being Mom” is strong. Stepping in and out of that role can be treacherous, an emotional minefield that can render one’s heart into shreds without warning. It is a powerful living archetype that when not in use, should be wrapped gently in gossamer, and settled carefully onto a nearby shelf.  To do anything else is to surrender to a past identity that will continually search for what, and who, is no longer in her care, or subject to her control.  And the world has enough “hungry ghosts.”

On this, our last evening we reached for a “wee bit o’ the past.” Opening the Pandora’s box of “Home Movies,” we stumbled upon a magical video circa 1992. In this ancient time, personal movies had different sensibilities about “recording” an event.  Instead of clipped soundbites reflecting our current attention spans, these recordings were meant to imitate the actual experience of being present. To slog through some of these videos requires perseverance, and snacks.

On the screen was a family gathering not unlike what we had just experienced, siblings, cousins, grandparents; some quiet, some rambunctious.  We had assembled the day after Thanksgiving 1992 at my Mother’s home to celebrate a surprise baby shower for my youngest sister, and her “soon to be born” first child.

In keeping with the thoughtful tenor that is this family, particularly the elders, each blanket and tiny sock generated excitement.  Each was examined and approved with a flavor of innocence and appreciation. I experienced a wave of familiarity with this tribe and recognized some unprocessed grief for my loss of physical proximity to our elders.

 As we watched, a tiny ethereal crack opened and some essence of our family system bled into our 2020 room. From an over-sized TV screen, those “gone from our sight,” arrived in spirit, minus the corporeal baggage, to fill our Florida living room.  There was Grammie on the sofa, Nan in the blue chair. My own Mother and Father moved in cordial avoidance, with their respective partners, my stepmother and stepfather looking mildly awkward in uncomfortable chairs. All the usual suspects, in all the usual scenarios except; I was seeing them through my eyes from their point of view for the first time.  

It was delicious to see them again. They were reconstituted in my soul, their voices and demeanors activating memory, provoking recognition of their influence on my life. I did the Math to determine what my current position would be in this video and found myself as a hologram atop my parent’s age.  This was a jolting realization. “Do they looked older than me?” Their actions were so serious and deliberate, “Do I move like that?”  I wondered. “How skewed is my perception?”  I decided to hug my own illusions more tightly.

To my chagrin, I realized that I had begun to morph into an unrealized manifestation of myself. I began to analyze and overthink. I moved my current self into the 1992 living room and wondered if I would measure up to these icons of grand parenting? They had been always available, always within reach. I began to question my choice to be “of service,” mostly to strangers.  I held up my calendar for the week coming and found no family names. Appointments to do Reiki with Hospice patients, a painting to finish, and a TED talk group, a book to read and several podcasts, but no family for this entire expanse of days. 

“Was I using my time here for the highest good?

That was the question.  I could feel the disturbance in my soul.  It felt as if someone was moving furniture in my psyche, or as Grammie used to say with a shiver, “Someone is walking on my grave.”

My answer came the next day. As we pulled out of the driveway for a final trip to the airport, the mail arrived hours early.  Had I not forgotten my phone, we would have missed him. It was a good moment to share, later would have been too late.

The return address said STILLPOINT, a place of respite and meditation for my Mother when she was alive, and for me when we lived close by.  Opening the envelope, I found a card with a white owl and Southwestern background that looked familiar. It might have come from my Mother’s card box, gathered on a trip to New Mexico during our years there.  And indeed inside was her unmistakable writing, dated April 10, 2010.

She had written to thank the co-creator of STILLPOINT for sharing Reiki with her… when she needed it most. Her words are private, but she shared that this session had opened doors of beautiful healing possibility for her.  Possibilities that she had never imagined. She was very grateful. She wrote these words and sent them out. Years after she is gone the words still hold healing power.

“I want to become part of the DANCE because….There is only the Dance,” 

Was her reference to the TS Elliot poem.

This miracle was facilitated by the thoughtfulness of the Reiki Master’s fellow sisters at STILLPOINT who found this note and sent it on. This much loved, sacred teacher went back into spirit in June of this year. She taught deep lessons about the unnecessary pain we cause ourselves by getting caught in our own web of illusions. Because it is all “illusion.” I read this note and in a moment I saw my ancestors big smiles and hearty waves and I got the message, “I am on the right path, because it is my path.”

How did this 9 year old letter came to arrive just when its message would carry maximum potency? Maybe this is how it always works and always has been, we just stopped listening. Take a look at Entangled time:

Note to the choir: (All of us living “on the fringe” may be vindicated soon!)

Your thoughts, riding on the wings of actions, can be whispered into a questioning ear at any moment. Seems paramount to me to be mindful about the quality of your thoughts. Read the “Entangled time” article a second time and you may wonder about what, or with whom you chose to resonate. Think of the potential, think of the responsibility. Einstein called it “spooky,” wonder how he feels about it now!

Ignore the politics, let’s imagine Peace!

Images by Carol Martell

Solstice Soul

IMG_4260I haven’t written very much this year. Today I am challenging myself on this point.   Writing is contemplative, painting is contemplative.  I have so few creative products to remember this year.  Have I lived an “unexamined year??”

Here at the last hours of the solar year called 2019, I am contemplating how quickly we have arrived at 2020. And once again Mary Oliver’s words spin around in my head. She died this year in January.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Think of how many people have read this and taken it to heart?


Revisiting my personal 2019 via electronic notes and images, I can review the “doing and undoing,” putting together and dismantling, that is the standard for most built on a biological platform.

I practice this type of shamanic dismemberment as a life skill, it is my soul’s work this time around.  This year I have enjoyed travel to unexplored places in my mind, and meditations from different parts of the world, in different parts of the world.

I have rummaged around in my cryptic sometimes illegible journals, scanned my anecdotal narratives from desktop folders with quirky names like:

“Things that go bump” or “If I could say anything.”


 These are the seeds of writings that haven’t germinated, yet. There is time, or there isn’t?.  No need to be concerned, it will sort itself out. In the spirit of those “end of year” reviews, I am offering some images that have brought me the most joy.

Events that bring anything else will be jettisoned shortly.

I hope you will take a few moments, or a day! to remember your heart expanding events of this year. Reach into the memory. Write it down. Harvest what you have sown this year.

And for those hard sad, disappointing times, write these too.  Write them in detail, letting the emotions of each bubble up and finally be exhaled.  Allow the emotions to get out of your body in whatever bodily function that suites.

When you are done, keep the list that you would like to manifest next year,

and shred or better yet-burn the other.

It has been a rich year. I am grateful for my freedom from hunger, illness and poverty. I am grateful for my family and friends who love and support us.  My intentions for next year?

More space for love, less attention to convention. May the Wild woman roost in my comfy chair permanently.

May we make a peaceful world in this lifetime.   Thank you for reading yet again.

Solstice is deep within and dark without

Sit quietly, let it work on you

The Privilege of Being a Human Being

IMG_9133His breath was short and shallow, his eyelids sealed shut over unseeing eyes. His large dusky hands lay flat and quiet against the crisp white sheets. The dying man was tall, very tall, filling the Hospice center bed from Headboard to foot.  How tall, came as a surprise. I had never seen him horizontal before. He was resting, but not restful. There was a decided lack of “ease” in his quietness and a sense of physical tension, as when we anticipate some adverse experience.

I had seen him last a few days prior. He was a “new admission” then, a few hours into his inpatient scenario, and this new environment seemed well outside of his comfort zone. He sat upright in the bed, his hands folded in his lap surveying the array of small cups of various appropriate liquids. He spoke some half-hearted thoughts about “getting better to get back home,” but the words seemed to drop from their own weight onto the floor. Despite his “fish out of water” demeanor, on that day, he still carried his air of pragmatic self-sufficiency. We did some Reiki, chatted a bit. He said the Reiki helped him feel stronger… for a while.

Weeks ago, he had shared his loss of confidence in the medical community at large, and one doctor in particular.  A botched surgery many years ago, the first of many, had permanently damaged his independence. He told his story that day with no attempt to evoke sadness or sympathy.  There is no surprise then, that he would deal with this next turn of events with the same private courage.

We had met six weeks ago in the living room of his son’s family home. I remember the bright sun blinded me for a moment as I stepped into the cool dim room. His lengthy limbs were held tautly. He contained himself to the center pillow of an overfilled sofa draped with multiple, soft, comforting throws.  This was new; this living with family. It struck me, that despite his raspy breath, and obvious weakness, it was this lanky being’s intention to be as unobtrusive as possible.

It quickly became clear that was his families’ intention to be as caring as possible. I noted the grandson in the yard with two leashed, barking dogs. He was keeping them quiet for Grandpa’s visitor. His son had anticipated, and queued up some soothing Reiki music with a quiet ocean vibe.  His daughter in law welcomed me with a hug, and a heart so open and available that it overflowed into the overgrown yard from the open front door.  I had stepped over the unfinished irrigation project and around half-planted pots of annuals. Garden tools lay discarded in the walk, as if a “regular day” had been interrupted by a phone call that changed everyone’s life. Priorities change in a heartbeat at the end of life.


On this day, it was clear from my doorway vantage point that he had finished his life’s work here. He had, in his 84th year completed his navigation around his personal wheel of life.  He was clearly waiting at the terminal for whatever comes next. I looked into the faces of his children and felt the gut grabbing wave of child-like panic that chases and clings to a dying parent.  A bareback ride down a steep trail on a wild horse feels safer than this new reality. They had been here many hours and their wild horses were ready to bolt.

But it was not a day for fearful panic, not when loving sadness would be so much more appropriate. I padded back down the corridor to where I had seen a most precious resource of this Hospice Center. She is a virtuoso of life passages and she was standing at the front welcome desk, smiling her smile as I had entered the building. I asked for her help and we trotted back to his room.

Smiling at the son and daughter in law she went straight to him. She breathed in the situation for a moment and went straight to her work. She touched his hands, and his heart with the gentle knowing touch of a Reiki Master worthy of the title. She cradled his head, touched his cheek with such tenderness that I, standing at his feet, could imagine he was a tiny baby, and this was his Mother’s hand.

Tiny creases of tension melted from around his eyes. A gentle sigh caught in his throat. Her focus on the dilemma of his passage was so infused with palpable compassion and love that my ears began to ring with, “All is well, all is well, all is well.”  I thought for sure I heard singing. It was like being suspended in the space between inhale and exhale. He was awash in comfort and connection, I think we all were.

She broke the spell with a brilliant smile at his son.  She crossed the room, placed a hand on his shoulder with an indisputable suggestion that they go outside for a while, take a walk in the sunshine, go look at the trees. Due to her diminutive stature, his seated height, and her standing was about the same altitude.  He looked in her face, thanked her for coming, and did what she suggested.

“Stay with him until they come back in.” She said to me, as she gave me a kiss on the cheek and nearly galloped back up the hall to her next mission.  Hospice workers, Employees and volunteer folk across the board talk about the privilege of helping when human beings and their families make their transitions at the end of life. There is another perk; sometimes the people that come to help are magnificent beings and we get to learn from them.

I have seen this small woman dish out wisdom and love so full of grace that the recipients spun around and dropped their facades before they even knew what hit them.  She talks softly, with strength and integrity.  She has spent her golden years GIVING of herself, to whomever appears. I asked her if doing all the Reiki and the volunteering has kept her so young?

“I just enjoying doing things for other people.” She said.

She’s turning 100 this week.  Think about how many lives she has touched. Imagine the comfort she has brought to those in turmoil. Yes, she is a particular miracle. I think the real magic is not that she CAN do so much for others, but that she chooses to spend her life in service to other people.

What kind of a world would this be if everyone did this? What if we all spent our elder years being elders, helping out, being available? Can you imagine the possibilities!!??


Shanghai Odyssey

oriental pearl tower photo

Photo by zhang kaiyv on

The language of connection

Faces, with smiles by default

Movement toward another

leaning in to understand better

Softens the hard surfaces

of concrete homes stacked to the sky

I watched the slender woman in wide black chiffon pants scamper across the lobby on a mission of hotel hospitality. It is unknown why she didn’t have what was needed to complete the sale under her counter of coffee and croissant. There may have been a rule, or a policy, or a belief that made it necessary to run to the bar across the lobby to get change. The quiet slap of her soles on the marble floor caught my attention as she raced against the possibility of a customer’s annoyance. It’s easy to appreciate the importance of gentle co-operation in a city of so many souls. When the light is dim, the wifi weak, and technology fails to fulfill the expectation of infallible personal independence, what will prevail is connection of another sort.

Across the world, despite language barriers, people use their phones to call a car without much fuss and bother. For me, on this day, it was a group project. I was launched from my Shanghai hotel this morning with the help of a young bellman in a too big jacket and a Didi (Uber) driver with a sense of humor. When the language switches to Chinese and the glasses can’t be found, it’s time to rely on the “kindness of strangers.

And indeed, the ride did get stranger. Three loops of elevated road stacked like a giant spring were needed to reach the suspension bridge that rose higher than my 33rd floor hotel room window. As we approached the breathtaking pinnacle, I reached for my phone to take a picture, hearing the customary, “You may now use your mobile devices,” playing in my head. The driver, attempting to aid my impromtu photography, cheerfully opened the dusty window to facilitate even more clarity of our airborne state. It was appreciated, but it was really surprising. No one “expects” an open window at that height.

I returned the proud smile in the rear view mirror. I sent the picture to a dear friend who by rights should have been sleeping, but wasn’t. They don’t call it “grounding” for nothing! We looped our way back down like ants on a vine, a few texts later, and my knees were solid once more.

The surprises kept coming. About 10 minutes later, the driver turned down a narrow neighborhood street. Laundry waved from twenty stories up, a skinny cat jumped out from a discarded stained box, as an elderly couple stooped on the sidewalk trying to straighten a bicycle wheel that hadn’t been round in quite some time. There was a single open iron gate and our car pulled up there. My stomach dropped. If this was the “modern” Art Installation space that I sought, it was significantly more “edgy” than I expected.

The GPS chattered on in cheerful Chinese, the driver did a neat 5 point U-turn out of this private enclave and we moved on a mile or so to a closed gate, with a flashing light, manned by a bored guard. “This is it?” I said in English. He pointed to his map screen pointed to the gate, smiled and unlocked the door. I pushed a blurry spot on my phone and he was paid, but didn’t leave. There was something about the riverfront almost gentrified warehouse area devoid of people that didn’t seem quite right, I guess.

Standing on the sidewalk, I listened to him call out to the guard. After a short conversation he was gesturing to me to get back in the car, which I most certainly did. Up the street and around the block, sure enough there was a “front door” to this warehouse and indeed there were 10 others waiting for the doors to open.

By now I had realized that my my minor outing in the world’s most major city was a personal odyssey. In a place where English is spotty, and my Mandarin is limited to one word, I am grateful to those inclined to connect with another and I have found this connection is everywhere. I have good news, if the internet fails, we still know how to do this. Maybe if we keep at it we won’t need the technology after a while.

Circles of Life

arlington-national-cemetery-350566_1280 (1)

The steel gray clouds deepened in response to the waning December sun. Splats of icy rain fell on the 624 pale green acres of Arlington National Cemetery.  Marble monuments stood, a silent foil for the prattle and posturing of Washington DC, just across the Potomac. On December 15, 2018, the supporters of a project called “Wreaths Across America” appeared at the edges of Arlington National Cemetery throughout the day to lay wreaths, to pay respects, to remember and remind that we are all related.

Many people, thousands of people, their numbers estimated between 44,000-57,000 came out in a cold rain to lay circles of Maine Balsam against the smooth cold marble of a quarter million head stones. There it is; the painful irony: the circle of life, in winter resistant evergreen, tied with a bright red bow leaning on the finality of death in carved marble.

Two young women had heard the request for volunteers to lay wreaths on all the graves at Arlington. The National Cemetery is part of their “hood,” an unexpected swath of green amidst shiny high rise buildings and the multi lanes of the 395 corridor. They had come in an UBER from the apartment just 6 miles away to a drop off point at the edge of the access road.

They and the thousands of others trudged in on foot, a fitting way to honor a soldier. They waited an hour or so to reach the back of the tractor trailers holding fresh green wreaths of Maine Balsam. As they waited, they watched, and they felt. The instructions given were simple: choose any stone, and say the name of the person engraved there out loud and lay the wreath. Looking out over the sea of white stones, more than 400,000, is it possible to understand the enormity of the loss?

But in communion with one stone, one name, the abstract became concrete, imagined heroes became flesh and blood, soul and spirit. They stood and watched as those around them completed this ritual. Life is never more real than when it is hedged by death.

The temporal imperatives of urban DC were rinsed away by the mid December rain. The heavy drops beat cadence on umbrellas and plastic ponchos. Rivulets of water ran in the faces of those focused on the task of acknowledging heartbreak and hardship. The women watched the others.  Military men and women in uniform came to a fallen friend, an elderly Mother pushed her walker awkwardly down the row, children in their best Christmas outfits standing quietly beside bent elders; these were quilted together on this grey day by the far away wail of a bagpipe. The vignettes were endless.


Soon enough they had their wreaths and they found themselves standing amongst the graves of soldiers. In the dates and the names they found tiny pieces of story; those who died young, those who died in action, those that died of their injuries years later, and many that died after a lifetime of carrying traumatic memory that most of us will never experience, they were all there.

Spouses are here too, their names engraved on the back of the stone as if to “lean in” on each other when the going got hard. Entwined lives that began with crisp starched collars, sharp creases, pride and courage ending as all humanness does; ashes to ashes dust to dust. Marble is hard, cold and unforgiving. It’s chiseled meaning will hold strong in this place for a very long time.

So, what happens when you add a wreath? What happens when 44,000 or so living humans offer compassion and gratitude to hundreds of thousands of warriors?

The women told this story. She walked amongst the rows with the first wreath and came to him quickly.  He had died very young in the 1970’s. Saying his name, she felt gratitude for his service and told him without words that he is remembered.  She continued to walk, taking in the names, the people, feeling the strength of her own emotions.  She walked until she found a family name engraved in marble. The name of her great great grandmother’s family of ten children who wandered across the US across 5 generations.

Knowing that he was of our tribe was enough.  She said his name, offered gratitude and took a picture of his grave and that of his wife of many years. The picture that she sent me opened a door of beautiful possibility.  His beloved wife was born on the birthdate of the woman’s great grandmother and died on the birthdate of her grandchild. His name was Evan, hers was Eva.  Sounds like family to me

So, I ask again, “What happens when 44,000 or so living humans offer compassion and gratitude to those who have died?”

Some might say what’s the purpose in this kind of enquiry? What’s the purpose in imagining that we could even guess at that answer? The purpose is central to what propelled 44,000 people out of their armchairs and Christmas shopping frenzy to serve the needs of those that will never say thank you.

I think they hear us and I believe it helps us all.

May we seek peace.


A Letter to My Grandchildren about 9/11

Seventeen years ago, on September 11, 2001, before you were born and just a week after your parIMG_1057ents were married, there was an assault on our country in New York City and Washington. Assault means: a sudden attack. This assault that most people call “9/11” now, was the most terrible thing that I had ever experienced. It felt very threatening because our family was involved, and it was “close to home.

We lived on Long Island then and your Grandfather, “HP” worked in New York City. On this Monday Morning of September, 2001, he took the Long Island Railroad, walked to Midtown, and began his day at his desk on the 35th floor.  At the same time, a plane was taken over by men with weapons, and it crashed into the tallest building in NYC.  A second plane flew into the second “World Trade Center” Tower. Another plane was taken over and crashed in Pennsylvania.  Another flew into the side of the Pentagon, in Washington DC.IMG_1048 If you ever wondered why we stand in the long lines at the airport called “Security,” it is because of what was learned from this event. Putting all our things in a scanner, taking off shoes, emptying our pockets is what you have always done to fly on a plane.  When I was a kid, we had no seat belts in cars and babies rode on someone’s lap!  Sounds crazy! We learned the hard way to keep children safe in cars.  Airlines and governments all over the world learned how to keep passengers safe in planes after the 9/11 attack.




Your grandfather watched this attack from his office in NYC.  He and yes, maybe a million others got down out of their tall buildings and walked home through the streets of Manhattan.  He and his coworkers walked across a bridge, found a ride, and walked some more. Your Aunt and I drove through the streets in Queens until we found him standing across the street from where we parked to look at a map. No GPS in those days and the roads were closed for the Emergency helpers.

We drove home feeling grateful that we were all together, knowing that we were very, very blessed. That evening we went to the beach at Smith’s Point Park to stand with hundreds of other Long Island residents. We watched the smoke rise, told our stories, and said prayers for all the hurt people. That experience will always be with him; it will be with all of us.IMG_1052

When you see the sad and angry people talking about 9/11 with hateful words remember that their hearts were broken by this event.  They were very scared, and shocked that anything like that could happen right here where we live. Some people have stayed in this “fight” place, they want to continue to hate ideas, cultures and groups of people.  That won’t help us have a peaceful life or a peaceful country. And it’s hard to learn when you’re shouting.

On this 9/11, I am sitting at the 32nd floor window, looking out at the Hudson River on a foggy September 12, 2018. This building is a half block away from what used to be called “Ground Zero,” the place where these huge buildings stood.  HP and I went to a party at the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center once.  It was so foggy we couldn’t see anything, just like today.IMG_1054

From my window, we can see the 2 powerful beams of light directed to the heavens each year to remember the people who died.  From way up here on this high floor, we can see hundreds of small shiny things flying through the beams. It looked a lot like a porch light on a warm dark night.  Turn it on, and all the bugs appear! These were too big to be bugs.  Turns out, they are migrating birds, mostly Warblers from Canada that are called to the light. They circle in the light in great loops and figure eights, hundreds at a time. They make a particular sound when they find this place. I wonder what it is they are saying to one another? Or are they calling out to us?IMG_1053


This year we stood with thousands of people speaking many different languages in the place where the destruction happened 17 years ago.  We listened to the bagpipes played by New York City Firemen; who lost many friends, family and coworkers.  Right around the corner, I found something different. I found it in a mural done about children that inspired me to write this letter.

Three things I would like my grandkids to know:

# 1.  Life goes on, no matter what.

No matter what happens, the sun comes up and brings a new day.

#2.  Learn from whatever happens to you.

Take the emotions and use them as fuel for the fire of learning about how powerful YOU are. Help someone, be true to yourself, make a difference.

#3.  People hurt people.

It is a not their race, religion or even their country, it is an individual that choses to harm. Individuals can make bad, sometimes vicious choices.

Despise their actions and create the opposite in your life.

Never Forget

the potential for the world to live in



All photos, Carol Martell from the

“One World, Our Children” mural by Chinòn Maria


Seeing in the Dark

Beneath the blue skies and cows of Schoharie County, New York lies a deep vast cavity, a cavern, named Howe. I’ve met other caves, with more expressive names like Mammoth, Wind, or Jewel. They were remarkable, but Howe Cavern holds a place in my childhood mythology. On the impetus of children two generations forward, I went there again.

A journey in the deep underground is like a stroll through your subconscious on catwalks. 


We are creatures originally designed for the horizontal paradigm. Moving vertically feels different, it requires machinery, it requires trust. A bit of vertical venturing, like a bit of adrenalin, sharpens the senses, opening the mind to abandon limits of gravity and time. Remember your first view from 10,000 feet? Yes, human beings can fly.

Our group of 30 explorers represented most of the ambulatory human life stages. The elevator squeaked open and multiple three-generation family groups, and a twenty-something couple shuffled into the small space. “She” and a child squished in the back between two bellies, giggled as we landed at the bottom of the shaft with a delicate “thud.”

Our sticky tribe of humans and a cloud of upland humidity exited the shiny silver elevator as if a single entity.  We squinted into the dimness, collectively feeling our way forward into the cool rocky vestibule.  Once adjusted to the close proximity of strangers, chilly dampness, and low light, we shuffled down a gentle grade to form an awkward body of souls at the mouth of the cave.

Our elevator operator slid around shivering children and elders in tightly laced sneakers. Reaching the edge of light and darkness, the recent High School graduate turned to face us, identifying herself as our tour guide. There was no doubt. Her pale skin and light blonde hair were a reflection of where she spent her summer days; 200 feet underground in 58 degrees. With the flat A’s, and nasal tones of Central New York she greeted us.

Welcome to Howe’s Cavern”

I intended to listen but something in the deep darkness beckoned. I was attracted to a sound. A single drip of water spoke in the velvet blackness behind me. Nothing is so dark as the inside of a cave. Breath aligned with the water’s cadence, and a well-practiced response of relaxation and expansiveness dropped into place. I sensed a movement and a gentle migration of air.  It was as if we had landed inside the great chest cavity of a great snoozing deity. I stifled a giggle.

The group began to move.  I stepped out of the reverie in time to follow the group down the path, as the lights clicked off behind me. The guide looked over her shoulder at me. Wielding all the power of her position she shot a stern, silent warning in my direction to “keep up.”  She addressed the group before turning on her heel and continuing around a rocky corner.

“Don’t touch anything, stay together, follow me.” She said.

The rules of visiting this alternative reality were simple. The path that followed along the tallest side of the cave wall was lined with iron handrails. Warnings about defiling the cave were dire.  It was enough to know that our worldly breath and the lights for safe passage had caused small patches of green moss to grow on the walls. Taller trekkers might have to duck here and there, but it was as easy as a stone path through a formal garden.

 Spring water: a term that has lost its magic.

It is alive and well and living under the earth. In her practiced patter, the guide explained that it was water that carved this open space, it was water that rearranged the limestone into round smooth assemblages across years with six or seven zeros. Lest we think this system is always a quiet trickle, she pointed out the high water mark a good 20 feet over our heads.

A small trail of pristine clear water traced the crevice along the irregular stone edge of the walkway. The sound of the water romping with small pebbles erased the chatter and footsteps around me. I imagined my relative position underground with all that dirt and rock between me and the sun. A sense of childlike joy and excitement welled up in my chest with clarity and memory trotting along just behind. I turned to speak to the person behind me and found the space empty, and the darkness full of “life.” I shrugged off a minor Déjà vu moment and padded along behind our group.

Caves are surprising.

About midway through the cave, the cool moist air became an animated interactive participant this 90-minute “Walking Meditation.” Each breath seemed to “high five” on the inhale as it flooded my bloodstream and cells with its own unique Mantra. Standing in this singular place, my busy mind stalled and rolled to a stop. I stood in the present, and the physical part of eternity turned her face to me and smiled.

Not everyone was dazzled. School children rubbed against their boundaries and irked their elders. A few visitors checked cell phones, chafing under the unexpected silence of “no service.” The guide led us along the red brick path to where two wide boats waited on the now substantial river of water.  The tiny capillaries had rejoined; this must be the Carotid of the cave.  We floated toward the sound of a waterfall, water flowing black ink at the sides of the boat.

Keep your hands in the boat!”

A sense of familiarity settled around my shoulders as we moved through the dim tunnel. A pale ethereal finger sifted through life experiences filed under “deep in the ground” and the smell of “wet limestone. Because the sense of smell has no use for the fine filter of ego, it remembers “all.” Back on the path, I spotted a hint of the original path. Old slippery bricks leading to a too small rock opening now barricaded by the lack of illumination. When lantern toting adventurers gave way to paunchy tourists with spending money, it needed to be an easier trek. The slick wet rock floor had been redesigned to modern expectations, but the old steps were still visible to those who knew they were there.

It came as a short movie; one elevator with a rusty gate, creaking down through rock with a small cadre of schoolchildren transported in batches. Someplace between handpicks and hydraulics, I had been here before. The 3-foot pillar formation rose out of the floor with a rakish tilt like a small tower of Pisa. The water glistened on the outside, not nearly enough to form a drop, never dreaming of a rivulet. The guide droned the words with the modulations of a hundred times said,

“It takes hundreds, maybe thousands of years to create each inch of stalagmite.”



The cool damp fingers of the moist cave air wrapped gently around the back of my neck. It was all here; in the smell of the wet rocks, and the muted echoes of children’s voices just ahead. The memory was inserted back into my conscious like a coin in slot machine.  I felt “her” as clearly as I remembered the square, sticky red tokens we purchased to buy milk at Goodrich school.  “I,” or “me” became multiple choice answers with a lifetime of editions. Holograms of earlier versions of myself tapped at my shoulder and winked at me as they touched the forbidden stalactite forms with their invisible fingers.

I had stood exactly here; in front of the stalagmite named “Chinese Pagoda;” when I was 12, and before that at maybe 8. Fifty years had passed, “up there.” Most of my lifetime was already listed as “past experience.” Down here? Same old, same old. In the land of Quantum Physics, how fast does a rock vibrate?

My sixth grade “self” came forward then. Did I bring her or was she here in the cave the whole time? She leaned forward and I saw her curly brown hair and wide plastic headband. I looked down at my feet expecting to see the turquoise Keds and white socks of 1967.  She seemed unaware of me as she reached out- almost daring to touch the forbidden rock formation, but pulling her hand back in at the last minute. I saw her look over her shoulder as if she felt something, someone who couldn’t be seen. I couldn’t mistake the movement; I had done the same around the last bend.  She was looking for what she felt.  Looking for validation of what her more subtle senses knew:

“There is someone here with me.”

The thought of an older wiser version of myself following the “child me” down the cave path made me smile, then giggle, then laugh out loud. Nesting dolls and onions and artichokes!  The universe has a sense of humor.  There is no “back then” or “will be” there is only Now.  We are all here together.  What a hoot!  Images of all of us, countless iterations of “me” turning our heads simultaneously when asked,

“What’s so funny??”

If you would like to experience a bit of personal eternity and there is no cave nearby, there is a process for seeing through the partitions past and future.  It involves laying in the Earth, like a child on the beach. You could cover yourself with a cloth, some sand or earth. Stay there until all the doubts and illusions have migrated out like earthworms to the damp darkness and you can arise again reborn.

Reborn into the knowledge of who you really are.

You will find yourself renewed with the understanding that life is not a permanent condition and one had better get on with it.

Let’s Get Real


Each day begins here with a parade of ten feet,

straight to the back door.

Standing in bathrobe and bare feet, I pulled the curtain and clicked open the lock on the sliding glass door. The dogs bounded outside, animated with unbridled enthusiasm for the smells of a new day. This is our morning ritual. I open the door, and they rush to experience the day in the “here and now.” On this morning, I stood behind the glass, reading very tiny letters that scrolled across my phone, ignoring the magnitude of the direct revelation that lie just outside this half-opened doorway.

Dogs are pragmatic and opportunistic, especially in the morning. There were two activities afoot; parallel purposes of equal importance.  The first: find what is “different.” What has changed in my universe since I passed here last? WHAT is NEW? Novelty is a powerful stimulus.

“Rabbit was here, …..ugh, that squirrel, Blast him!

Yup, Possum passed by… what is … THIS!”

 His nose dusted a pile of sultry pellets with the smell of Kale from the garden. He froze in perfect “Retriever” posture, pointing to the Hawk overhead. The hawk screeched out his protest at the indignity of being “run off” by the gang of blackbirds nesting on the swampy edges of the open field next door.  The dog’s interests lie mainly in waterfowl, retrieving a raptor isn’t part of his genetic programming. He moved on. Each novel sensation analyzed, swift judgements noted, their astute observations filed  within the canine collective wisdom under “What I know,” or “I’ll pretend I didn’t smell that.”


My eyes did see the midnight blue Morning Glories. I heard the Sparrow call his mate from the garden fence, but my mind, my distracted, busy mind was attentive only to what I had chosen to see.   I was engrossed in a research article concerning the benefits of children spending time in NATURE.

That’s NATURE in capital letters,The evidence based therapeutic NATURE comes with trained professionals and private funding. It is not the “garden variety” cavalcade of Nature that lives in my house, under my house, and all around all of us.  That Nature is so richly accessible here that I need to wipe it off my feet before coming into the house.

Meanwhile, in the yard, the dogs had moved on to the second agenda; finding the best place to squat and eliminate that which was indigestible from the day before. It seems that a bit of visceral adrenalin helps in satisfying this task as well. A good bark, a growling offensive at the Woodchuck through the fence and viola! whatever didn’t serve yesterday is gone. Could it actually be that easy to discard the unusable “stuff” of life and start fresh?

Mammals enjoy watching a good “fight for survival,”

keeps us regular.

A soft breeze carrying the fragrance of wet willows blew by me as I stood at the open door. It cajoled my attention away from the incendiary news headlines, Facebook posts, and late summer LAST DAY sales that clogged my Inbox, I saw a tiny movement halfway across the yard.  It was just visible above the grass as long as a week of rainy days. Two black wing tips fluttered open, then closed again.

I stepped out the door, off the deck, and settled bare feet into wet grass, all the while watching the slow cadence of the wings, without drawing the dog’s attention. A few good breaths and I was “in it,” back in Nature as a participant instead of an observer.  We are after all, also THAT.

Moving closer soundlessly, I could see the black wingtips of a Swallowtail Butterfly.  I saw the velevt softness of her wings, decorated with sky blue dots, and false eye spots that could fool a nearsighted potential predator. Her perfectly articulated “swallow tail” wings echoed the barn swallows that swooped overhead, feasting on post rain mosquitoes. Silent wings opened and closed to her own music as she extended her proboscis to partake of what this world had to offer.

Zinnia Abundance all around and you choose this…?

This is late July in the short Operetta that is a northern NY summer.  On this patch of land, on my watch, the people get paths and the wild things get everything else. The Milkweed is for the Monarchs,  the red clover, and Queen Anne’s lace bring in bees and bugs of all sizes. There was a pot of vermillion Geraniums on the deck and a galvanized bucket of summer Zinnias in Crayola colors next to the tree, a yard away.  The tall Phlox are just blooming, and even the Spring-time Wisteria has a few late entries nearby. For a Butterfly in July here there is so much to feast on.

Despite all the “Healthy Choices,” this beautiful creature, product of astounding feats of adaptation and evolution was sitting on yesterday’s dog food indigestibles, yes, she was enthralled and enthroned on a pile of yesterday’s rain soaked dog feces.  And what’s worst, she looked quite pleased about her find.  I checked back in an hour and she was still there, apparently fascinated with this pile of dung. This sad scene was reminiscent of my intended 2-minute email check that becomes an hour-long romp through Pinterest and beyond.  Hours dissolve while a weedy garden waits, and good books go unread. The metaphor slapped me in the face, and I am taking this to heart.

The extraordinary devices of connection and communications are merely tools and not wise Oracles. Are someone else’s selections and their advertising sidekicks worth that much space in my life? Second hand emotions and pre-digested opinions are no equal to direct experience. I will take my Nature straight, and I don’t need a battery.

Maybe I’ll get a watch.





Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Pain

Two Springs ago I began this minor treatise on planting a vegetable garden. Written from deep inside an early April reverie, I was pining to germinate something, anything really. Amidst icy sleet of an upstate New York “mud season”, I designed, and planned and prepared to plant a garden. Anticipating all that I knew this generous ground would bring forth, if it just had some seed and someone to plant.

young tomato

Photo by Kaboompics .com on

April 2016

“My organic heirloom seed order from Seeds Now is here! There are forty-nine tiny plastic bags spread across my table, and a stack of empty peat pots in the garage. Unfortunately, I have underestimated the chilly reality of the North. I am about a month too optimistic.  My vision of a knees in the dirt, direct planting has transformed.  It is more a Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness meditation in dirt and patience.

Spooning the mixed peat and perlite into the small pots, armed with tweezer and chopstick, I drop each seed into the earthy mix. An “Om” here and a “Pea” there, topped with a prayer and a pat for good measure.

“You will be a grand Cantaloupe!  You will be the first Pea of the Spring!”

A healthy dose of encouragement is always a good idea. Tiny Chamomile dustings, wrinkled dried beans, they all have the miracle of “concrete potential.” They could be an abundant plant with the right environs.  They could create and recreate themselves, transmuting soil and seed into something that has never existed before, in exactly this particular way. Each seed was offered what I knew to give: time in the dark to incubate, warmth for encouragement, a bit of direct sunshine and enough water for “damp.” Life starts in the damp, and dies in soggy.

Some of those seeds must be coiled springs, set to explode at the first moisture. As the snow swirled across my waiting garden, the Kale has germinated in under 48 hours. We may be having some for dinner before it’s warm enough to plant in the garden! Others, like Amaranth and Borage seem quite comfy in their dark warm spot. As weeks go by, I begin to think that they are smugly enjoying my meddling attentions.  Through weeks of gray clouds, I shuttle them from garage to spare bedroom trying to find a temporary sunbeam.  I imagine how these transplants from a proper British Herb Garden might respond to my muttered queries on their much anticipated arrival after these weeks of attentions, and no visible sign of “green.”

“We are considering germination.  We will get back to you when we are…….(sigh)…..ready.”

They aren’t ready, it isn’t time…yet. Nothing is more ambiguous than “concrete potential.”  In my chilly garage are all the makings of a glorious vegetable garden, it already exists out there in the Ethers. I am imagining it. I am hoping, no expecting some Findhorn scale bounty ( complete with homegrown pollinators.

abundance agriculture bananas batch

Photo by Pixabay on

Bees! I have read the books, taken the classes, dreamed of bees, and yes, even dreamed that I WAS a bee. I have assembled my hives, arranged for a Beekeeping friend to migrate some of her ladies to my silent boxes hopefully in May, when they have regained their robustness. Bees don’t wish, they do. They act on what is there.

With the help of a Beekeeping mail list, a small library, and all the observation skills I can muster, I have assumed the mantle of responsibility for these miracle workers.

 I will try to make the most informed beekeeping choices.  I will keep them warm in winter, cool in summer, keep the bears away and feed them when they are hungry.   All the while knowing they are completely in charge of their own survival.  They are carrying me, I’m only along for the ride, and maybe some honey. “

That was two Springs ago.  This winter we were warm in sunny Tampa watching leaves the size of bedspreads grow sprout out of my white Bird of Paradise. I grew Basil and Parsley in a pot by the pool and listened from the screen porch to the “Uh-UH” birds comment on our private conversations.

The bees have survived a second hard winter in the shed at the back of the barn.  When I last checked in April, the golden hued “Italian” bees greeted me at the door as I removed the mouse guard.  This, a metal gate with holes the size of bees.  It makes bees come through the door single file while keeping out cold and the “winter hungry” mice. They were gloriously happy to fly out the now open windows in search of a Spring that wouldn’t arrive for another month.

insect bees flying

Photo by Tookapic on

The Russian crew next door are a bit more curmudgeonly in chilly temperatures. Note that Dr. Zhivago stayed in the Ice Palace until there were flowers blooming. They may be grumpy, but they are pragmatic. These dark ladies may swagger but they are less likely to blame a beekeeper for accidents of broken combs or spilled honey. They just get down to the business of cleaning it up, putting their world back in order and you had best “get out of the way.” On this cold day, a single dark Russian bee came out of the hive, buzzed with great agitation, spun on her back legs and strode back into the darkness.

“It’s not time!!!”

She spat at me.  Returning to her post, she tucked her fuzzy body back in formation.  For the entire Winter, months and months of cold, they surround their Queen in a tight ball of bees, rotating from inner to outer circle as their own survival dictates. The bees stay close, hopefully to the abundant stores of last Fall’s honey. Abundant honey unless, that is, a greedy Beekeeper has taken too much for themselves.

Bee Lore says the Russians high survival rate in cold, wet weather comes from their cultural sensibility to keep their numbers small until it is absolutely “Spring.” The “Spring” that matters: when the sun comes back and there is actual food out there.  They don’t lay eggs until it stays warm. I think the elegant Russian Queens don’t care for a cold backside.

agriculture bloom blossom clouds

Photo by Pixabay on

What changed in 2 years? Time feels shorter, kids and grandkids don’t wait, they keep growing like Kale. I like to be in places where the sun shines and green things grow all the time.  The time to do what you want is right now.

My grass is too long for suburban standards; we no doubt look abandoned, but only by human standards.  The Owl house, bat house and blue bird houses are in place, only the Purple Martin condo is still tucked into the barn. Fruit trees are blooming, last year’s Sunflowers have tossed their seeds about, and I’m sure the bees are grateful for no mowers, they have had every Dandelion and clover to savor in peace. None of these living things makes a reservation with me or keeps a schedule.  They show up and grow when the time is right.  And so will we.

Sending Love to Pele

“The fire of a volcano can’t be put out, it is the beginning, and the end.”


I love Pele.  I love her clarity, her single element simplicity, and especially her enthusiasm for transformation. Pele represents the element of fire, the great transformer, the liberator of potential energy and liquidator of flotsam.

“There are other fire keepers.

We have different names, but we’re all sisters.

We used to be understood better, when you could hear us better.

We move, we change, we protect and balance all the pieces of creation.

And we’re VERY flashy about it.”

Every ancient culture has their fire goddesses.  Wadget and Brigid, Hestia or Vesta, all keepers of eternal flames, transformers of death into life. Shadow shamans transmuting material to energy to return to the web of life. Through eons of steadfast belief and ritual, this understanding of the fire element was transplanted to new places by migrations of human feet and thought. The Female Fire Keepers influence may have flourished and ebbed, but  for the most part, they were perceived as helpful protectors, their flames a benevolent resource.  Such is the usefulness of hot fire in cold climates.  Not so for Pele, Fire Goddess, keeper of the volcano at Kilauea.


“People are hard to understand

They come up to the smelly old crater and throw me a ham or a bottle or rum,  I don’t want a ham”

“Help me Pele!  Help me Pele!”

“I can help you change your life,

Gather up everything that doesn’t serve your spirit, old hurts and bad memories, guilt, grief, clear out the closet and the garage, give it up”

“I can burn them up, but you have to sacrifice these things to have new life.”

Pele’s Pacific post remains apart; her mission unique. She is site-specific for the island world of Hawaii. A place created entirely by VOLCANOES. She is a Fire Goddess surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean. Now that’s a solitary assignment.  Maybe it is that aloneness that sponsors her spontaneous interactions with people, all kinds of people. She is known for borrowing bodies and interacting with locals and tourists alike. I am one of those, Yes! Pele is real to me.

A long while ago, when the experience was new, I wrote our conversation down. It was a soliloquy really, describing her millennium long observation of human psyche, and human behavior. Is she an angry destroyer? vengeful and frightening, self-interested and self-serving? I think we have made her in our own image.

“If we ate here together, men and women,

 someone would have to be killed for it.

If you touched a rich man’s shadow, you got your head on a stick.

If a woman or a child ate a banana or a coconut they would be killed in a slow way, one broken bone at a time”

“And they said Pele is a danger!

Pele is vengeful!  She will be angry if you don’t do what we say!

Pele didn’t make those rules,

Pele didn’t maim children for eating what the mother island had provided for them,

It’s the people that did this.”

“I am the reflection of your fears;  I exist for balance”


Maybe only male God’s get to play with fire, and a female Goddess is supposed to just cook on it? People prefer to make the elements “vengeful” and the “wrathful” rather than acknowledge our complete lack of control over the “forces of nature.” These projections may be useful, but not altogether fair. I can’t imagine how hair-raising is it to experience this cataclysm on a small island as a fragile human.  Is it what the ants feel when we pound on by their exquisitely constructed communities?

“The ships came in from other places and brought their own Gods

And they said Pele doesn’t exist,

That’s when Pele became a superstition.”

“Except when the ground shakes

And the lava comes to purify and begin again,

Then they remember me.”



“Sometimes they see me when the Lava is really flowing.

But I’m always there, they just aren’t thinking that way.

They are blind until they get scared.”

“They think I show up to watch my handiwork.

It’s not my job, I just get it started.

Lava has lava ways”

So what’s really going on? It’s the hot breath of the Earth made visible. VOLCANOES are Transformation. Is it energy or intelligence that shape shifts elements into endless ever changing compounds in support of life.  Maybe not your life or mine, but LIFE on the galactic time line. We are of the earth not on it.

Be safe family in Hawaii, send her love!


Photos by Carol Martell

Please see copyrighted Painting of Pele by Arthur Johnsen