A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.


"Your recent blog about the tender return of your loved ones to the earth was moving, graceful in words and inspiration. Your words always come from the heart and intellect. A rare and insightful combination." Rolland Smith, former news anchor for WCBS-TV in New York, recipient of 11 Emmy Awards

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Friday, December 31, 2010

WildLives: A Letter to Susan Tweit

Dear Susan ... It is New Year's Eve, a cold, wintry day and I am listening to your CD WildLives while some holiday shortbread is baking.  What a lovely surprise to receive the compilation--thank you for this unexpected gift.

A few hours ago, when I decided to do some baking, I searched among the few recipes I brought with me when I left the ranch in the Black Hills six years ago, but the shortbread recipe was not among them.  The recipe had been my college roommate's, passed onto her by her Scottish grandmother.  A much treasured thing, it was handed over to me with a certain amount of ceremony and was probably the first holiday cookie on which my children cut their toddler teeth. 

But today I had to phone a dear friend in the Black Hills to retrieve a copy of the recipe, an especially poignant reminder that sometimes we must leave behind the things we cherish most.   

As I listen to the WildLives CD, I hear your confident, soft voice speak about the pungent fragrances of juniper and piƱon, yet it is the scent of of sweet butter baking that I smell, a warm, delicate fragrance--like the best of our memories, yes?  Fleeting, but intimately familiar to each and every cell of our body.

I wish for you and Richard this coming year an abundance of delicate, melt-in-your mouth experiences, served up with laughter and smiles and all the dears friends who have traveled this journey with you. 

I am reminded that though the place we call home may change, we may always choose to create a home wherever we are.  Perhaps that is the greatest gift of all.

Blessings, and Happy New Year to all of you.

Note: This is a slightly expanded version of the original letter.  To purchase WildLives: Celebrating the World Around Us, or listen to an excerpt, click here.  Contact Page for her shortbread recipe.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Giving Nature of Trees, NPR's Morning Edition, and Sexing Your Pinecones

This silence in the timbers.
A woodpecker on one of the trees taps out its story.
Robert Haight*
Each tree, too, has its own story, its own family, its own tribe. And even though we do not know if they give their lives willingly, we could not live or breathe without them. We fell them for their timber, for fuel for our fireplaces, and to grace our homes during the Christmas season.  We thin them to allow other nearby trees to mature and to help prevent insect infestation.  

In the small mountain community where I live, hundreds of 
Douglas fir and Ponderosa pines are being selectively felled for fire mitigation.  We are using the straightest of the “poles” to build a new barn for our community herd of horses, a bittersweet project because the trees must die.  
But by this time next year, the barn will be built and the horses will be able to seek shelter on the leeward side, protected from the wind and rain and snow.  I walk the dirt road where the cutting is taking place and touch the stumps that remain, inhaling the turpentine scene of pine and gather small armfuls of green branches to take home.  I am glad we are not using pre-fab metal for the barn.  Last weekend, John and I hiked the forest in search of a homegrown Christmas tree, one that we could take home and decorate.  We found a crowded cluster of saplings, each struggling for their own meager bit of sunshine.  We selected three which, when held together, formed a scrawny tree at which even Charlie Brown would have laughed. 
Standing next to the stand of saplings, surrounded by a family of older trees with crowns that swayed 75’ above us, we said a few prayerful words of gratitude, then headed home.  We used duct tape to bind the three small trunks together to form one trunk, and hoisted a few drooping branches off the rug with strands of sewing thread.  The delicate branches couldn’t support anything but the lightest of ornaments.  We wound three strands of lights and ribbon garland among the branches to fill in the bare spots.  The angel perched on the top was too heavy so we suspended her from the ceiling with more thread.  

The effort was comical.  But in the end, we were charmed by the three small saplings and what they represented— the simple strength of a three-legged stool, the thematic unity of a trilogy, the belief in the strength of a common purpose, even the spiritual message of the trinity.  And equally profound—the importance of honoring the essence inside each and every living thing.  I wish you a simple season, full of simple pleasures and simple blessings.  But most of all, I wish for you the chance to walk in the woods with a loved one, to stand beneath a blue sky surrounded by a family of trees and listen to the tapping of woodpecker or the song of the chickadee, to touch the bough of an evergreen and rekindle your faith in the innate goodness of the world.

Links of Interest
*Lines of poetry excerpted from "How Is It That The Snow" by Robert Haight, Column 193 of Ted Kooser's American Life in Poetry. Read entire poemNPR’s Morning Edition: Environmentalists encourage people to cut down holiday trees instead of buying artificial ones. Why live trees are better than plastic one. Listen to the storyDo you know what sex your pinecones are?  Yep, gender is everything.  This is a fun article on how to tell male from female trees, how to gather the pinecones, and how to harvest the pine "seeds" for planting. Check it out.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Honor Your Creativity with a Creative Altar

Coors Baseball Stadium, Denver, Colorado

We create ceremony and ritual around all other parts of our lives—baptism, bar mitzvah, feast days, confirmation, graduation, death, we even create ceremony around sports (think of Monday Night Football or the all-American baseball game), yet our culture does not have very many examples of rituals which honor the creative part of our nature.  Let me clarify, not rituals (like last night's Kennedy Center Honors) that recognize the artists of our culture, but rituals that honor the process of creating art--the act itself--rituals that set the stage for us, that prepare us as we begin our work.  

Rituals and ceremonies around our writing and art and song create safe atmospheres for our creative spirits, much like churches, or mountain tops, or secluded paths in the woods, create sanctuaries for our faith.  The spirit knows when we enter a temple or a kiva or a sweat lodge or a mosque that these are safe places for the prayerful spirit.

Door in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Our creative spirits need an atmosphere that tells us that it is safe to come out, to think without boundaries, to let the heart lead the dialogue our inner-selves want to have with the outer world.   Creative altars carve an opening into the inner-self, that dark mysterious place where creativity happens. Much like a door welcomes us into a new place, the altar can be a portal into the imagination. In the quiet spaces of my mind  a thought lies still, writes poet Tom Barritt in his poem "What's In  A Temple," begs me to open the door, so it can walk about.

Start a ritual around your creative practice—a special candle you only burn when writing, a special tea you only drink when penning poems, special music you only listen to when sculpting, special fetishes or mementos that are kept safely stored away until the paints come out, a special tapestry that drapes your writing table.  

Sandstone in Cathedral Wash
Our bodies love ritual, and our cells respond accordingly, awakening our inner-selves and telling us the time has finally come to dive deeply into the nether world where our creative selves dwell.  What can sometimes seem devoid of inspiration is actually an open container, waiting to be filled by our innermost thoughts.  

Suggestion: Start creating your altar by selecting a stone that has special meaning, perhaps one that has called out to you during a hike.  Think of the ancient life energy still moving within that stone and have faith in the quiet movement of your own creative energy.