Sunday Morning ~ Walking the Land

Sunday Morning ~ Walking the Land

M’dziko umayenda, umaona agalu a micombo. ~  When you walk in the land you see dogs with different navels. 

~ Chewa proverb

October 24, 2021

Hi Everyone,

One of the personal perks of this pandemic is an appreciation of staying close to home. There is a little moss growing on my north side. This is the longest I have stayed in my own country since I was in grammar school and even then we used to go to Canada every year. Now I’m domestic country and state, most of the time on my own island. Well, not my own island, but the one where I am lucky enough to live. My wanderlust has been remarkably subdued and it hasn’t bothered me as much as I thought it would. I’ve become more of a homebody, something I used to consider a potential character flaw when dating someone. I feel badly about that now. I understand more the attraction of staying in the familiar. It feels good to stay home and feel safe. I never thought I’d say that. Sometimes I worry that I’ll never have the urge to travel again.

I’ve spent time exploring my own state more than ever before. Living in a beautiful place, I usually just stay here when I’m not traveling abroad; there is so much hiking and beauty to be had. But Maine is a big state and large chunks of it are preserved and protected, for which, I am very grateful. Wandering this vast backyard is my new passion. 

When I was at Baxter State Park with my friend Polly in September, I talked with some folks who described some remote lakes accessible only by canoe or kayak where they were planning to do some canoe camping. I’d never heard of them and intrigued by their description wrote down the name, Debsconeag, so I could look them up when I got home. After reading about this place I became obsessed with going there. The three lakes are connected by streams which aren’t navigable by canoe. In fact, the word Debsconeag translates to “carrying place” referring to  places the canoes must be carried to continue on the waterway.

I told Zack about these lakes and after researching them he was eager to go, too. We studied the maps which had the dirt roads and put-in spots clearly marked. We found the camping places and planned our trip. Last weekend we set off to look for dogs with different navels. After a month of gorgeous, dry weather the forecast was for rain, but he’s working so we couldn’t spontaneously maneuver around it. We packed up meals, gear, and a few tarps, borrowed my neighbor’s canoe, and set off. It was a bright sunny day when we left, though the clouds were predicted for evening, and rain showers for the next day. The drive north was glorious; the colors spectacular. It was as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it: a fleeting, showy, spectacular blaze of beauty before the oncoming retreat into a bare cold slumber.

Just before getting to the town of Millinocket we saw a few vehicles pulled over so Zack slowed down to see what was up. We turned to see a female moose and her calf munching away in the brush. That seemed a good omen for the trip, and I felt sorry Polly wasn’t there to see them. She’d really wanted to see a moose. I mentioned that it was moose hunting season and I’m surprised no one is shooting at them. Zack said there was probably some regulation since we were so close to the town. Then I thought a minute and turned to Zack and said, “Wait. Did you bring anything orange?” He said, “No. I just thought of that.” Not wanting to get shot, we turned into the Katahdin General Store, which has everything you could possibly need to survive in the Maine woods, and each bought a hunter-orange rain hat. I think they could probably see us from space. We also bought some really cool tent stakes and a folding saw. I love that store.

We left there, and proceeded to find the road to the put-in spot on the Penobscot River. I’d still be looking for it if I were alone; it’s unmarked and in the middle of nowhere. Rivaling some of the roads in Malawi, it took thirty five minutes to go two miles. But we came to a gorgeous beach with camping sites and a calm river with a gorgeous mountain backdrop. As we lifted the canoe off the roof of the van Zack said, “Uh, I can see daylight”, meaning there was a crack in the canoe, which, my neighbor told me, hadn’t been used for years. Okaaay….here we are in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of really cool camping gear, and a hole in the canoe. We patched it with duct tape and put it in the water. “Well, it floats!” Zack said.  “Think it will be ok with all our gear in it?” I asked. “We’ll see in the morning I guess.”, he replied. It was starting to get dark and we needed to set up camp. It was beautiful enough there that if we couldn’t do the trip with our gear I would have been happy to just stay there and do the canoe part another time. Maybe checking out the canoe BEFORE we left home. 

The next morning was drizzly with low hanging clouds looking like they weren’t going anywhere. It was beautiful in a Scottish sort of way. Pouring rain was something I hoped held off until we were asleep that night. Or maybe until we got home. We loaded up the canoe and walked it into the water. We looked at the patched spot and it wasn’t leaking. “Well, let’s give it a try”, I said, “but go slow in case we need to turn around.” The duct tape worked! Not a single drop came through. That stuff is amazing. Never, and I mean NEVER, go anywhere without it. 

Neither Zack nor I are expert paddlers but we decided the only way to get better at it is to do it. This seemed like an easy trip, no rapids and only six miles, but once we got to the lake it did seem a little daunting. When the wind picked up the paddling got more challenging. We hugged the shore and marveled at the clear water and huge boulders. I felt small. I imagined an earlier era and finding your way without maps or navigational devices. We got to the campsite at the far end of the lake and unloaded our gear. We set up camp and draped a tarp above the picnic table so we could eat out of the rain. It seemed so comfortable compared to what I’d been imagining. We paddled to the portage trail to the second lake and got out to walk. It was nearly a mile and we both thought carrying a canoe that distance would warrant a longer stay than just one night. Maybe another time. We barely noticed the misty rain by that time. It’s amazing what I can get used to. At home I would have been reluctant to go walking in it. There, it felt fine. We knew we could get a fire going and dry out. We had dry clothes to sleep in and good tents. Again, I imagined an earlier time when pine boughs were all there were to sleep on. The second lake looked like a trout fishing paradise. We stood on the rocks in the mist and looked around at the ancient forest. Humbled. Quiet. Grateful.

Later, we dried out in front of a blazing fire with the view of the lake beyond. We cooked our supper and drank wine as the sun set. It was magnificent. We convinced ourselves it was clearing up! Absolutely! It even seemed like the moon was shining through the clouds which were surely breaking up. We went to our tents content and full of visions of sunny skies for the paddle out. I’d say ten minutes after we were tucked into our sleeping bags the heavens open up and I barely slept for the noise of it. I stayed dry but envisioned the rainy paddle out of there and how the duct tape was not going to matter. The rain would fill the canoe. But by daylight, the downpour had turned to showers, then to clearing skies, and we soggily and happily packed up for the paddle out. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Taking

Sunday Morning ~ Taking

Mkhala nawo analanda malo. ~ The one who came to stay, took over the place.

~ Chewa proverb

October 10, 2021

HI Everyone,

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts this year, many political, some historical. I’ve learned a lot. This week I finished listening to This Land, a documentary podcast about how Native children are being used to advance the far right agenda. Rebecca Nagle is the investigative reporter, a citizen of Cherokee Nation, who follows several adoption court cases. It is fascinating, educational, heartbreaking, and hopeful. I highly recommend it on this Indigenous People’s Day.

I often think about Native culture and customs. I’ve always been drawn to the earth and making a life from it. I used to wear my hair in long braids as a kid and once walking through town a family friend told me I looked like a little Indian. When I told my mother this she said, “You are an Indian. We have relatives who were Indians.” She said it so matter of factly I was surprised; It seemed like big news to me. I tucked that little gift happily into my psyche, choosing to believe some tiny part of me belonged here. I’ve never done anything with ancestry.com, but after my mother died, one of her relatives gave me a family tree that went back to the family’s origins in North America. A Frenchman came from Calais, France to Nova Scotia and the hand-written genealogy had written “Indienne” as his wife. She was the only person on the several-generation tree without a name. Something has always stopped me from investigating further. I think I’m worried it might not be true. 

When I was nine I got interested in looking at National Geographic magazine. I read little of it, but the photos had me mesmerized and I was consumed with stories about the National Parks out west. I wanted, even then, to be in the wilderness. There was a big article about the geysers at Yellowstone and I wanted to visit there so badly. One spring evening that year, my father asked at supper where we’d like to go for a family vacation. Without hesitation I said, “Yellowstone National Park!” understanding that what we wanted meant nothing. He always asked what we wanted then ignored what we said, forced us to do what he wanted, then tried to make us think it was our idea. I can’t remember what my siblings said, if anything, but that was the end of it. We finished eating, he raised his newspaper, and we were dismissed. Weeks later, maybe early June, we were gathered around after dinner and he took out a Triple A Trip Tik and showed us a route from our house to Wyoming with the last pages ending at Yellowstone. I screamed for joy and ran out of the house, running across the street to my friend Beth’s yelling, “We’re going to Yellowstone National Park!” Neighbors came out of their house as I ran around the neighborhood spreading the good news. I was scolded for doing this and warned not to go blabbering about it to everyone. My father, who discouraged happiness, asked accusingly “Do you realize how many other children will never get this opportunity?!” I answered, dutifully shamed, “Yes.” (It’s interesting as I write this to think of how, somehow, my enthusiasm stayed alive.) 

But, it became the talk of the neighborhood: my father was taking his five kids across country in the station wagon to visit Yellowstone National Park! People didn’t travel so far back then; a week at Cape Cod was a big deal. This trip was like going to the moon.

The saga of that trip has been the source of endless family hysterics. By current standards the authorities would have taken us into custody, but we lived to laugh about it. It was a bonding experience the way boot camp is, but those stories will be left for another time. What I am thinking about today is our stop at the Badlands National Park and the Indigenous man selling jewelry on the ground. His artwork was laid out on a beautifully woven blanket. My father chatted with him and I remember him talking about the sacred land we were on. Without anger, he spoke of the meaning it had. I thought he was very old, but that may have been my perception. I know I was broken hearted for him. I wanted to sit with him and stay there. I thought, this was wrong. My father picked up two necklaces and motioned for me to pick out one I wanted. He then told me to pick out a couple more. I chose one for me, one for my mother, and one for Beth. I don’t know if my siblings pick out any, but I remember my father paying the man and the man saying he appreciated the money. I remember my father saying, “You are welcome to every cent of it.” in a voice that had the most kindness I’d ever heard from him. 

At Mount Rushmore my father paid an indigenous man to have our photo taken with him. It was a business at the edge of the park, not some random man my father grabbed. We were all smiling and he played the stereotype. I sit here now and am sickened by that memory. I have the photos in a crumbling album but I’m afraid to look at them. 

It’s more than half a century later this day has been given it’s rightful meaning. Too long coming, but I’m grateful. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Still Jumping

Sunday Morning ~ Still Jumping

Tsokonombwe adatha mtunda n’kulumpha. ~ The grasshopper covered a long distance jump by jump.

~ Chewa proverb

October 3, 2021

Hi Everyone,

My feet were cold Friday and I couldn’t think straight. I puttered around the kitchen feeling anxious. I usually wait to turn on the heat, sometimes until November, but another month of discomfort wasn’t appealing. My furnace hasn’t been working and I’d been waiting for the plumber since July. My cold feet were distracting. I needed to put together some words, about 750 of them actually, for the rally on Saturday. The thoughts circulating my brain were not coming together in any meaningful way. I blamed my feet. I put on heavier socks and sat down at my laptop to find statistics and review pending legislation. I tried to glean some words from those documents, but it wasn’t working. My scribbled notes looked like debris on the page. They weren’t forming anything useful. Frustrated, I decided to walk off some nervous energy and went to the woods, a place that usually calms me and clears my head. It helped a little but there were no epiphanies. I got home near dusk to find the plumber here! Bless him, he got the furnace going and I went to bed that night less anxious but with a speech still unwritten. I got up early to warm floors, made tea, and reflected. I thought about how nice my feet felt and how much calmer I was, struck by the difference it made in my ability to make decisions, make a meal, organize my thoughts. I thought of those living in poverty with a lifetime of stress: cold feet, empty bellies, insecure boundaries. My feet reminded me of how they must work so much harder just to get through a day.

I was one of six speakers and we hadn’t coordinated our messages. I decided to nix the stats and legislative information, figuring there was a good chance that would be covered. I decided on three points I wanted to make and would ad lib, knowing I don’t read well from a script. I found a notecard and jotted: health care as a basic human right, access to that care, what we can do. I thought of telling stories of the young women who came to us when the women’s center first opened. I could tell about their despair, their fear, their lack of resources. I could describe the big tag sale we had each year to raise money to help women without resources. The $2,000 was a ridiculous drop in the bucket, but symbolic of the community commitment to provide quality care to women regardless of their ability to pay. I thought of telling how many of those women came back to us years later and thanked us. Some were successful career women and told us their lives could have taken a very different direction without our help. It was so rewarding to see them. We’d glow the rest of the day and it always gave us a booster shot, helping keep our heads up. I didn’t tell these stories yesterday, though. It felt like preaching to the choir.  Everyone at the rally knew what a valuable resource a women’s health center is.

I began with how lucky I was to move to this island in 1992 when a powerful group of women were advocating for and creating a health center for women. It was a time when there was competition between community hospitals and it made good business sense. Women are most often the health care consumers for families and our local hospital wanted to attract them.  There was a steering committee addressing issues affecting women in all walks of life, puberty through menopause and beyond. It was an exciting time to see a community identify a need and step by step make it happen. Over time, women from miles away were coming to us, some driving over two hours for care. Many were very poor and had trouble with transportation. But they came anyway because they wanted the kind of care we were offering. Some had no other option as the services they sought were unavailable anywhere closer to them. This all seemed insane to me. If our community could do this, why couldn’t others? Or at the very least, why couldn’t we travel to a health center near them a couple of days a month? “Impossible”, I was told. But it was not impossible; we could have done it with creative partnering. But the system and reimbursement had changed, we had a governor intent on punishing the poor, and people living in rural areas suffered.

Many in my generation of women experienced sexism and misogyny rampant within the healthcare system. Many struggled to find contraception never mind compassionate abortion care. We wondered how different our lives would have been if we’d had a women’s center when we were teenagers. Imagine going to a clinic where there is no judgement, where you can express your needs and fears, concerns and anxieties, and get reliable information and care. Imagine how differently we might have seen the world and our place in it. Imagine feeling worthy of care and respect. That’s what we wanted young women to grow up believing about themselves. That they are worth it. That they should not tolerate poor care or judgement. They should be able to get care when they need it and not worry about how to pay for it. 

Health care is a basic human right and abortion is part of health care. Period. It’s no one’s business but your own if you are seeking care for a mole removal, pap smear, botox, or an abortion. The hypocrisy surrounding this is breathtaking. 

I related a story about a friend of mine who is tired of the fight. She worked hard as a doctor for decades and provided the best care she could. She risked her life but stood her ground. She said she’s exhausted. I told her to rest. She did her part. She can be supportive, donate, vote, but let others carry on other aspects of this struggle. We need to hold each other up. I used the childbirth analogy again: I don’t want to hear that it hurts. Don’t waste your energy telling me something I already know. Save your strength for getting through this.  It is what it is. We have to deal with the situation as it is and not waste our energy moaning that we already fought this battle. We look ahead and do what we can with what is in front of us. For some, that will be financial help, for others getting out the vote, and for some it may be just being kind to someone who needs some support and love. We are all capable of that. That may be just enough to make a woman feel she deserves better. 

Abortion restriction is not about being pro-life. It is about power, control and money. Abortion is one aspect of health care. Restricting access to this aspect of health care is a human rights violation. We need to describe it as such. It is a HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION and we will not tolerate this. As Ghandi said, “You can not control a population that refuses to be controlled.” and we refuse to be controlled. 

This is the gist of what I said yesterday. I appreciate that people came out. I appreciate the kind words passed to each other and me. We’re going to be ok.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Knowing Persons

Sunday Morning ~ Knowing Persons

Cosadziwa ndi nkhondo, adausa nkhondo pa dziwe. ~ The “unknowing person” is trouble, he sought shelter from the war by hiding (drowning) in a pool of water.

~ Chewa proverb

September 26, 2021

Hi Everyone,

I used to tell women in labor, “You can waste your energy complaining that it hurts, or you can accept that this is how it is and save your strength to push the baby out.” I feel like this is where we are. We need to stop wasting our energy with complaints about fighting the same battle over and over, accept the situation as it is, and push the patriarchy out.

In 1981 I was just back from Peace Corps. I had a one year old baby and a husband starting undergraduate school. We found a rental house we could barely afford in a rural town in western Massachusetts: uninsulated, drafty, and so cold during the winter the pipes froze regularly and the dog’s water froze on the kitchen floor. I got a job as a visiting nurse in Holyoke, about a thirty-five minute drive. We bought a used Volkswagon with our readjustment allowance and moved into our home. I was making six dollars and twelve cents per hour, pregnant with our second child, and supporting our family. Because we were poor, Joe’s tuition at the state school was covered with grants and a couple of small loans. We had hoped to buy an unfinished house selling for thirty thousand dollars on a nice piece of property as the mortgage payment would have been less than our rent, but we had little for a down payment and with my tiny salary we couldn’t get a mortgage. I managed to arrange to work the evening shift so we could minimize babysitting costs. I’d drive our son to the college campus and wait outside Joe’s classroom, hand our son to him and run back to the car to get to work. Other days he’d take the car to school, get home and leave it running in the driveway as I waited on the doorstep to jump in.

It was the beginning of the Reagan raping of the disadvantaged and we missed the financial boat. We had friends buying houses with family help and turning them over for a huge profit a year or two later. Health care was turning into what felt like the Walmart of the times: anything for profit. At the Visiting Nurse Association we kept people on our caseload long after they should have been discharged as long as their insurance would continue to pay. Others in need went without care if they had no insurance. We had to be creative with the charting to make the patient seem dependent on us. I’d argue at staff meetings that one patient or another could change his own dressings; that he was completely competent and could reach his leg. After several of these meetings my supervisor pulled me aside and said in a low voice, “Linda, I am a conservative republican and I agree with all the budget cuts being made in this country. But this is a business and we rely on the income.” This was my nursing supervisor milking the system she accused welfare mothers of milking. It was the beginning of my disillusionment and disgust with our system and the people who run it. Many conservative health care executives  and practitioners rail against the uninsured because it makes their lives difficult. Yet, without a hint of shame, they milk the system for their own profit. I worked in that system for another forty years and witnessed sexual harassment that would land people in prison now, downright sanctioned fraud, and overprescription of unnecessary (and dangerous) medication. All for profit.  Sickening. It’s worse now. I quit when I financially could and when my self-respect demanded. I felt I was being complicit by staying but conflicted not offering care to the vulnerable women going without. Dangerous people were practicing medicine and they were knowingly tolerated. Women suffered and it’s worse now. The greed machine can’t get enough. And yes, I’ve heard the arguments that not all doctors or CEOs are like this, blah blah blah. This is true, but they knowingly tolerate the ones who are. It’s just like the argument for the police going on now. We need to face this.

So what to do? As rural hospitals eliminate maternity care because it is “too expensive”, women are put at higher and higher risk. And now they cleverly send out bounty hunters instead of funding health care. I believe the perpetrator is stronger but also women’s wisdom wider. As scary as the machine against women is right now, the tactics are stale, transparent, and they don’t know their enemy. We owe a lot to women who have stood up to this machine. They have raised strong daughters who are smart, powerful, and refuse to be controlled. I think of the scene from Ghandi when the British governor asked incredulously, “You don’t expect Britain to just hand over independence do you?” And Ghandi replies “That’s exactly what I expect, because you cannot control a population who refuses to be controlled.” I see women right there, facing a patriarchy that cannot control a population who refuses to be controlled. Let them drown themselves. They cannot win this. 

From The Art of War by Sun Tzu:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. 

If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. 

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

We know the enemy and we know ourselves, they know neither.

In contemplating where to donate, I’ve decided on Powered by the People because Texas is capable of electing legislators and a governor who actually represents the majority.

And Maine Healthcare Action because we need health care for everyone in this country and Maine is capable of setting that example for other states to follow.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Weaving a New Net

Sunday Morning ~ Weaving a New Net

Ukonde uyambira ku bwakale. ~ You start weaving a new net using the old one.

~ Chewa proverb

September 19, 2021

Hi Everyone,

I tried to find a proverb relating to birthdays and, finding none, am going to conclude birthday celebrations are a western thing. Many elders in Malawi and Congo had no idea when they were born. When asked their age they’d reply “adult”. When asked when their child was born women would reply, “After the rain.” or “During the dry season.” We’d count the baby’s teeth and add six months to get an estimate of age. When life depends on subsistence farming the calendar isn’t important; the rains coming and going are. I’m not sure I ever had a conversation about birthday celebrations with any of my Malawian friends either. I thought about it this weekend as the calendar told me I am now eligible for Medicare. That’s a big reason for celebration in my book and I’m hoping I’ll see it for all our citizens during my lifetime, no matter their age.

Birthdays were not big in my house growing up. They were noted and celebrated with cake for desert, traditional candles, and song but there were neither parties nor many presents. We usually got some clothing and money which had to go into our bank account. For me it was always a little disappointing. When I started working as a midwife and was present at births I started wondering why we celebrated the baby and not the mother that day? She worked really hard and deserves recognition. I began the tradition of sending my mother flowers on my birthday thus eliminating expectations. Then I’d treat myself on each of my children’s birthdays. This made more sense to me. But milestone birthdays seem to come with greater responsibility.

Early in our marriage my husband and I would daydream about our future and create fantastic scenarios. We started out small, like eating lobster every wedding anniversary (that was before we moved to Maine and lobster was still a treat). We planned to turn forty in Venice and when that year came my mother came to stay with the kids and we headed off to that fabulous city then biked around Tuscany. (As I write this I realize I have a lot to pay forward). For our fiftieth birthdays we planned to bike across the country. This idea was hatched when we were twenty-two and turning fifty seemed a few light years away. The bike trip didn’t happen. Our marriage had ended abruptly five years before and though I had rehabilitated myself into a functioning person again, turning fifty was a painful reminder of what dreams were flushed deep into the sewer system. The financial instability with losing an income did not allow for a six month sabbatical for a cross-country bike trip. I lowered the bar and decided to run a half marathon, something well out of my comfort zone. This was not a superhuman challenge but something I’d never done and it provided me reassurance that I wasn’t over the hill. (This is my version of self care.) There was a half marathon in town on the very day of my fiftieth birthday so it was all very convenient. I threw myself a big party to boot.

Now I’m thinking about the next stage of life and what to make of it. When my grand daughter asked me how old I was turning, she cringed when I told her sixty-five, as if I’d told her she needed an injection. “Oh no!” she said in a sad way. I asked what the problem was?  “I don’t want you to die.” she said, which was very touching. I hugged her and told her I thought it would be a long time before I died, not that anyone knows. I remember being eight and thinking forty was old, sixty was ancient, and eighty was a rare and exclusive club. Now I look back on how quickly the last twenty-five years passed and think I should get busy planning that bike trip.  

I’ve had dear friends with me the past weeks and we’ve had lots of discussions about rituals, birthdays, and how we incorporate our past into our future. Like when I turned fifty, this is not where I expected to be right now. The pandemic tossed a big wrench into my professional plans. But I’m lucky and privileged to be able to stop and think about how I can start weaving a new net. It’s exciting to think of this as a beginning with a better stocked tool kit, gratitude for all I have, and a wider view of what’s behind.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ What We Agree To

Sunday Morning ~ What We Agree To

Khoza lipita ndi mwini dzanja. ~ The ivory bangle goes if the owner of the hand agrees.

~ Chewa proverb

September 12, 2021

Hi Everyone,

A friend from Peace Corps/Seed has been visiting for the past two weeks and we’ve been going non-stop. It’s given me another opportunity to tune out current events and focus on the beauty of this state. The Texas news broke just before she arrived and I balanced sinking into despair with preparing for a camping/ hiking adventure wondering what to do next in this forever fight for reason and equality. I wrote a blog last week but didn’t post it. It was a sarcastic tirade about the patriarchy and it felt redundant and not particularly well written. I let it go and left for Baxter State Park hoping we had all we needed for a week in the wilderness and my noisy breaks would hold out on the dirt roads. The three hour drive gave me time to think.

I thought of Texas as a spoiled child making more and more outrageous demands. I don’t have much tolerance for unreasonable demands. Those who expect more than they deserve or earn irritate me, especially when the demands bankrupt others emotionally and physically. They make everyone miserable. It’s just so Texas right now, throwing a fit in the grocery checkout line when we say no to more candy. They can scream all they want but we have the wallet and the car keys. I want to leave them there and let them walk home, if they can find the way. 

Then I think about generalizing and how I rail against that when it applies to race or religion. I realized I was doing this with Texas hoping the whole state goes down in flames. There are many, many good people there who are ashamed of what their state has come to. Believe me, we were there in Maine for eight years. There is a powerful group needing a comeuppance but I need to stop blaming the whole state. The challenges are not insurmountable. I need to reframe my thinking. I am making a conscious effort to describe the governor and republican legislators in my disgust, not the state as I have been. This took focus as civilization retreated in my rearview mirror.

Mount Katahdin is the highest peak in Maine and the beginning or end of the Appalachian Trail. It is a sacred place to the Wabanaki people and to many who have experienced it. It’s short compared with mountains of the western United States, but it is a challenging climb with a unique summit with a ridge that spans a little over a mile. That ridge is narrow with steep drop offs to each side. It’s called the Knife Edge and is spectacular. Crossing it is not for the feint hearted or acrophobic. My friend Polly was up for it and we set out on Tuesday which looked weather-wise to be the best for completing the circuit. The first three miles are a pleasant mountain hike to the cirque where Chimney Pond marks the start of the steepest ascent. We were there in good time and I thought we’d make the circuit well before dark, have time for a bit of a swim even! But when we talked with the ranger, he was discouraging people from doing the Knife Edge, or even summiting. It’s often a windy mile up there and can be dangerous. The winds were blowing with 30-40 mph gusts. We pondered. Should we try again the next day? Predicted sunny but windier, we ruled that out. It’s a process to even get to the trailhead with a 4:45 a.m. start and doing that two consecutive days without a guarantee wasn’t attractive. We decided we could at least make ti to the summit and decide if we wanted to cross or just turn around and come back the way we came.

We decided against going up the Cathedral Trail (my favorite). It is very steep and very exposed and the winds would make that unpleasant. We went up the Saddle, which is almost as steep but less exposed. It was a challenge and all the way up I thought, ugh, this is going to be the easy way down if we can’t do the knife’s edge, and it won’t be easy. It was very wet from the previous day’s thunderstorms we thoroughly enjoyed from the porch of our cabin. The aftermath of that rain wasn’t as pleasant, but we made it to the saddle with another mile to the summit on loose stones. As soon as we crested, the wind about took our skin off. I pulled my down jacket out of my pack and if I hadn’t held it with both hands I would never have seen it again. I told Polly we were not doing the knife’s edge in that wind. She asked if it would be worse than going down that same trail? I knew what she meant. That was not an attractive thought either. We decided to wait and see what it was like at the top. 

The next mile was a cold, windy trudge. We were engulfed in a cloud so there was no view unfortunately. The view makes it all easier. I willed the cloud to move but it didn’t. Tiny and vulnerable humans that we are, it’s humbling. The landscape is majestic and must be respected. We make our decisions and pay the price or reap the reward. 

At the summit we nestled between boulders to eat our lunch and drink our hot tea. We took photos. We sat to decide which way to go. The wind had subsided a little but who knew when that would kick up again? Polly asked again, would it really be worse to cross the knife edge if we went slow? 

If I had been with anyone else I might have said yes, but I knew her mountain skills and strength. I was fairly confident of my own if we went slow. Again, I knew what was ahead and I have heard horror stories of unprepared overconfident people trying to get over in bad weather. I had no desire to spend the night up there. I like reading those thrillers but am not keen to be the protagonist. We agreed to turn around if we felt unsafe or unable. We started and it felt like the right choice though the wind was fierce and the rocks slippery. It took a lot of energy to stay upright. I started thinking when we’d past the point of no return that going the direction we were, the hardest part is at the end where there is a very steep “chimney”. I started thinking I’m not sure I’ve ever done that section without help. My legs are short and I’ve needed a push up that section. Don’t think, I told myself. Look at what is in front of you. The clouds parted occasionally and the view opened slightly and what was ahead was strikingly beautiful and terrifying. Sections looked impossible to traverse. The winds blew in gusts and we crouched on all fours, very slowly making progress. Each section we crossed I thought, it’s amazing what we can do if we only look at the bit in front of us. Focus. Progress. Stay strong. Nourish. Encourage. 

By the time we got to the chimney I was spent. I wasn’t sure I could hoist myself up those vertical boulders. Don’t think. Polly got up and I handed her my backpack. I asked her to stay close just for reassurance, knowing she could not haul me up. But she cheered me on and that helped. No choice, just do it. I checked my hand grips ten times. I knew once I stated to haul myself up there was no going back. Falling wasn’t an option either. When I made it to the ledge we rested a minute and it all became clear. I looked back and marveled at what we accomplished. Stopping hadn’t been an option. Bemoaning what’s ahead only wastes energy and we needed every bit. I thought up there in that cloud that the Texas fight is like this. We can summit and cross looking at the steps in front of us. Failure to descend is not an option. This scary, rocky path is crossable if we focus on getting past the dangerous part then we can relish the way down.  

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Thousands More

Sunday Morning ~ Thousands More

Culuke-culuke ngwa njuci, tsata yakuluma. ~ There are many bees, just follow the one that stung you.

~ Chewa proverb

August 30, 2021

Hi Everyone,

It’s Monday. I’m a day late. I didn’t write a single word yesterday. I thought a lot, though. I thought how to phrase things and the sentiments I wanted to convey. It was the first time in a long time I wrote nothing on a Sunday. Even the weeks I don’t post until later, I’ve written it mostly on Sunday. But yesterday, no, I gave it up.

I woke later than normal. I’d adjusted to the crowded bed more easily than I’d imagined and slept soundly in my little allotment very near the edge. The morning was hazy, foggy, a bit dark. I sleepily adjusted the pillow dislodged by a flailing arm and went right back to sleep. Amazed at what I can adjust to, the kids woke first and laughed at my grogginess. I’d planned to be up extra early to write and was confused. They thought this was exceptionally funny. James said he’d had a bad dream so decided not to dream again. Then I laughed and he was the one confused. We wrote our daily story then got up and ready for church. It was leaving day. 

When I stripped the bed a little later I thought what a luxury it would be to crawl into it alone that night, sprawl out and put my legs wherever I wanted. But it wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. The sheets were still a little damp when I took them off the line after dark. I’d gotten home from dropping the kids with their mom much later than I imagined. I could have thrown them in the dryer for a bit, but wanted to get the bed made and get into it. I was very tired. But I slept poorly. I tossed and turned and the whole empty bed seemed to be mocking me. At first I placed myself on the edge as if leaving room for the two other bodies I’d accommodated over the past three weeks. The stuffed animals and “blankies” absence made the bed look lonely. I had a flashback to the first few nights after my husband left, then the first few years when I left his spot empty. It took almost ten years for me to sleep past my side. I thought how ridiculous that was, as if he’d somehow find his spot waiting if he ever decided to come back. I thought about this last night as I moved to the middle and stretched my legs as far as I could. I felt the damp edges of the sheets. They’ll dry, I thought sleepily as I hunkered down. But sleep didn’t come. My arm ached a bit, then I thought my foot felt funny. Interesting that I never once thought about any aches or pains while the kids were here. I was too busy. I didn’t think about being too tired to read them a story. It wasn’t an option to be tired. Thinking isn’t always productive and I’m a believer of the Nike slogan. 

One day last week we passed an intersection where a woman was holding a sign asking for help. The sign said she was poor. Amelia read that and as I drove through the intersection she said, “That woman needs help! Meme, you should stop and help her!” The compassion. The urgency. I’d seen that same woman there hours earlier when we passed. I noted she was still there in the hot sun, hours later. It was a busy intersection and I didn’t stop. If I’d had a dollar on the seat instead of inside my wallet, I thought I might have quickly opened the window of the air conditioned car and handed it to her. But stopping there, fishing out a dollar from my purse, and handing it over may have caused an accident. It wasn’t a convenient place to stop when the light wasn’t red. This went though my mind a moment before Amelia made her observation. By then I was in the flow of traffic and driving away. I thought about how desperate she must be to be standing in the hot sun for so long. I considered turning around. I wondered if that would be a good lesson for these kids: to go back and give her something. I didn’t, though. I kept driving. I said it made me sad that so many people were poor and needed help like that. “Then why didn’t you stop to help her?” Amelia asked. Yeah, why didn’t I? I had cash in my wallet. I would not have noticed a few dollars missing. Terrible location, I thought. Then was sad at the thought of what must have brought her to stand there. I wondered if she’d been abused so badly she just couldn’t move? I was moved by the emotion flowing from my granddaughter. I overflowed with love for this compassionate being. It gave me hope for the future. I imagined a world full of Amelias. James said, “Meme, you should help her!” and thought what a good example his sister was setting. What should I say to them? What example should I set as I drove on? They asked why she was there. I talked about poverty and unfairness. 

I’d planned to take a meal to a friend who’d had a terrible accident. I asked the kids if they’d like to make her a card to go with the meal. They eagerly got out the paints and started on the artwork. They asked what color her hair was, wanting to paint a picture of her as accurately as possible. I laughed. Then Amelia looked up before dipping her brush and asked, “Wait, what color is her skin?” as natural as asking what color her eyes were. My heart exploded. This is the future, I thought. Kids who are more inclusive, accepting, compassionate, and loving. 

It’s cliche to repeat the bit about learning from the children, but it’s what I thought. Their inquisitiveness is a model. They are continually trying to extract more details; they are trying to understand. I wonder when we lose that? We so often jump to judgement and abandon understanding. We’re satisfied with a few facts at hand whether they make sense or not. From our air-conditioned perches, safe within our homes, technology at our fingertips, we’re convinced we know how to do it right. We claim to know how so many others get it wrong. 

Slight pivot here, but I’ve spent a lot of time over the past three weeks talking about insects and spiders and how they protect themselves and help us. I watched and marveled at the transformation from fear to fascination to protection with eagerness to learn and understand. They may sting, but that one that hurt us is only protecting itself while thousands of others continue to make our world thrive. 

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ The Beginning

Sunday Morning ~ The Beginning

Kuongola mtengo ndi poyamba. ~ To straighten a tree you must start at the beginning.

~ Chewa proverb

August 22, 2021

Hi Everyone,

It gets easier. You start with a little stick and the hole you dig is rather small. It doesn’t have to go deep. Pretty soon, if the soil is wet and the temperature right, a few leaves start to appear. It’s exciting to see the stick alive. You must have planted it correctly. A shoot pokes out from the top and the sapling starts bending toward the sunlight. It’s such a hopeful act to plant a tree. Thirty years ago I did this, planted trees. They were just sticks really, and I stuck them in spots near the house we were building. I thought I wouldn’t live to see them flourish. Now, Amelia, James, and I are picking fruit from those trees. It’s the fantasy I had when I planted them. I’m so happy. So grateful.

I hear there is a hurricane heading our way. A notification on my phone warned me while  camping this week at Rangeley State Park. I hadn’t listened to the news in two weeks so looked to see what was happening, not sure how worried I should be with two young kids in a tent. I discovered a whole group of people who can’t find Afghanistan on a map are now experts on that country, and a hurricane may or may not hit us. I realize how easy it is to tune out reality. I should stop wondering how this can be. It’s a relief, actually, not that I’d want to make a lifestyle out of it. Tuning out and being completely present with these two young beings is good for my soul. And the time is short. I’ve missed them. I slip in and out of the pool of how I’ll miss them again. 

We had a rough start with a sleepless first night of their stay. James was scared out here on the porch and decidedly announced this fact throughout the night no matter how many reassurances and tight hugs I provided. As the sky got a little light Amelia tapped me on the arm and whispered, “Meme, have we literally been awake all night?” I whispered back depressingly, “Just about.”  It was hot. It’s rarely hot here during the night, especially outside, but it was that night. We were all sweaty and piled together like we were on an airplane. In fact, that’s sort of what it was like: trying to sleep on an airplane. I got up with a sore back and cranky attitude. There was no way I could do that for three weeks. We had several discussions that day about what would make him feel safe with the understanding that the option of sleeping inside for three whole weeks of my summer was not on the table. He helped me move a statue I had on the porch to the garden on the other side of the house. He said it scared him. We talked about the night noises and who makes them. We got out Zack’s old Zoobooks and found ones written about spiders. We read about how they catch their prey and weave beautiful webs. We learned they mostly don’t hurt us and how good they are for the garden. We rearranged the sleeping configuration so he felt more secure. Mostly he heard the definitive tone of my words. This was my summer bedroom and if he wanted to be near me, this is where we sleep. He can reach out if he needs reassurance, but this is where I feel safe and happy. I told him he could feel that way, too. It didn’t take long for the nights to become sweet again. In fact, he was fine the very next night. Now we all take our places, I read a chapter to them from the Little House books, we snuggle in, and in the morning, I sit with my tea at the table nearby, and write. I promised I’d stay close until they wake each morning and when I see the little heads pop out of the piles of quilts, I get back in to snuggle. We write a short story about the day, one that captures the essence of what was vivid to them. The whole world for me is right here.

We quietly watch a hummingbird sip nectar from the flowers next to our bed each morning. The humming sound alerts us and we take a break from our story. We watch it dart from blossom to blossom before floating away. As it leaves I feel a pang of sadness, reluctantly letting it go. It’s so quick. So beautiful. I have to relish the moment it gives us and be glad for it, even as I mourn it’s departure. We turn back to our story, and somehow the hummingbird never makes it onto the page. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Letting Go, Letting In

Sunday Morning ~ Letting Go, Letting In

Citsime cakale ciphetsa ndi ludzu. ~ An old well kills you with thirst.

~ Chewa proverb

August 8, 2021

Hi Everyone,

I just finished listening to a podcast about American imperialism, the history of all the lands we’ve colonized while billing ourselves as the defender of freedom and independence. I’ve known this, especially after living in Samoa. It doesn’t take long in Hawaii, either, to see what we’ve done there. The right to self-rule has been a clever ruse, working our way in, allowing access to resources. It’s fairly blatant like racism, and the history lessons are important, necessary. It tangles everything in my life to do this learning. I glibly went along, traveling, searching, wondering if there were exciting lands where I may offer some skill, feeling secure I was doing the right thing. Now it’s all complicated. How much of humanitarian work is about making ourselves feel better? But then, isn’t helping others a good thing? The question is, what is help? What’s the long term impact? And therein lies the problem. None of us know. So often we do more harm than good in the long haul. This may be self-preservation, but I still believe Peace Corps has the right idea, whether or not it’s inception was pure. I was so idealistic when I joined at twenty-two. My family made fun of my idealism. “Yea, yea, yea, you need to save the world.” my father would say, as if that was something to be mocked. It was always confusing to me. I’d respond, “That’s good, right? Wanting to save the world?” Even if Peace Corps was founded in response to Soviet’s idea of young people traveling to foreign lands, the goal of understanding and sharing is something I believe in. I’ve met so many professionals in my travels who’ve told me they are where they are because of a Peace Corps volunteer. Those words have always been affirming to me. So, for now, I’ll cling to that little tidbit of goodness while I sort through what to do with my next life chapter. Thank God the grandkids are coming so I can stop all this navel gazing.

In a few hours I’ll be distracted with grandchildren and put all the philosophical pondering to the side. They give me perspective and consume me completely. It’s such a treat and one I do not take for granted. I get to have three weeks with these bundles of love and am excited about every minute of it. I haven’t gone overboard with planning as they are old enough now to participate and I look forward to seeing what they come up with. It’s such a different world from my childhood and I think about the privilege of creating new norms over these two generations; compared with our ancestors, much less of our lives is focused on survival. 

Not having had a grandmother I was close to, I’ve envied that relationship. I never felt listened to, or interested in as a kid. Most of my childhood memories of my mother are of her back, the apron knot at her waist while she stood at the sink or ironing board. Her life was much harder than mine. It seemed anything I said was an annoyance. In book group this week, women my age entertained the younger ones with childhood memories of what would now be considered abuse. Par for the course back then, we wouldn’t have dared complain. We described the torture of mercurochrome, a treatment worse than the injury. Nothing invoked terror like that little bottle coming out of the medicine cabinet. I described limping home crying after my foot got caught in the spokes of my brother’s bicycle and being scolded for ruining my shoe. An X-ray was never considered. The mangled foot healed eventually and I had to wear my old shoes the rest of the year. The comedian Bob Marley was in town last evening and he had the audience in hysterics describing childhood road trips of smoke filled cars, no seatbelt, and multi hour drives with no stops. He hilariously mimicked a contemporary parent packing snacks and entertainment for a twelve minute drive. As a kid, road trips for me were spent trying not to throw up. I wonder how many of these stories my own little audience will want to hear over the next few weeks. I could listen to them talk forever, and maybe, cuddled under our sleeping net, I can let them know what my life was like at their age and what I dreams I had of foreign lands.

Nothing makes me stay present like being with these two. Until September, purpose in life is very clear.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Saving the Stick

Sunday Morning ~ Saving the Stick

Adaocha cicidi ca ukonde. ~ He burnt the stick which held up the net.

~ Chewa proverb

August 1, 2021

Hi Everyone,

This past Tuesday I agreed to drive to Brunswick for a meeting. It felt a little odd, meeting in the flesh, and I considered the practicality of it. The summer traffic, carbon impact, wear on my car, all things I wouldn’t have thought twice about before the pandemic. But one of the participants was old school and not comfortable with zoom. I was very interested in being considered as a board member for this organization so didn’t think long about consenting to the trip. It seemed downright nostalgic, and ultimately was worth it both for the meeting outcome and the gripping story on the radio during the three hour drive. 

On January 6, 2021 I was puttering around my kitchen when I looked at my phone and saw a text that said, “They are in the capitol!” I had purposely not listened to the news that morning to keep my anxiety manageable. I’d spent the previous four years feeling like I was being chased on the edge of a cliff and had decided to preserve what was left of my rational faculties. I figured I’d tune in later and hear how the election certification had unfolded, never questioning whether it would happen. I knew there’d be drama and pontificating, however, and didn’t mind missing that. I thought I’d finally go to sleep that night with a sense of stability in the world. But the text changed my plans and sent me scrambling to open my laptop and live-stream the hell-scape that was the capitol building. I watched with horror and started having a panic attack. I was having a hard time breathing. I had chest pain. I ran to the liquor cabinet knowing I needed to calm myself and deep breathing wasn’t cutting it. From two in the afternoon until well into the evening I sat glued to the screen, sipping amaro. The liquor definitely slowed my heart rate as I absorbed how far we had fallen. I texted back and forth with family and friends, all of us commenting on what we were watching in real time. “They are just letting them through!” We were outraged with what we thought was the complicity of the capitol police. From the camera angles in our view it seemed these people were just allowed in to disgrace the place once the barriers were breached. I thought, if those rioters were black they would have shot them on sight. I thought I knew because I was watching it. 

For the past three weeks I have had houseguests and have not had the news on as much as I usually do. I knew the House of Representatives had formed a committee to investigate January 6th but did not know the hearings were starting last week. I have been rising in the morning assuming our president is working for the country not against it and therefore have not anxiously built my day around shocking news stories. It’s been glorious. On Tuesday morning, I made tea in my travel mug, dressed in business casual, and got in my car thinking I’d listen to my latest book-group read. The radio came on and I reached to turn it off when I realized it sounded like a live broadcast of something in congress. I left it on as I backed down the driveway wondering what was going on. For the next three hours I choked back sobs as I listened to the first-hand account of what happened to those policemen on January 6th. It’s Sunday and I am still disturbed and shaken.

So many of my assumptions were wrong. They had a reason for not shooting, though they described considering it. Information had circulated that the rioters (terrorists) were armed. They’d heard explosives were discovered and had no idea what the plan was for detonating them. Under attack, with weapons being used against them, they had to calculate whether shooting an attacker would detonate an explosive. The strength and skill of these men are breathtaking. I listened, trying to keep the tears from obstructing my view as I drove and thought they are the absolute definition of the word hero. I am so humbled. I’ve read and re-read The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. It states if we are outnumbered in every way, we should flee from the enemy. On January 6th the terrorists outnumbered the police by sixty to one and reinforcements were not coming. These men stood their ground as long as they could to give others a chance to flee to safety. Then some of those whose lives they saved slander them as liars. This is so much deeper and more sordid than I realized.   

The Watergate hearings lasted over thirteen months. I was a senior in high school and current events barely registered. I think back and wonder how I could have existed in that dark cave of senior photos, college applications, and last dances without a thought for the danger to our democracy? I guess I just thought the adults who knew about these things would work it out. I had a blind faith that justice would play out eventually, and figured there was someone who got paid to fix it. It wasn’t my job. Tuesday, I listened to Liz Cheney and thought, this is just the beginning. I’m grateful to her and think about how pathetic it is to be so grateful for someone to just tell the truth. But I am. I’m grateful for her and for all those in leadership who are committed to truth and justice. Amazing how expectations vary. I heard all their concern, maybe even fear, for the future of our country and what is at stake. I take a breath and listen to the stories of those who were there. I hope everyone does the same. I’ve been worried our impatience would be the equivalent of burning the stick holding up our fragile democracy. Those voices, while painful to hear, gave me hope. We need to hear it all.

Love to all,

Linda