Alaska 5 – Out of the belly of the earth

If I had to choose one word besides “awesome” to describe Alaska, it would be the word “vast.”  Alaska is over one-third the size of the lower 48, and a great deal of it is unreachable by either the road system or the Alaska Marine Ferry.  Journeys to many villages, wilderness cabins, national park trails and off-the-grid adventures require a drop-off by a bush pilot.

If you want to get away from it all, try traveling through the vastness of Alaska in your own vehicle.  The few roads that exist have long stretches between cities and towns.  Although there may be hundreds of cars on the same highway, you still might not be passed by another car for hours. And then there are the less traveled, rugged roads like the Dalton Highway, Top of the World Highway, the Denali Highway and the McCarthy Road.  For me, solo venturing on these roads was truly following a spiritual “road less traveled,” and I rejoiced being absorbed into the scenery dotted by wildlife, tundra, glaciated mountain slopes and braided rivers. My spirit soared with the eagles and sang with the trumpeter swans.

I entered the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park via the unpaved, rough and rocky 60 mile McCarthy Road from Chitina to the Kennicott river foot bridge, the foot bridge that leads to  the towns of McCarthy and Kennecott.  Stopping for pot holes and the beauty along the way made for an all-day trip.  At one point, the surface of the road disappeared into mud produced by a flash flood the previous day.  While photographing the patterns made by the cracked and drying mud I noticed fresh bear prints.  Perhaps the bear, most likely a black bear, was watching me from the woods.

The road follows the route of the now non-existent CRNW Railroad. Five miles from where the road ends is the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark where history still comes alive.  A nation hungry for copper went to incredible lengths to extract it from this formidable terrain and climate (think winter). Copper was needed especially for conducting electricity.

Boiler room for mining operations

The Kennicott Valley lies along an extensive ore stream where generations of Ahtna people collected native copper, working it into art, utensils, and arrowheads.  I learned that, though the mine’s name is spelled with an “e,” the names of the town, glacier and river are spelled with an “i” after naturalist Robert Kennicott.

Developing the rich body of ore required tremendous effort, ingenuity and money.  In the early 1900’s one could not find any more wealthy backers than the Havemeyer, Guggenheim, and J. P. Morgan families, and, as today, the rich became richer.

In its short life, Kennecott Mine produced 200-300 million dollars worth of copper and silver.  By the time of its closure in 1938, when the copper ore went dry, there were 100 buildings in the now abandoned camp. Today over thirty structures remain in various conditions. The rules say that you can take home as much rock and ore as you wish, but you may not take a rusty nut or bolt or sliver of wood because they are “historical artifacts.”  This includes the piles of what we would consider garbage.

Kennecott Mine Litter

At the historic landmark you will find lots of graphic shapes in the decaying details of the mine buildings and enjoy incredible, vast vistas, the latter best viewed from a plane (image above).  Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest U.S. national park.  It is the size of six Yellowstones, with peaks upon peaks and glacier after glacier.  I kept singing Mountain Mother (Ancient Mother) here. I did not find any copper ore but visually realized, “She is everywhere!”

At 10 PM, I walked to a viewpoint overlooking the Kennicott Glacier and sang the grandmother invocation.  I stopped when I got to the stanza, “Grandmother, I see you sitting in earth,” and I made a small circle of rocks, stood in it, and finished singing. — And still I sing, “Grandmother, I feel you sitting in my heart, you are sacred, and you are looking at me …”  The stones, the ‘ebens’ that came out of the belly of the earth surrounding copper ore and memories of times before humans dug them up, are still a memorial to your everlasting love.

Tundra ponds on the McCarthy Rd.

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Alaska Reflection 4 – Mother I feel you under my feet.

I can’t forget an exhibit I saw on my first journey to Alaska in 2008.  It was produced by the Calista Elders Council and the Anchorage Museum, and it included items that represented the traditional ways of life and technology used by the Yup’ik people.

The Yup’iks live on Alaska’s western coast, a coast that is part of the vast area of Alaska that cannot be reached by the road system.

In this permanent collection of the Anchorage Museum one can find Yup’ik clothing made of hand-stitched sealskin and fur, and hand-made drums of various marine mammal hides. Yup’ik spirituality centers around building and nurturing relationships between people, animals, communities and the land.

“Mother, I Feel You under My Feet” is a chant I sang often this past summer while traveling highways and back roads between Prince William Sound and the Arctic Ocean.  The chant is by Windsong Dianne Martin, and it rhythmically presents opportunities for communal circle-dancing:  “Mother, I feel you under my feet.  Mother, I hear your heart beat…”

Stopping at the Native Alaskan Heritage Center just north of Anchorage, I enjoyed the Yup’ik dancers themselves.  By mid-August the young women and men dancers have started returning to high school and college, leaving the elders and pre-schoolers to make the presentations.  Many of the dances show the activities of their traditional life, like seal hunting and whaling, but, as they explained, new songs are also being created to show the Yup’ik way of life in the modern world. With smiles from cheek to cheek, the grandmothers danced to a song about playing basketball.

Kanuti River – Arctic Tundra

Yup’ik wisdom proclaims, “Things are not always what they seem … many possibilities exist, and we are not to be indifferent to other people’s needs.  Everything on Earth deserves recognition, care and respect.”  The Yup’ik continue to embrace their cultural dances and feasting with great enthusiasm.

While driving the Dalton Highway, the image of Yup’ik grandmothers dancing to the basketball song graced my long hours with laughter and new appreciation of the “Mother” whom I consciously recognized, with every step, as under my feet.

Bucket list item #5 is now checked off – drive the Dalton Highway! The James W. Dalton Highway, which slices through the wildest and northernmost portions of Alaska, is nothing if not remote. Chiefly made of loose-packed dirt and gravel, it rambles over 414 miles from the tiny town of Livengood (population 13) to the bleak industrial oil fields that mar the frigid shores of Prudhoe Bay.

Hewed from the permafrost over five brief months in 1974, the highway originally served as an access road for the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which itself was built from 1975 to 1977 after oil was discovered on Alaska’s North Slope. Opened to the public in 1994, today’s Dalton continues primarily as a haul road for the speeding eighteen-wheelers transporting everything from apple sauce to Therma-steel panels for the oil-field workers living with the scarcities of Deadhorse.

The highway boasts the longest stretch of unserviced road on the North American continent. Just three gas stations: Mile 54 (Yukon River Crossing – at left), Mile 175 (Coldfoot) and mile 414 at Deadhorse.

I made many stops to take photos and short walks on the spongy tundra singing, “Mother I feel you under my feet.” On each walk I chose a plot of ground where I could securely plant my feet, avoiding the experience of hiking boots quickly sinking ankle deep in water — all in order that I might breath in the beauty, sing, and photograph.

Alaska’s permafrost is no longer permanent; it is starting to melt.  The always-frozen ground that underlies much of the state is turning to mush. By 2050, it is estimated, much of Alaska’s frozen ground, a storehouse of ancient carbon, could be gone.  Much more is at stake than the necessity of repairing buckling roads and bypassing a growing number of tundra ponds.

We need the ancient Yup’ik wisdom of reverence for the earth and care for the future to help us choose our steps into the future, discerning which practices and policies will sustain the earth, and which will devastate it.

Atigun Pass – Brooks Range


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Alaska 3 – Let’s fly with the birds!

Within moments of stepping outside our doors we hear and see birds, and it’s true anywhere in the world, in city or country, in deserts or jungles.  For me, birds represent a spirit of freedom and joy that lifts my soul and brings me to song.  They are the most mobile of all of the creatures on our planet – they can fly, in principle, to anywhere they please.

Presently we are surrounded by devastating wildfires, mass shootings, the dismantling of EPA policies, and regression to a time that attacks women’s health and reproductive rights as well as the civil rights and protection of transgender persons, immigrants, and those racially profiled. To face each day we need our souls uplifted and a joyous song in our heart.  Let’s fly with the birds!

Of the 10,000 species of birds in the world, my favorites are the puffin species found in Alaska.  Both Alaska’s Tufted Puffins and Horned Puffins are monomorphic; the male and female exhibit the same plumage coloration. I observed them recently at their breeding colonies in Alaska – on Duck Island, in Cook Inlet, and in Prince William Sound.

Puffins spend their entire lives at sea, coming ashore only to raise their young. They often gorge themselves on small fish to the point that they become too heavy to lift themselves from the ground. Both the male and female adults brood the egg. Upon hatching, both parents take turns providing the young chick with a steady diet of fish. When the puffin chicks fledge, they leave the nest at night in order to avoid predators, fluttering down to the water’s edge alone and heading for the open sea. They won’t return to land again for two to three years when they become breeding adults at the rookery.

A breeding pair of puffins puts its entire energy into just one egg. This strategy aims for a very high success rate, one that must consider annual changes in food availability. In studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the overall successful fledging of chicks for Tufted Puffins (above) is 65 percent and for Horned Puffins, 60 percent.

Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons prey on puffins. To protect themselves from airborne attack, puffins form distinct flight patterns between nesting areas and feeding areas, flying in large groups and in patterns that resemble a circling web, making it hard for a bird of prey to find and attack an individual.

The Inuit people of Alaska used puffin skins to make feather-lined parkas. Beak plates were collected and strung together to form rattles used by the shaman in rituals, and the Aleuts and the Inuits sewed beak plates for decoration on the outside of their garments.

The Horned Puffin is a beautiful bird that is always high on a birder’s spotting list. They have distinctive black backs, white undersides, yellow and red bills, orange feet and the flashy “horn” feathers that stand above their eyes. You’ll find them during the summer in colonies on the coastline and islands of Alaska after which they depart for the high seas where they spend the remainder of the year.

The Tufted Puffin also has white facial feathers and colorful beak plates, but a black body with the addition of two tufts of yellow feathers atop its head distinguishes this species. While both puffins stand 15 inches tall, the Tufted Puffin is heavier at an average of 1.7 pounds, and the Horned Puffin weighs in at an average of 1.4 pounds. The weight difference seems minimal, but for a bird that must beat its wings 400 times a minute to stay aloft, every ounce is crucial.  The swift flight of both puffin species makes it difficult to photograph them airborne.  But it is well worth the try.

Ready for relief? – let your soul soar (and swim) with the birds and you will find yourself joining in their joyous songs!

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Alaska 2 – Mother Nature has her favorites: Valdez

It is said that Mother Nature has her favorites and Valdez is near the top of the list.  Even the drive into Valdez is spectacular.  Proclaimed as one of “America’s Most Scenic Roads” and known to Alaskans as the “Adventure Corridor,” the drive provides breathtaking views of incredible scenery – glaciers, waterfalls, and towering mountains.  Once in Valdez, however, the views of the majestic awe and wonder surrounding the bay are not guaranteed, for they are often lost in heavy fog.

Wildlife is abundant in Valdez and the surrounding area. Both black and brown bears live here and are frequently seen wandering about or eating their fill of fish and berries. Eagles, terns, kittiwakes, ptarmigan, puffins and many other birds are easy to spot as well. The Prince William Sound, the large ocean inlet adjoining Valdez, is a never-ending display of wildlife and natural beauty. Seals, stellar sea lions and sea otters are commonly seen playing and swimming in the cold water. Dall porpoise, humpback and orca whales can also be spotted.

My favorite way to cut through the fog (and ice) of Prince William Sound is via the Lulu Belle.  Captain Fred Rodolf gently guides his boat along the coastline and into the open ocean waters to get to the terminus of the mighty Columbia Glacier some forty miles out of port.

Captain Fred has been at the helm of the Lulu Belle making this journey every day from May through September for nearly 40 years, so his observations and skilled sailing give his passengers optimum wildlife and glacier viewing.

The Lulu Belle is in a class by itself.  She sports a plush atmosphere, including teak and mahogany paneling and oriental rugs.  The warmth of the cabin and the crew make this the “Limousine of Prince William Sound.”  The sea otters relaxing on ice bergs seem to be waiting specifically to welcome the Lulu Belle to their part of Mother Nature’s chilly paradise.

The Columbia Glacier, the second largest tide water glacier in North America, descends from an ice field 10,000 feet above sea level, down the flanks of the Chugach Mountains and into a narrow inlet that leads into Prince William Sound. It is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world.

My aerial views, with VS Helicopter pilot Sara, were incredible, but the retreating wall and rivers of ice were notably changed since my last flyover just four years ago.

When our helicopter landed on the shore by the Columbia, there were many chunks of ice and small icebergs – some clear ice, blue ice and milky white ice with black stripes from the terrain that the glacier scraped as it moved.  I licked 7 small icebergs, tasting the hundreds or thousands of years captured within. A bit salty.

When British explorers first surveyed the glacier in 1794, its nose – or terminus, extended south to the northern edge of Heather Island, a small island near the mouth of Columbia Bay. The glacier held that position until 1980, when it began a rapid retreat that continues today. Over the past three decades, the terminus has retreated more than 12 miles to the north.

Scientific studies have determined that climate change isn’t the only cause of this melting glacier but has forced it to accelerate.  For undetermined reasons, computer-generated calculations are predicting that the Columbia will stop retreating in 2020, but, by then, it will be radically different than it is today.

Sometimes we have a hard time seeing through the personal fog that clouds our vision – our fears, insecurities, misunderstandings, learned behaviors.

But, like Valdez, there will be thin places that open up windows into the beauty and blessings both in ourselves and others.  Surprisingly enough, there will also be days of sunshine when every mountain peak is visible.  We can take advantage of these moments to celebrate and move forward in hope, knowing that each of us is one of Mother Nature’s favorites!

images:  Valdez Reflection, Bridal Veil Falls, Otters on Iceberg, Eagle in Tree, Columbia’s Main Terminus, Icebergs and section of Columbia Glacier, Stellar Sea Lion Catches Pink Salmon, Valdez Harbor Fishing Boats  Waiting for the Go Ahead  (below)

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Alaska Reflection 1 – Bear Wisdom: Protect, Nurture, Empower

With a handful of other photographers, I stood on the banks of the Silver Salmon River at Lake Clark National Park in Alaska, tracking a grizzly sow and her two cubs through my camera’s viewfinder.  The cubs, with relentless, whining cries that were almost symphonic, were telling their mother that they were hungry.  Finally, mom gave in and lay down in the sand to nurse them.  The whining turned to contented slurping grunts accompanied by “purring” which is nothing short of a constant loud motor like sound.

The whole time she was nursing, the sow was listening and watching the movements in the river.  When a Silver Salmon flashed in the current, her eyes followed its path.  Suddenly she rolled the cubs off her, milk still squirting from her like geysers, and jumped into the shallow river.

Darting back and forth, splashing water as high as her head, she dove in and out of the river. Most often she resurfaced without a fish, so she repeated the ritual many times until she either tired, the fish ended up in deeper water or she scored. It was quite a show of power and determination, and it seemed as though she actually enjoyed the chase.

Grizzly bears (part of the brown bear family) are known for their fishing abilities, especially in Alaska.  Bear medicine is a powerful totem for creating abundance and bountiful provisions.  The bear cub symbolizes being fiercely loved and protected.  Knowing this gives the cubs confidence, tremendous courage and carefree playfulness.

Before the fish arrive in this location the bears munch on sedge (marsh grass), nibble berries and dig up razor clams in the mud flats exposed by low tides, seemingly expending a lot of energy for a few bites.  Every action of the sow is a lesson for the cubs.  During these times the male bruins stay away, and with good reason: mothers are fierce.

I am convinced that my personal life-guiding totem animal is the bear.  In addition to being drawn to photograph them, I often feel like taking up residence in their fur.  The grizzly sows show me the divine attributes that protect, nurture and empower.

These are also the attributes I believe should be most prominent in a caring social fabric.

Policies like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) support young people who are Making America Great!   To rescind it and leave 800,000 young people, most of whom are in college or established jobs, in a chaotic fear of an uncertain future or deportation is contrary to the spirit and wisdom of bear!

You are being guided into a leadership role. You must be fearless in defending your beliefs. -Bear

Native beliefs explain that a totem animal is one that is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Though we receive lessons and directions from many different animal guides throughout out our lifetime, specific totem animals will remain our main guardian spirits. I am grateful that the bear is the central symbol on the California flag, and I pray for success as our government officials challenge the rescinding of DACA and the too many other mean and destructive actions coming from our “WHITE” House!

My bear images were captured in Lake Clark National Park at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge owned and operated by David and Joanne Coray.  I spent 5 days on a Bear Photography expedition led by Photographer Brenda Tharp.  Her instructional tours and workshops are the perfect combination of inspiration, photo opportunities, fun and in-depth learning.

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July Post 1 – Change and transformation makes us beautiful.

    A love for butterflies leads many people to invest in the beautiful Pipevine plant. This plant with its large heart-shaped leaves serves as a host to California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies in all their life stages. Most Caterpillars rely on specific host plants. As the caterpillars munch away at the leaves they get the nutrients they need to become gorgeous butterflies.

The eggs, the caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterflies themselves are all found on a patch of the Pipevine in the Golden Gate Park Arboretum, in the California Natives section.  It was my hope to find all these stages of the swallowtail to photograph for you, but the butterflies moved too quickly, the eggs were too small, and the chrysalises, which resemble dried leaves, are too well camouflaged. But I will keep trying.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) is an ambitious effort to collect, store, and share species information and occurrence data. You can participate by taking and submitting photographs of butterflies, moths, and caterpillars, and your sightings will be posted at BAMONA . It’s a very cool site.

I hope my caterpillar images will entice you to go to the Pipevine patch and look for yourself.  As well, I hope that my images draw you into the experience I had with my subject and move you to your own adventure with something in the natural world close to you.

As I was fine-tuning my composition, sprawled out on the dirt path with elbows firmly grounded, I felt the earth tremble a bit.  It was caused, not by an earth quake, but a group of 2nd graders running toward the Pipevine patch ready to count the caterpillars as one of their summer day camp projects.

One of the students blurted out, “These bugs are ugly.”  Not wanting to butt into the group leaders’ plans, I simply starting singing, “How could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful?  How could anyone ever tell you, you are less than whole…”  a song by Libby Roderick.  I learned it from the herchurch choir directed by Katie Ketchum.

The butterfly is primarily associated with the symbolism of change and transformation.  This animal totem could be guiding you to be sensitive to your personal need for development and growth as well as seeing unfolding beauty in your life. The spirit of butterfly reminds us that we have the ability to go through important changes with grace and lightness.

We are each butterflies. The universe, womb of the Goddess, is our chrysalis.

We are each butterflies… nothing less than beautiful!

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June Post 2 – Rust and the ERA, uncovering signs of hope!

I love walking among rusting trains and weathered warehouses.  Each detail reveals images that evoke mystical landscapes and the heartbeat of human experiences.   Decades of layered paint begin bubbling, bursting and chipping to create miniature mountain ranges or angelic teardrops.  At least that is what I often see on these surfaces.

Retreating into the beauty that is found in the blight, we can uncover signs of hope.  Just when we think that ruin and destruction are having their way (caused by human inattention or otherwise), possibilities arise that we did not know even existed.

A temperature gauge on a train passenger car, rusted at 210 degrees, sent my mind rocketing in many directions.  Initially, I wanted my rendering of the rusted gauge to be a reminder of the danger of climate change getting stuck on a destructive path by the decimation of EPA regulations.

But finally I settled on it representing the ever-heated issue of the ERA, the Equal Rights Amendment.  I am celebrating Nevada saying yes and becoming the 36th state to ratify the amendment.  It is the first to do so in forty years.

My image, “Tear in Time,” is a plea for adding the ERA to our constitution, needed now more than ever with the election of Donald Trump and his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Yet, while we labor for a federal constitutional amendment, persistent activists in each state are successfully working hard to incorporate equal rights amendments in state constitutions.  Oregon became the 23rd state to add an ERA to its state constitution, and Maine is gearing up to be the 24th state.

See Carrie Baker’s article, “Nevada Says ERA Yes!” in the summer issue of Ms. Magazine.  “It is so … important,” Nevada State Senator Pat Spearman reminds us, “because women have got to have recourse.  We are equal…but it’s not codified in the Constitution.”

Creating new compositions out of old bits and pieces of the past helps me find hope for finding solutions to other things such as overturning the regressive and draconian national policies before us.  My image, “Mountains from Oxidized Moments,”  is offered to you as a landscape of new-fangled directions, erupting out of a graveyard of discarded-past-persistent-potentials.

I don’t give my images innovative names except for my abstract work.  I want their titles to raise the question:  Do you see what I see?

Mountains from Oxidized Moments

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June Week 1 – Protea: the joy of spirit gone wild!

I was first introduced to a native of South Africa in California arboretums. The flower is known as Leucospermum in the scientific world. It is part of the Proteaceae plant family. For me, this blossom, commonly known as a Pincushion Protea, shouted “Pentecost” because it truly embodies the joy of “spirit gone wild.”

The Proteaceae plant family includes both trees and shrubs and has over 100 species.  Since the plants in the genus do not self pollinate, they depend on rodents, birds, and insects for pollination.  Exceptions to this are just ten wind-pollinated proteas in southern Africa. Proteas have a broad assortment of blossom shapes and colors, although most of them look like explosive fireworks.

The seeds produced by the Pincushion Protea are gathered up by ants and buried in the soil.  Only after a fire has killed the plants that grow above them and returned their nutrients to the soil do the seeds germinate to produce more of these spectacular blooms.  The majority of proteas flower in spring and summer, with a few species flowering in autumn.

In honor of the beauty and innate message of the protea I share with you the revisioned story of Pentecost I prepared for this past Sunday’s liturgy.  For me, this reading serves as a complement to this week’s images:

Mary Magdalena had the last of her intense visions of Jesus 40 days after her first vision of Jesus at the tomb where his body was laid. In that vision Mary was speaking with Jesus the same way they did day by day as they walked through Judea and Galilee to heal the sick and give hope and empowerment to the marginalized.

In this last vision, it was made very clear to Mary Magdalene that her time of leadership was at hand.  She was told to rise up, filled with Spirit, to carry on the work for justice and compassion in the spreading of the sacred will.  One more time Jesus spoke with her saying, “Wait in Jerusalem.  The spirit that we have shared among us will become like a mighty wind and you will receive empowerment.”

So Mary and the other companions of Jesus waited in Jerusalem.  On the feast of Pentecost, they were all gathered together in an upper room.

Suddenly RUACH, a great wind, blew among them and she hovered over each of them as a tongue-shaped flame.  Also, their own tongues were set on fire, dancing and speaking spirit.

They were speaking in new ways and new languages so that everyone gathered there for the festival from all parts of the earth could understand what they were saying:  “Spirit flames in our very cells to move us from fears and anxieties to new worlds of possibilities.’”

Perhaps, in the midst of our present times of fears and anxieties, with the Pincushion Protea, we need to embody the joy of “spirit gone wild.”

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May Post 4 – She is Tall, She is Old, She is Awesome!

Last week I drove 300 miles to buy a bookmark, one I had seen at the ranger station gift shop in Prairie Creek State Park. I could probably have purchased it in the National Park store here in the city, but the trip north was well worth the effort. When you are 300 miles away from home standing among the redwoods, there’s no going back until at least the next day or even the day after that.

Walking from the campground into the grove of tall trees that surrounds Prairie Creek Park you encounter redwoods that tower hundreds of feet above you. During the summer of 2006, a team of scientists came upon three new trees in and around the park that shatter the previous record for the world’s tallest tree.  The tallest of the new trees, dubbed Hyperion, is in an undisclosed location in Humboldt County near the original Tall Tree that was discovered in the 60’s. It rises to 379.1 feet, nearly six stories taller than the Statue of Liberty!

While I was admiring the top of the trees which were being tickled by incoming fog I eavesdropped on the conversation between a mother and her two little girls. The girls were about 4 and 6 years old. The mother was intent on teaching them about the redwood forest. I listened carefully just in case she might turn to quiz me as well. It was amazing.  When she asked the girls questions about the trees, they answered like this: “She is very tall; she is old, she is awesome.”

Then, while snuggling up to the base of a huge redwood, the older girl proclaimed, “She is persistent.” The look of wonder on my face evoked a response from the mother. Smiling, she said that “persistent” was one of the words on her daughter’s spelling list the previous week. I don’t think that word made it onto any of my spellings lists until I was at least 10 years old!

The girl’s statement would have fit in nicely with the content of the bookmark I had come to buy.  It lists “Advice from a Redwood:” “Stand tall and proud. Sink your roots into the earth. Be content with your natural beauty. Drink plenty of water. Enjoy the view.”  (Advice from a Redwood ©Ilan Shmir.

I had come to see the redwoods, stand beneath their grandeur, smell the essence of their age, kiss their soft bark, and, of course, take a few photos. But, above all, I came to buy those bookmarks to take home for our Croning Ceremony in the Liturgy of the Divine Feminine this past Sunday. It was time and miles well spent because the advice about and by the redwood tree, especially the words of the girl, “She is persistent,” are fitting descriptions of what it means for a woman to claim her Crone wisdom and the honor due her.

I guessed that the little girl’s school teacher might just have read her class Chelsea Clinton’s new book, She Persisted. It contains the story of 13 American women who changed the world. Ruby Bridges and all the children who so courageously integrated our schools are featured in the book as well as Helen Keller who changed the way that we think about disabilities, and Nellie Bly who exposed the horrors in our mental institutions. These women and so many others stood tall in the face of traditions that placed restrictive expectations upon them. Nevertheless, they rose above those restrictions to persevere in what they believed.

Along with the towering redwoods standing tall in Humboldt and Del Norte counties are the lupine on the sides of Bald Mountain, reeds in Stone Lagoon, and the upward-pointed noses of young Roosevelt Elk.  All are inspirations helping us to be mindful of our human responsibility to be persistent in making changes to better our world and honor its natural sources of wisdom.


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May Post 2 – ‘her oceans are wombs, wombs oceans”

Walking along San Francisco’s Ocean Beach at minus tide I was able to see Ochre Sea Stars clinging to the mussel, anemone, and kelp-covered bases of “Seal Rocks.”  These rock islands jut out of the water like two-story pointed turban shells.   In the folds of the top edges you can spot nesting birds.

Seal Rocks are so-named because California Sea Lions and Seals once enjoyed frolicking around them and sunbathing on their natural patio decks. Though these fascinating pinnipeds have moved to other locations (Pier 39, for one), these rocks remain full of life.  Creatures, plants and insects find homes in their holes and cracks. Standing in awe of the beauty found in each diverse detail I was reminded of Alice Walker’s poem, “We Have a Beautiful Mother.”  It includes these words, “We have a beautiful mother. Her oceans are wombs, Her wombs oceans.”

All life is thought to have begun in the sea. Yemaya is the African (Yorùbá) Goddess of the living Ocean and considered the mother of all. She is motherly and strongly protective, and cares deeply for all her children, comforting them and purifying them of sorrow. She is said to wear a dress with seven skirts that represent the seven seas.

I love to watch the shore birds in the sea foam at edge of the ocean.  The foam is like the fringe of Yemaya’s jeweled blue gown.

The various sandpipers seem to be dancing with each ebb and flow. It is easy to understand why so many religious symbols and deities rise up from the oceans. Hopefully, these engaging and powerful metaphors will inspire us to more fully appreciate and care for our oceans; they are immense and support more life than most of us can even imagine.

Our National Ocean Policy states that Federal agencies must “ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, preserve our maritime heritage, support sustainable uses and access, provide for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change and ocean acidification, and coordinate with our national security and foreign policy interests.”

Turnstones are rock loving birds

Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne was a favorite book in my youth.  More than a century ago Jules Verne was already telling us that we were taking too much from the ocean, and he predicted ecological impacts that have since come to pass. The main character, Captain Nemo, was the first marine conservationist!  We need to thank God/dess that many continue to take up his passion.

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