~ from cats, dogs and nature to the flowering of body, mind and spirit ~

Monday, October 16, 2017

Weaving the Web

"Each day is a secret story woven around the radiant heart of wonder."
~ John O'Donohue, from Eternal Echoes

Monday, October 2, 2017

Going Deep

Since the publication of my first book in 2007, I have produced another one every 2-3 years. This timing felt about right, both creatively and situated as they were in my experiences and subsequent research (when needed). However, my latest projects require a lot more research -- at least, I think they do -- which is placing me in an oddly impatient and unfamiliar position!

The novel is edging closer and closer to its end, which means it will probably be the first to make it to publication. I've stopped giving myself a deadline, however, because I keep getting distracted by the other two interconnected manuscripts. Every book I've come across on writing advice states to not be working on more than one WIP at a time. Apparently, that particular suggestion has not sunk in on me.

The current memoir -- let's call it a historical memoir -- is quite a persnickety piece of work. I take comfort in this comment:
"Histories commonly have autobiographical significance as this one does, and like many narratives, it is the result of ongoing research conducted over several years until the authors finally paused to summarize their experience."
The authors, Morrow and Myers-Phinney, are professional historians responsible for the book Shepherd of the Hills Country: Tourism Transforms the Ozarks, 1880s-1930s, a wonderful resource for my own work.

The family history book I'm putting together is directly linked to my historical memoir, and both are going far deeper than I originally envisioned. In fact, they seem to be bottomless sinkholes at this point. This is, however, one of the choices I made when deciding to go beneath the surfaces of culture and the roots of genealogy into the Wilderness Underground. Caves are certainly an apt metaphor for where I seem to be going with my writing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Classic Ozarks Tale

In direct opposition to the literary criticisms about The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright (published 1907), I found this tale captivating. Maybe that was partly because of my own cultural connection to it via family history in the same area, but for whatever reason, I could hardly put the book down until the end. I was surprised, no, shocked, at how much I enjoyed the story.  
For some reason, my memory of the outdoor drama based upon the novel (one I attended as a child), and the vaguely recollected comments of family members, focused upon the Christian aspects of the story. To my delight, however, the novel didn’t feel like a “Christian story” or even like a morality tale per se. On the contrary, the story was thoroughly entertaining, plus, the mystery and beauty of Mother Nature were expounded upon to depict the immanence of the Sacred. 
Essentially, the story revolves around a stranger from the city who arrives in the backwoods of the Missouri Ozarks about 1880/1890. He is welcomed by the hill folk and eventually integrates with them; our narrator refers to him as the shepherd.
I was enchanted by the unique character of Pete, an ethereal, fey boy who hears and talks with nature. In an early conversation with the shepherd, we are told: 
“Again that strange smile illuminated [Pete’s] face [and he told the shepherd]… ‘And the tree things like him, too, brother; and the flowers, the little flower things that know everything; they’re all a singing’ to Pete ‘cause he’s come … And the grey mist things come out and danced along the mountain, ‘cause they was so glad you come. … Do you like Pete’s people, Mister?’ He waved his hands to include the forest, the mountains and the sky; and there was a note of anxiety in the sweet voice as he asked again: ‘Do you like Pete’s friends?’” (Pages 38-39)
While Wright’s depictions of the characters are bigger-than-life, they didn’t feel like cheap stereotypes, rather, I was reminded of archetypes. The story seemed to express a resonance with a myth or a rustic fairy tale. 
For example, about the major female character, Wright wrote: 
“Sammy Lane knew nothing of the laws and customs of the, so-called, best society. Her splendid young womanhood was not the product of those social traditions and rules that kill the instinct of her kind before it is fairly born. She was as free and as physically perfect as any of the free creatures that lived in the hills. And, keenly alive to the life that throbbed and surged about her, her woman’s heart and soul responded to the spirit of the season. The droning of the bees in the blossoms that grew in a cranny of the rock; the tinkle, tinkle of the sheep bells, as the flock moved slowly in their feeding; and the soft breathing of Mother Earth was in her ears; while the gentle breeze that stirred her hair came heavy with the smell of growing things.” (Page 48)
Sammy, 19 years old and promised to a local lad who had left Mutton Hollow for an opportunity in the big city, was worried that he might find her wanting upon his return. With that in mind, she asked the shepherd to help her become a “lady” like her fiancĂ© would be meeting in the city. The shepherd, seeing the magnificent wild and free qualities in Sammy, hesitated, but decided to do his best to encourage her to merge the finest of who she already was with qualities that would allow her to fit in with so-called civilized city-people. He said “a real lady, Sammy is a lady in three ways: First in her heart.” Then, he says the second is to have a “lady mind” or, in other words, that “she must know how to think and talk about the things that really matter.” And thirdly, he says she should “keep her body as strong and as beautiful as she can, for this is one way that she expresses her heart and mind” but not because of what others might think, rather, “just for herself.” The shepherd greatly admires Sammy, already, as an example of splendid womanhood; he doesn’t want her to change but rather to grow more empowered. 
I will admit that there were times throughout the book where I became weary of Wright’s emphasis upon the perfection of both Sammy’s womanhood and Young Matt’s manhood. However, when viewed from an archetypal perspective, this is simply part of mythology, and through this lens (consider the men and women in Greek myths, for instance, or Snow White and Prince Charming, or even Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden), their physical perfection makes sense.
When, toward the end of the book, the author included a reference to one of my least favorite passages in the Bible, the one about man having dominion over the earth, it jarred with the rest of the story’s message of equitable harmony with the earth. For instance, during one scene, the shepherd (once known as a pastor, a Doctor of Divinity, with the “biggest church, greatest crowds in the city” of Chicago): 
“Could not grasp the truth of the situation, but the beauty of the hour moved him deeply … ‘See how soft the moonlight falls on that patch of grass this side of the old tree yonder, and how black the shadow is under that bush, like the mouth of a cave, a witch’s cave. I am sure there are ghosts and goblins in there, with fairies and gnomes, and perhaps a dragon or two. And see, lad, how the great hills rise into the sky. How grand, how beautiful the world is!’” (Page 89)
And again, this relationship with the earth when the shepherd welcomed into his home an old friend, who remarked upon the change in him. The shepherd said: 
“‘I suppose I have changed some, David. The hills have done it. Look at them!’ He pointed to the encircling mountains. ‘See how calm and strong they are; how they lift their heads above the gloom. They are my friends and companions, David. And they have given me of their calmness and strength a little.’” (Page 159)
There are countless passages in the book where the author waxes poetic about the splendor of the Ozark mountains and the magic contained in a relationship with them. The shepherd wrote to his friend about the winsome boy Pete that: 
“‘Here and there among men, there are those who pause in the hurried rush to listen to the call of a life that is more real. How often have we seen them, David, jostled and ridiculed by their fellows, pushed aside and forgotten, as incompetent or unworthy. He who sees and hears too much is cursed for a dreamer, a fanatic, or a fool … Pete knew a world unseen by us, and we, therefore, fancied ourselves wiser than he. The wind in the pines, the rustle of the leaves, the murmur of the brook, the growl of the thunder, and the voices of the night were all understood and answered by him. The flowers, the trees, the rocks, the hills, the clouds were to him, not lifeless things, but living friends, who laughed and wept with him as he was gay or sorrowful.’” (Pages 177-178)
When I have time, I hope to do a close reading of the text and get further into its mythological themes. For now, I can say that I wholeheartedly recommend the book! 

As a side note, this book was a catalyst for making the Missouri Ozarks a tourist destination in the 20th century. I will write more about that later. Below is a nice map outlining the Ozark Plateau; the tale Shepherd of the Hills takes place near Branson (kind of middle left inside the circle).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Ozarks Folklore

With the arrival of cooler temperatures, I'm starting to delve into research for my book of family history again. Even though I feel a lot more energetic physically when autumn arrives, I also feel the coming of hibernation time, and that leads me into project mode and the sense that active family history gathering -- genealogy as well as culture, stories, and history -- has sat on the sidelines long enough.
native Poke weed in background
"Boiled poke root used to be a famous remedy for itch, but 'it burned like fire, and the cure was probably worse than the ailment.' A strong ooze of pokeberry root, [a man said] 'will make you think hell aint a mile away, but it sure does cure the eetch.'"
Two of the most well-known old books about the Ozarks are quite different. The first is Ozark Magic and Folklore (formerly titled Ozark Superstitions) published by Vance Randolph in 1947 and based upon stories he obtained throughout the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas (the above quote is from this compilation). Some of the material was gathered together from other sources going back to 1927, while other portions came from the author's own interactions as he says:
"I first visited the Ozark country in 1899, and since 1920 I have spent practically all of my time here, living in many parts of the region, sometimes in the villages and sometimes in the wildest and most isolated 'hollers'. I fished and fought and hunted and danced and gambled with my backwoods neighbors ...." 
I've delighted in reading Randolph's book, even when he is being subtle in his condescension or derision. Much of the herbalism described has now been proven effective based upon scientific research, and some of the superstitions are familiar from my own elder relatives when they were alive. I also found some of the information to be similar to that of the folklore of Appalachia; no surprise since a good portion of the Ozarks settlers' families and ancestors came from that part of the country back in the early 19th century. One aspect that surprised me was that many of the so-called superstitions about weather relied heavily upon the astrological signs; the reliance upon lunar cycles was no surprise as many cultures followed the waxing and waning, the light and the dark cycles, but until now, I'd never heard of Ozark references to following what sign the moon or sun were in.

Some habits in the backwoods possibly harken back to Celtic beliefs (not surprising since most people in these parts have strong links to a Scots-Irish heritage) such as:
"A woman ... told me that ghosts and spirits are accustomed to stand about near cabins at night, and it is dangerous to offend these supernatural beings by throwing dirt in their faces. Sweepings are best gathered up and carried out of the house ...."
Remind anyone of the Little People of Ireland and Scotland? That said, the land which was taken over had once been part of the Osage Nation and they, too, had stories of "little people" of the woods.

Indian Pipe flower
The second book that is, or used to be, notable about the Ozarks is The Shepherd of the Hills, published by Harold Bell Wright in 1907. (The book can be downloaded for free; the movie made in the 40s can be viewed HERE.) This one is a novel, and, as far as I can find, it's the first novel written that was set in the Ozarks (here's a list of more novels set in the Ozarks, though nearly all of them are relatively recent in publication). Starting in 1959, an outdoor drama based upon the book ran nearly continuously until recently; my parents and grandparents took us kids to see it, although I can't recall what year (likely around 1970). This is the closest full-length tale we have to a sort of modern Ozarks myth, although some legends have been retained as well as ghost stories passed along.

As my research continues, I'm realizing that this place where my family has lived for over 150 years has a lot of fascinating history, some quite tragic, and I find myself eagerly scrabbling online to find out more. What's great is that bits and pieces of what I find can be incorporated into my book on family history so that future generations can catch a glimpse of it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Leave or Remove?

Even prior to the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer was killed by a domestic terrorist, Americans had been arguing over whether Confederate statues ought to be removed. Like many of us, I have done a lot of reflection about this issue, getting emotional while also thinking it out, combining heart and mind.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s unlikely removal will solve anything. The divide in our country right now will only become more inflamed when a portion of our citizens feel that even more is being taken away from them than before. Even if people on the other side (and it feels wrong to keep putting us on opposing “sides” -- we're all Americans here) feel it is the right thing to do, the very action of taking away only adds to a mental anguish around scarcity. We need to encourage conversation around these memorials by perhaps adding statues and plaques that represent why the Confederate statues are there, how they came to be there, and also why they need to be symbols of a history we are moving beyond. When we finally reach the point where we can discuss putting them in an historical museum without violence and strident protests, then we will know it is time to do so.

The following are four recent articles that were an additional influence on my coming to the above conclusion, and show some of my thought process.
The author (an ecofeminist and lawyer) of the blog post Southern Pride in a Time of Terror begins by citing all the things and qualities that give her pride in being a Southerner, from food to music to storytelling to resilience. Through her words, I felt a true appreciation for my own ancestors who were co-creators in building these southern traditions through their courage and strength. The author then went on to cite the aspects that are embarrassing or shameful, such as continued demands for slavery that contributed to the Civil War, and the later Jim Crow resistance to emancipation. I must own the fact that I also have ancestors who participated in that awful period of American history. Where I parted ways with the author, however, was in her vehemence to: “Tear down the Confederate flags and pull down each and every statue of Confederate soldiers on public land.” No, we shouldn’t be flying the flag of a group of people who were so caught up in their demands to be independent states (and maintain slavery as a way of life) that they lost sight of the goal for Union; but having a war against the symbols won’t change people’s mindsets. 
The author (a teacher of theology, psychology, and philosophy) of the essay On the Removal of the Confederate Statues cites a southern mayor and an historian with conflicting views; she comes to the conclusion that: “Keeping the statues in place supports rather than dissembles the power structure(s) the statues represent.” She would encourage that the statues be removed to historical museums; maybe that would be fine at some point, but not when we are in an inflammatory situation already because it is coming from a place of power, control over, and warrior ethic, rather than a public conversation. That’s why I appreciated a commenter who said that: “What if the statues to confederate leaders were not removed but monuments that tell the other side of the story were erected alongside them? … What if our whole denied and suppressed history was on display in the public square, the genocide of native peoples as well as slavery?” And that is where my own thoughts reside; we need the whole story out in public, not in museums (not yet anyway), but instead encouraging at the very least a visual dialogue in public spaces. We cannot skip steps in the healing of our Nation.
The author (a professor of anthropology) of the article I detest our Confederate monuments. But they should remain., provides another perspective. He comments on the terrible destruction of statues and relics throughout world history, how it solves nothing. He says that, “People effectively act as though destruction of a monument exorcises its power and removal banishes the power from their midst. But these pieces of metal and stone only have the meaning we assign to them, and that meaning can take any form we like. They can be revered or reviled; honored or ridiculed; or co-opted for a new purpose.” This is vital to realize, and he continues with stating that, “destroying monuments takes a page out of the playbook of mobs across the centuries, lowering one’s self to that moral plane.” He continues: “When racists revere these monuments, those of us who oppose racism should double our efforts to use these monuments as tools for education.” He finishes with what I consider to be a powerful statement: “Destroying or removing monuments is the easy way out of our obligation to understand our past and improve our future. Monuments to our nation’s racism can be as much a tool to counter it as they can be a tool to foment it. The choice and obligation is ours.” 
Lastly, there are multiple web sites posting the same article, but claiming authorship for the article titled: “Here's what Robert E. Lee thought about Confederate monuments.” I’ve no idea which one is the original source, but all use what are apparently comments in Lee’s letters to various people after the Civil War. Lee apparently wrote that Confederate monuments would retard the ability of the country to recover, he wished that battlefields be “erased from the landscape altogether” (according to biographer Horn), and he didn’t want the flag flying at the college where he taught; it seemed Lee felt these would remain “divisive symbols” and wanted nothing to do with them. Unfortunately, the symbols are still standing and flying, so we have to find a way to deal with them — and learn from our mistakes — without in-fighting and tearing each other apart.
I happen to believe that all memorials to wars in any shape or form need to be done away with eventually, that all they seem to do is promote the celebration of aggression and make heroes and/or martyrs or those who killed and died, with a focus on nationalism, disregarding the rest of humanity that suffered or is suffering. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Solar Eclipse

I chose to observe the dancing crescent patterns rather than gaze through anything directly at the sun. I'm happy with my choice to feel the energy, listen to the growing silence, and experience Nature similar to all other animals. It was cool.

Okay, in addition, best movie ever that includes a solar eclipse? Ladyhawke. Yup. One of the greats, IMHO. Because of the eclipse, the curse is broken and love wins the day!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Equality and Paradox

One of the things I find great about British moral philosopher Mary Midgley’s books (so far) is that, although each focuses upon a topic to consider philosophically, the concepts and principles used can be widely applied. Take, for example, the book Animals and Why They Matter (1983).
In the chapter “Equality and Outer Darkness,” Midgley states in subsection “2 The Problem of Extent” that, “the notion of equality is a tool for rectifying injustices within a given group, not for widening that group or deciding how it ought to treat those outside it. As is often necessary for reform, it works on a limited scale.” (P. 67) This notion of “within a certain group” is what caught my attention. Midgley writes at length about the different groups and their objectives for reform, including the political difficulties if the social contract circle is expanded too much — which is when the movement can easily fall apart. 
Extension links to the comments in subsection “6 The Difficulty of Looking Downwards,” which point to a more linear view, rather than a circular one of inner and outer group. Midgley calls this the Paradox of One-Way Equality and states that, “inequalities above one’s own level tend to be visible: those below it to be hidden,” which reveals a “real conceptual difficulty.” This principle was “at work throughout the liberation movements of the sixties; each group of oppressed people, on sighting another, tended at once to see it as a distracting competitor, not as a friend and ally,” and, unfortunately, we can find this across history and in our present time, revealed in many examples.
Most of us are, I think, now aware of these propensities. Nevertheless, continued reflection and awareness is called for because it creeps in when we aren’t looking. Aren’t some of these difficult principles what we see happening right now as the various activist groups clash?

Midgley ends the chapter by stating that, “when a privileged group tries to consider extensions of privilege, quite special difficulties arise about being sharp-sighted. The notion that one has already drawn a correct and final line at which such extensions must end cannot be trusted at all.” Thus, I find myself asking: how are we being obtuse? How can we address our moral concerns amicably?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Middle Path Philosophy

Isn't it fun when we find a kindred spirit? Someone who speaks our thoughts with more clarity or eloquence than we can ourselves? Sometimes I feel quite alone walking what feels like the middle path in life, peeking into the more polarized landscapes on either side with curiosity as well as puzzlement, and often more than a little frustration. I felt less isolated this week while reading The Owl of Minerva, the memoir (though really more of a delightful, albeit brief autobiography) by philosopher Mary Midgley.

I've never read much philosophy, often finding it to be over my head and difficult to comprehend, but from the little I've seen so far, Midgley's books are purposely written for non-academics and I might just be able to glean some wisdom from them. This will be helped along by having read her memoir, I think, which provides a marvelous scaffold from which to view her work.

Midgley was born in 1919, with her first book published in 1978, and her latest book published in 2014. Her memoir came out in 2005 and gives a savvy, often witty, account of her life and how she wandered naturally into philosophy, what she points out is defined via its Greek origin as "love of wisdom." Where she differs from other philosophers is her aversion to reductionism or the abstract, instead she prefers a far more practical Big Picture approach -- and one imbued with embodied compassion.

In her memoir, Midgley comments on some of her favorite teachers. One of those was a history teacher and Midgley said about her that:

"She also reached back often into the past to show how the strange things that seemed to be happening now could have become possible -- what people had meant by acting in this way, what states of mind had shaped our world. This way of getting at the meaning of the present by looking at the past has remained central to me. It is just as useful for understanding thought as it is for understanding action."

How many of us have had such marvelous mind-broadening teachers?

I found myself regularly smiling, delighting in Midgley's British sense of humor as she interwove her personal experiences -- a father who was a vicar, going to a girls' boarding school, attending Oxford from 1938-42 -- with philosophical views, and the history of education before, during, and after World War II. From the distance of half a century, Midgley reviewed her past and kept me captivated all the way through the book. She stands firmly in the camp of context, that all of us present our own unique views and "individual value systems" in all that we do -- we can't help it ... and we shouldn't try to:

"Personality is not an irrelevance to thought, an obstacle to philosophical enquiry. It is an essential element in the solutions offered. All thinking is a human activity, radically linked to feeling and action. ... The impartiality that we have to aim at is not impersonality but simply the avoidance of irrelevant bias."

"In philosophy, rationalists are the people who keep trying to refine and complete that half-framed order, hoping to build it into a clear, universal system. Empiricists are the ones who keep saying, 'No, that won't do. Things are a bit more complicated than that.' This dialectic is unending. Both things are needed; both can be done together."

As to her subtle humor, for example (I wish I had marked more of her humorous anecdotes and comments, but I didn't), during the war she says of a friend that:

"She also took me to visit the home of her mother and aunts, a classic clamjamfrey of elderly ladies and cats with the cats mainly in charge ...."

Midgley addresses often her frustrations with the way that philosophy is addressed in university:

"Showing-off is indeed a feature of many kinds of life and of course it is often a harmless one. But that is no reason why it should be allowed to take them over. Any situation where a lot of young men are competing to form a dominance hierarchy, will produce cock-fights. But -- as Plato pointed out already -- these fights are not part of its essence; they are distractions from it. They interfere with philosophical work. 'Tough-minded' is much too polite a word to use for people who go to a meeting, not in order to understand what someone is saying but in order to catch him or her out by picking holes in it. ... In any case, the practice of bullying one's students ... is not a sport at all; it's a vice."

Mary Midgley was and is a remarkable woman. She raised three sons before writing her first book in her fifties, and points out that not only did she choose to put her children and home life first, but that she thinks it turned out far better that way because then she had lots of personal experience to apply to her philosophy. Not that she didn't keep her toes in the waters; her husband was a teacher/philosopher as well, and as Midgley's sons got older, she slowly began writing more, teaching, lecturing, and doing broadcasts. The latest interview I found was one from March 2015 HERE, where it said:

"She is, she says, still writing: currently working on an afterword for a book about her philosophy and also on a talk she will give next month at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, when she is awarded The Edinburgh Medal for her contributions to the 'wellbeing of humanity'."

I'm reading her books in order -- other than having enjoyed her memoir first -- and will no doubt write more blog posts as I follow her through those thirty years.

1978 Beast and Man
1981 Heart and Mind
1983 Animals and Why They Matter
1984 Wickedness
1985 Evolution as a religion
1989 Wisdom Information and Wonder
1992 Science as Salvation
1994 The Ethical Primate
1996 Utopias Dolphins and Computers
2000 Science and Poetry
2003 The Myths we Live by
2005 The Owl of Minerva 
2007 Earthy Realism
2010 The Solitary Self: Darwin

2014 Are you an illusion?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Falling Into Fascination

Marion Woodman
One of my quirks seems to be that I fall suddenly into fascination with certain authors, both fiction and non-fiction. In the past, it's been with the marvelous and wise Jungian Marion Woodman (born in 1928, published her first book when she was 52) or with the evocative naturalist Terry Tempest Williams; I end up buying every single one of their books to read sequentially, and google articles, essays, and videos on them, just to obtain a more in-depth feeling for these people. It's sort of like falling in love:
"There was I, sitting at one side of a long table, quietly listening to a Geography lesson and doing (as they say) nobody any harm, when suddenly the world was filled with a wonderful and quite unaccountable light and warmth. Trying to make out where this radiance came from, I gradually realized that it centered on Daphne, who was sitting opposite. We beamed at each other."
The above quote was written (about a time when she was a child) by my new love, Mary Midgley, a philosopher born in 1919 (published her first book when she was 59), in her memoir The Owl of Minerva. I "met" Mary while reading a series of books on nature by Stephen Harrod Buhner; he mentioned Mary quite often and with every quote he shared, I fell more in love with her until the momentum carried me into getting as many of her books as I could. I've never ended up meeting any of my author-loves, and maybe I don't need to ... I hear their voices in my heart and head, almost as if they are happy to guide and bless me from afar like distant mentors.
Mary Midgley
As it happens, however, I don't fall in love only with writers, but also with topics or subjects, and when I do, then comes immersion within those as well. When I began to show dogs in my 20s, I read hundreds of books on canid behavior as well as those specific to training and breeding; almost 10 years later, I did the same with felines, and then came the energy medicines (homeopathy and flower essences) followed by Ayurveda in my fourth decade. All of these were built upon the continual scaffold-shifting that is my spiritual Self seeking the Divine. Thus, while my study of topics or subjects (or authors) is intense and immersive, I come up for air to explore my own intuition and imagination to apply these ideas in the context of my own life. 

So, what occasionally appears to be indecisive or waffling behavior is, rather, a whole-life view--the Big Picture--of what this all means to me instead of a reductionist approach in perspective. I dive deep but try not to become mired down, thus allowing my fascination or love to guide me, hopefully, into being a more loving, embodied, and empowered woman who is more at ease with the ebb and flow that is Nature.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I wrote elsewhere a while back about my distress over my neighbor "mowing the woods" in front of my property because he thought it looked messy -- we live in a semi-rural neighborhood, it's why I fell in love with the place, it's supposed to appear chaotic and wildly gorgeous! Not only that, but the "messiness" is inherent in promoting a healthier environment:
"The industrialized eye, accustomed to suburban lawns and controlled gardens, generally sees such diverse, visually complex plant communities as chaotic. There appears to be no order or control, only wild, random growth. Regardless, plant communities have spent some 500 million years learning their craft; there is a reason for how they are structured. The more visually complex a plant community, the better it can respond to ecosystem demands and stressors. All ecosystems are dynamic over time in their drive to preserve this kind of 'wildness.' A suburban landscape, not continually forced into an orderly shape, will 'relax.' It will begin rearranging, reassembling, itself immediately; it will begin to look rather unkempt." ... "Disease outbreaks and heavily destructive insect infestations are extremely rare in these kinds of lumpy, visually complex, 'unkempt' ecosystems." ~ Stephen Harrod Buhner in The Lost Language of Plants
I have also been seen as messy or unkempt, especially once I passed my mid-thirties. Maybe that's part of why I protect the messiness of the woods; I feel it as kindred, as part of me.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


We have a possible new addition to the family - a kitten. Five days ago, I found a feisty little blond kitten in our garage, hiding in the under-carriage of my car. The kitten is skittish, for sure, but beginning to trust me. Now if I can just get the elder cats (14 and 17) to accept the kitten instead of chasing it!
I think I know who the kitten's momma is; ever since moving in, we've seen a tortie-colored adult once in a while and last year I saw her briefly with a kitten. The previous owners of the house had been feeding what they said were two strays, but left them behind and our cats aggressively chase them away. I don't know why momma-cat would have abandoned this little kit, though -- maybe she was killed or a Tom-cat separated baby and momma as soon as he was weaned? Haven't seen a sign of her, though, since the kitten's been with us.

This little one was terribly skinny so I've been feeding every few hours -- which is also helping him/her to trust me. Because of how thin it is, I'm thinking it may be a little older than I first thought. Will know more when I can get it into a vet's office without traumatizing it too much.

Needless to say -- for those who know me -- I'm already in love with this charming kitten.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Small Town, Big History

I recently returned from a two-night getaway with a good friend, something we have done in the past. We wanted to find a quaint walking-town that would be conducive to good conversation and exploring interesting sights. We decided on Hermann, Missouri, a town in Gasconade County established by German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century.

We had one full-day to explore and spent a good part of our time touring the Deutschheim State Historic Site, Stone Hill Winery, and Hermann Farm (a type of living history museum). All of these were marvelous experiences!

During our tour of Hermann Farm, we were taken around the property in a wagon where we periodically got off to visit renovated and reconstructed buildings, make friends with the Shire horses, and view the country side up close. At the top of a hill, from the old cemetery, we were afforded a magnificent view of Hermann where it borders the Missouri River.

One thing our guide pointed out is how much the flow of the river has changed since Hermann's creation. Her grandparents remarked that at times back then the Missouri River was much more broad and could sometimes be crossed by a team of horses pulling a wagon; however, "civilization" has resulted in a deeper, more narrow river.

Our visit to the Deutschheim State Historic Site provided us with a glimpse into the lives of the German immigrants. They were woodworkers as well as vineyard owners; most of them were relatively well-off for the time period, building beautiful homes that have withstood the tests of time. This isn't to deny that they all had to work very hard because this was, after all, a wilderness. The Germans used to transform flax into linen; the "tail" seen (on the right) in the photo is spun flax. I've seen lots of displays and demonstrations about the process of spinning wool or cotton; this was the first time I'd seen one on flax.

Because some of my own ancestors lived in Gasconade County at one time, though none in the town of Hermann (as far as I know), and because I've been doing a lot of genealogical research on my family, I was particularly interested in the map on display that provided an overview of ethnic immigration and settlement patterns in Missouri.

The place I particularly wanted to visit while in Hermann, however, was the Stone Hill Winery. I was fascinated, not by the wine, per se, but by the underground wine cellars (those photos online are much better than any I managed to get) that had taken the original owner 22 years to carve out of the limestone (by hand, mind you, starting in 1847 -- it remains the largest underground system of cellars in North America) and the unusual history of Stone Hill. The historical images HERE show the remarkable size of the arched stone cellars and the large casks in use at that time.

This large cask was not one used at Stone Hill
Winery, but was on display in the
As the story goes: 
"By the turn of the century, Stone Hill Winery, which the German immigrant Michael Poeschel began building in 1847, was the third largest winery in the world (second largest in the U.S.), producing more than a million gallons of wine a year. Its wines, such as Hermannsberger, Starkenberger and Black Pearl, won eight gold medals at world fairs between 1873 and 1904."
I have become fascinated by the history of Missouri Wine--specifically Stone Hill Winery and others in Hermann--and will probably delve into the topic further.

All in all, my little trip to Hermann, Missouri, was absolutely wonderful. I look forward to returning and, if you're ever driving between St. Louis and Kansas City, I encourage you to stop in Hermann.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Words and Meaning

I'm still waiting for the sacred to imbue my writing the way it used to ... before the desert and the monster in my mind scared my heart so. Sacred. Scared. Same letters but switch two of them and, oh, what a difference. So it has been with great delight that I sense the wellspring rising and meaning beginning to emerge through my private writing.
"To the alert person, a golden thread may emerge from any ordinary thing and open a doorway into the metaphysical background of the world. ... Writers follow the threads by writing down, as concretely as they can, what they are experiencing, what they are feeling, what they are seeing, hearing, sensing. Robert Bly describes this, brilliantly, as 'following the tiny impulses through the meadow of language.' It must be done slowly. Carefully. Feeling your way."
This is a different kind of writing than what we usually see in fiction, though even there it can sometimes startle us with its shimmering. I'm going to step into that meadow, with reverence, and open to its sensations and follow the golden threads.

Quote from Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, the chapter "Following Golden Threads," by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What if ... ?

I've been reading a variety of books on plant intelligence, from conventional science to innovative experiments to holistic perspectives to sacred intuition, and yesterday's reading--the chapter titled "The Function of Psychotropics in the Ecosystem" from Stephen Harrod Buhner's book Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm: Beyond the Doors of Perception into the Dreaming of Earth--led me to a few "what if" questions that I decided to share.

our volunteer patch of
Philadelphia Fleabane
What if ... one of the ways that people in power began to control others was to deny them the ability to empathically connect with plants, animals, and even other humans by limiting their access to psychotropics? (Studies have shown that "serotonergic neurognostics generate, or perhaps more accurately, regenerate, the natural childlike feelings of empathy, the direct experience of the personhood of the [human and] nonhuman other, by altering sensory gating in important ways.")

What if ... some of the visions of prophets and/or spiritual leaders were a result of plant-assisted journeying (as with current indigenous shamans)?

What if ... one of the reasons for our current drug epidemic is that some people intuit (on a level they aren't aware of) that we need to find our way back to the connective, inter-related oneness of all life? That the so-called escape it provides from our modern society is also part of a journey or return to holistic functionality?

Buhner's book is itself profoundly mind-opening and I highly recommend it. This last of his books is a 500-page tome that I have explored slowly, every chapter gradually leading into the next one -- a beautiful journey.

When Robin Wall Kimmerer (botanist and author of the delightful book Gathering Moss) spoke with Krista Tippett of On Being, she commented that, "science asks us to learn about organisms; traditional knowledge asks us to learn from them." This is a sensational way of bridging the gaps between conventional science, indigenous wisdom, and sacred connection with Gaia.

Some people choose lifestyles that naturally lead them into learning from the earth, from Gaia. Even then, however, their sense of the aliveness of every Being around them can gradually become rigid. We don't have to imbibe psychotropics to alter consciousness, though. Remember daydreaming? Remember pretending? Recall the last time you read a thoroughly engrossing novel or were swept away by a piece of music? That altered your consciousness, because you allowed the meanings, feelings and sensations access (sensory gating). We can do this naturally. We can reconnect with Earth when we offer ourselves the space to do so. Creatives are an obvious example, one that any of us can mirror and then become.

Friday, June 9, 2017

POV to Systems

I was struck how appropriate the following quote could be when applied to other systems besides organ systems (and plant systems, which is the focus of the book); for instance, consider its potential for understanding cultural, political, social, or religious systems, not to mention simply other personalities, and how we can relate to them.

"The closer the reality of the organ system is to your normal point of view, the easier it will be to experience its reality. The farther away it is, the more disturbing it will be. Experientially assuming an extremely different orientation will in itself teach you about the narrowness of your normal point of view. The resistance you have to this new and very different perspective is information about how and how much you cling to your normal perceptions." ~ Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Secret Teachings of Plants

The book Secret Teachings of Plants is profoundly moving; I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Will I Ever Read What I Used To?

When an email popped into my in-box, I was curious about one of the authors being interviewed. Not because I currently read his work, but because, until about seven or eight years ago, I had read everything he had written. Dean Koontz. Yup. There was a time when I couldn't get enough of his stories. But I gave all his books to a friend when we moved to Arizona, figuring I'd never read him again; I felt like his books were far too intense for the older me. In hindsight, there were a few I ought to have kept.

Anyway, he is starting a new series and it sounds intriguing; if he keeps the horror parts to a minimum, I might just find myself pulled into the new stories. With a female protagonist who is a rogue FBI agent, I'm definitely interested.

A bit of trivia I liked in the interview -- available on Goodreads -- was that Dean Koontz says one of his all-time favorite authors is Charles Dickens:

This is one of those odd coincidences because several months ago, I became determined to re-read A Tale of Two Cities, recalling how much I enjoyed it in high school. And, hey, if I could enjoy that book when I was 17 years old, chances are I would enjoy it even more now.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Its Home On Its Back

This little box turtle (wish I had a good telephoto lens because he or she would tuck its head inside every time I tried to get very close), trudging along with its home on its back, reminded me of travel, the meaning of home, withdrawal when in danger, being hard on one side and soft on the other, and the ancient fable of the tortoise and the hare. Just to name a few imaginings that came up.

And those musings recalled how everything I read, most of which is non-fiction, seems to inspire a story line. Books about our planet like The Dream of the Earth by Thomas Berry to A Tear at the Edge of Creation by Marcelo Gleiser; on society and religion as from Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra to Evolution of God by Robert Wright; from Reasons to Stay Alive by Haig to Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Levine. Not to mention the variety of books on history, psychology, and spirituality.

Then there is the basic review of my own life experiences from divorce to single living, from competing in dog shows to hiking on mountain trails, from moving across the country to making new friends, from learning about natural remedies to falling in love later in life.

Most of the abundance of ideas or themes can be woven into tales that could take place within my fictional series, except that the first book isn't even finished yet. I've dozens and dozens of possible tales. How will I ever get to all of the stories? I guess the simple answer is that I will get to the ones that I'm meant to write. And that will have to suffice. My Muse will have to offer the rest to other people, although I hope she waits until after I've officially discarded them.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Celtic Family Roots

Carnac in Brittany, 1909

I have ancestors with Celtic connections on both sides of my family tree. Most Americans whose families have been here for 350 years probably do as well. Of my ancestors who I’ve been able to trace back to country of origin, there were 59 (at last count) who emigrated from the Celtic locales of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, alas none from Brittany (in context, there were 208 from England, the clearly predominant country, with a smattering from countries on the continent including Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and France, plus a few drops of Native American mixed in for good measure).
My primary fascination with the Celts is due to their visceral and spiritual link
to the landscape, one that I resonate with, as well as their belief in a mysterious parallel dimension, referred to as the Otherworld, inhabited by fairy-folk. On the other hand, the Celtic aspect completely alien to me is that they were renowned as a warrior culture; I definitely didn’t receive those genes. I also try to extricate Celtic women’s past out from under the heavy weight of the patriarchal times and mythologies (since the 1970s, thankfully, many other women have been absorbed in this effort as well so I have plenty of guides). Unfortunately, most non-mythological records focused on battles and wars; that’s what interested most men and they wrote the histories, so one has to peek between the lines to find cultural nuggets beyond those limitations.
The Baker family tree on my mother’s side reveals a robust blend of Celtic lineage. My great-grandmother Rosetta Jane Baker’s line contains 10 individuals from Scotland, 5 from Wales, and 7 from Ireland (possibly Scots-Irish, based upon the time period of emigration; further research would be needed to verify), a few of which I’ll mention here.
© Trustees of the British Museum
According to an online genealogy resource for the Baker family, it is said that, “The dark rolling moors of the Scottish/English border are home to the notable surname, Baker. Its ancient history is closely woven into the rich and beautiful tapestry of the border chronicles” and that the family motto is “Dum spiro spero. (While I have breath I hope.)” The theory is that the Baker name and family descended from the northern mix of Scottish Picts and Angles (about 400-1000 CE). That adds in the intriguing history of the Picts, current theory emerging that they were the “indigenous population,” the original inhabitants, for that part of the world.
My 4th-great-grandparents were James and Rebeckah (Small) Baker; their families were from Kentucky, and previous to that, Virginia in the 18th century. I am still trying to unearth the definite direct link for James Baker, but it was recorded in 1889, in a county historical tome, that his wife Rebeckah Small was of Irish descent. This statement is a curious puzzle, however, since most of my research points to the Small ancestors (plus the Burnett and Henderson wives in that family tree) as being from Scotland; immigrant John Small was born in 1716 in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland (southwest of Glasgow, though he could have Irish roots) and the others in the northeast lands of Aberdeen and St. Andrews (both are northeast of Edinburgh). James and Rebeckah’s son Hiram married Clarisy Maddy, and her family line brought in some Welsh through the Morris lineage.
This indomitable Celtic family line gradually traversed America from Virginia, then to Kentucky and Tennessee, before finally arriving in Missouri in the mid-19th century. There’s a generational story here, one of many, just waiting to be told!
My husband doesn't really understand my recent interest in ancestors and cultural family history. I tell him it's not that I think this knowledge will change me--life is good and I like who I am--but rather that it does seem to help me understand myself a bit better. Plus, I've always been curious and a seeker, learning is fun for me, and "visiting" my ancestors or ancestral cultures is also a way to honor their journey.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


I just love it when these bloom! Such joyful flowers!

Amethyst Falls Wisteria

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Theories of History and Pre-History

As I get further into researching Celtic history, for both my family genealogy book and a future novel, there are contrasting theories (I mentioned a little of this in an earlier post HERE). Lo and behold, in an older (1975) book titled The Celts: The People Who Came out of the Darkness by Gerhard Herm, the author doesn't even pretend to have all the answers. Refreshing!

Herm states at one point, referencing an amateur being derided by experts, that even those so-called experts "have had to admit that they were themselves guilty of bias" toward the amateur who, they said had "a tendency to tailor pieces of prehistory to fit his own ... theory."

Herm then goes on to explain that:
"This practice [of tailoring] is not, however, uncommon, even among reputable scholars. Indeed, used in moderation, it is quite legitimate. It is rather like trying to do a jigsaw that refuses to come out by starting at a different corner. If it works, so much the better. If it fails, the attempt should not be condemned out of hand but should be classed among the many models that have, over the years, been set up only to be knocked down again. Indeed many useless hypotheses belong among those sorts of wrong answer that must be given so that we can know why they are wrong." 
Further, Herm states that:
"The existing facts have grown into such a mountain that a survey would take a whole lifetime, without guarantee of result. Hypothesis has to be our core-sampler: with it we can probe the mountain, in the hope of being rewarded with unexpected insight. I have in what follows had occasion to use such methods, and studies whose arguments, though plausibly founded, cannot be conclusively proven. At best the result will be a picture that ought to be looked at with caution: this is how it might have been. If it was not, no doubt we shall one day find out."
I would personally step back from even the optimism of that last sentence. For one reason, because the "facts" used are often not facts themselves but interpretations and theories. Secondly, I do like his cautionary approach, but would view the theories as likely to remain in the realm of "this is how it might have been." Herm doesn't address this once, but regularly throughout his book, like when trying to find the answer to a particular question, he writes that, "to answer it we must persist with hypotheses and the sparsest evidence." I truly did find his openness to possibility delightful.

I'm glad that I've placed Herm's older book at the top of my reading list, for it more easily lends itself to later thoughts and ideas.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Oops! The heavy rains have caused a lot of flooding and the Finley River down below has once again flooded the bottoms...and is causing a power pole to lean quite a bit.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

History of the Celts ... and what may have been before

I find history fascinating. What I don't find in history is certainty. Unlike many who study history (or anthropology or archeology), I see it quite simply as interpretation. Even written history is often only that which was recorded by the dominant culture and how they perceived what they were observing (since the records of those who were subjugated were often destroyed); this is easily realized when we consider how Europeans misinterpreted so much about Native American culture. If those confusions arose only several hundred years ago, all of it "documented," then it is quite easy to see how confusing history can be going back even further in time.

As I research Celtic history, I find repeatedly that each person is determined to make their interpretation one of fact. During the past years, it seems, there has been a lot of uproar regarding the identification of whether one is genetically "Celtic," but we can no more isolate our genes and DNA than we can our veins and heart. There is even dispute on whether Celtic societies were actually established in Ireland, Wales, Brittany, and Scotland, primarily because of modern linguistics; again, we can only see through a glass darkly on this or any other historical so-called definitive interpretation. I enjoy the research; I appreciate the tremendous effort involved. However, I see the endeavors as portals into what might have been, not what was (as fact), and in this undertaking to find out more about ourselves.

For me, the Celtic legacy remains its culture as a whole, not its parts as isolated components to substantiate whether someone is right or wrong. The whole view, individually interpreted, is what has the potential for helping humanity achieve greater good for every being. In other words, what in this legacy can help us lead better, more balanced lives?

That is the angle I come from, whether in my personal genealogical and family tree research, or in the fictional history of the characters in my novels. In other words, how might Celtic culture have shaped the people of the past? What might I learn from the bits gathered together into various patterns?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Blessed Rain

As I sit out on our porch, giving thanks for the rain, I'm reminded of some lines from one of Carrie Newcomer's songs:

The Blessed Rain it falls like Grace,
Without regard to wealth or race ...

Friends and family tire, I think, of hearing me remind them of the blessings of rain. But I can't help it. I've always loved the rain, but after living in the Sonoran Desert for over four years, the blessings of rainfall are more resplendent than ever. When the monsoon season arrived, I would sit out on our patio with each Blessed Rain. I still do. Here in the Ozarks, now, after a half-day deluge, the foliage is absolutely dazzling!

You can listen to the song "We Were Sleeping," which contains those lines, HERE.

May we always feel blessed by rain and, perhaps, let our Love fall like the rain, with grace, and without regard for wealth or race.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Stone and Flora

We hope to create a lush haven in the area of our small stone terraced beds; many more hosta are needed, as well as other shade-loving plants. The steep hill to its far side needs a hardy ground cover.

Most of our small property consists of this steep, rocky slope; very few places are level, and nearly all areas are in shade once spring has done its dance of leafing.

We will take our time and do our best. It's been many years since previous owners provided much in the way of TLC to either house or property. May our efforts be blessed.

I am, however, inspired by today's post "April Showers" over at the Vicki Lane Mysteries blog, showing areas of her farm in North Carolina bedecked by lush greenery!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Cycles of Spring

I've been delighted this spring, witnessing the cycles of growth all around me in yard and woods. First were the daffodils and forsythia, then came the flowers of vinca vine and redbuds; several trees leafed out quite early, including our broad-canopied mystery tree near the front porch, while others remained externally dormant. Soon appeared wild sweet william near the cultivated tulips, and now emerge the pastel wild geraniums along with the dogwood whose large white petals are now dancing in the breeze instead of the small purple ones of the redbuds.

Having spent most of my adult life among coniferous forests in Colorado and Maine, I'd little idea of how the deciduous trees pulsed into life in their own rhythms. The hickory, walnut, and oak trees are leafing out last, our heavy weekend rain giving them a burst of energy!

So many more plants and trees to become acquainted with!

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Mountain Utopia

There's little doubt that my naive impression of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado as a sanctuary has been partially influenced by the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, along with the classic black and white film based upon that story. I can't help but believe that paradise on earth is possible when I recall the breathtaking scenery provided by the many roads I've driven and trails I've hiked in the Rockies; the Mystery evoked runs deep.
big stock.com

Early in the story of Lost Horizon, when the frenetic young protege named Mallinson (portrayed as Conway's brother in the movie version) is railing against the circumstances they're in, Conway responds:
"If you'd had all the experiences I've had, you'd know that there are times in life when the most comfortable thing is to do nothing at all. Things happen to you and you just let them happen. The War was rather like that. One is fortunate if, as on this occasion, a touch of novelty seasons the unpleasantness."
When Mallinson then responds that, "You're too confoundedly philosophic for me. That wasn't your mood during the trouble at Baskul," Conway replies:
"Of course not, because then there was a chance that I could alter events by my own actions. But now, for the moment at least, there's no such chance. We're here because we're here, if you want a reason. I've usually found it a soothing one."
Who of us hasn't found ourselves in that kind of a situation at one time or another? How did we handle it? What did we do? When I was Mallinson's age (at twenty-something), I confess that I often reacted as poorly as he does throughout Lost Horizon. I'm grateful that my innate temperament led me toward introspection and, as I've aged, I've become a lot more like Conway.

When Conway sees Shangri-La, shortly after his above comments to Mallinson, I'm right there with him in astonished awe.

I don't recall when I first read and/or viewed Lost Horizon but with every re-reading over the years, I yearn less for the fantasy and instead find myself creating a personal paradise, first within my heart and mind, and then outwardly to hearth and home. I have more patience with my own discomforts or mistakes, and with the circumstances beyond my control whether they be people or events. Even reading the novel now, considering our current American political situation, I feel somehow comforted. My gratitude, and the desire to assuage someone else's anxiety brings me spiraling back to Shangri-La, a fantasy template for my own novel's imaginary town of Chantilly Lace.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Panorama of Spirit

The Rocky Mountains are my favorite range, its peaks and accompanying valleys never fail to fill me with awe, and have done so for as long as I can remember. The Rockies are the panorama of my spirit.

Nevertheless, I left the Rocky Mountains in my late twenties after a decade of living along the Front Range, a decision driven by my desire to escape from the circumstances surrounding a bad marriage's end. But, even though I then built a wonderful life in Maine, filled with good friends enjoyable activities, and steady work, I missed the West and Colorado terribly. Thus it was that four years later, I returned to Colorado with a dream and high hopes. That dream took me to one of my favorite places: Cripple Creek. To my mind, it's not the most fetching of towns--too exposed and spare of trees for my personal preference, sitting in an ancient caldera and stripped of forest by decades of miners--but there's an intangible something that pulls me in whenever I'm there. Maybe a past life?  

By the time I moved to Cripple Creek in 1994, a lot had changed from the days of my family vacations there (we had been visiting Colorado, regularly, since I was a toddler). It had transformed from a sleepy little relic of Gold Rush days into a chaotic harbor for limited-stakes gambling, one of three Colorado towns approved to do so in 1991. These were not places within Native American reservations, mind you; they were, rather, an experiment designed for and directed toward "boosting economies and preserving the past" -- or were supposed to be. I lived just outside of town, an adventure in and of itself, plus worked for one of the hotel and casino ventures in Cripple Creek for an exhilarating and often daunting eight months.

So what happens when gambling is made legal in a small town in the modern American West? That's just one of the questions addressed in my Chantilly Lace series of novels, the first book of which is to be released this winter. While the town of  Chantilly Lace is a synthesis of several places (some in Colorado, others around the country), Cripple Creek was definitely my initial inspiration for it.

My personal hopes and endeavors quickly fell upon hard times, not once but twice, however, those experiences have not in any way dissolved my peculiar bond with Cripple Creek or tainted my adoration for the Colorado Rockies.

Isn't it strange how a place, a particular landscape or part of the country, can keep us held in thrall no matter what the external experiences may be?
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