Taking Simple Steps

Sharing the process of transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle


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A Winter’s Reflection

Mountain Climbing

 

I’ve tended to plot straight lines of perpetual ascent

Through sky, toward sun, to pinnacles.

 

But find myself plodding

Through unforeseen terrain,

Of vertical cliffs, sudden turns

Daunting drops,

Hoping I’d find my way.

 

From time to time

I’d reach a height

And stand aglow

Victorious

In bright of day.

 

But my stance would be shaken.

Life’s curves come unexpectedly.

I’d twist and twirl to depths

To dark crevices

To sit in shame.

 

In time

I’d settle my soul

Glance up through floating clouds

And reconsider a climb.

 

But like Sisyphus’s trial

My course had no end

The golden summit is not to be possessed.

 

 

Receiving the Present

 

Each morning, I awake.

 

Ideas flit through the curves of my brain:

“Can I build my body to bike to the beach?

Could folk dancing in my living room cultivate community?

Where would a solar shower sit in my yard?”

 

A train of thought rambles.

Temptation sweetly whistles

Ready to take me on a ride

To a perfect world.

 

But first

I step from the box of my house

And plant my curved feet on arching earth.

 

Oak leaves crackle

Bahia grass bows

Damp soil soothes

As I pace supple, solid ground,

left, right

left, right

to my growing garden.

 

On the edge

Between plant and sky

Conical okras twirl

Spiraling lima bean tendrils dance

In an ever-changing array.

 

I inhale sun’s rays and sky’s waves

Visitor that I am from the framed world

Of rectangular phones

Flat screens and

Linear text.

 

I stretch stiff straits from my back

And bend to touch musky earth.

 

I try to grasp Nature’s ways

On these brief, enlivening sojourns

But her welcoming smile spreads miles past my gaze

In expanses of mysterious, quiet passages

Of majestic pines, parading palms,

Fanciful ferns and nesting needles

From eons of her embroidered dance.

 

I find, though, I follow patterned paths

Fumbling on familiar steps

As when I started sowing seeds years back

Cherishing each broccoli rabe and tomato seedling sprouted

Running circles in search of spots to plant each life.

 

No matter I was running out of space

No thought of how I’d consume the fruit

No care for what I could tend to.

 

I felt the need to grasp each possibility

And bring it to fruition

In my foolish

Frenzied fight

Against loss

And letting go

Though I carried too much.

 

But Nature tarried on

As warm-hearted parent smiling at a child

Trying to mimic cherished ways.

 

Through seasons, I have watched.

Not all lettuce seeds sprout.

A portion of pumpkin seedlings thrive.

Zucchini arrives from nowhere and extends.

Thoughtful neighbors bring sweet potato starts.

 

Something’s always going.

Something’s always growing

Beyond my doing.

 

No need to grasp.

More’s on its way.

 

 

Consenting to Circles

 

Having inhaled natural day

I stroll back to my house.

 

Inside

Through open windows

Sun lightens walls

Breeze billows curtains

And brushes my cheek

Singing

Life is here

Life is here.

 

Reflecting on the present

I collect strands of thought

Still in my mind

And jot them down

To consider later

 

Then settle into the day’s doing.

 

It’s Monday

So I’ll wash cotton bedding

Sweep terrazzo floors

Shake and lay out woven carpets.

 

I’m trying to mimic life’s cycle

Tomorrow I’ll pay the water bill and record receipts

Wednesday, I’ll can split pea soup and make oat crackers

Everything in its time

By my design.

 

I used to do the fun stuff

Scribble down a song in my head

Call Jess to chat

Crochet cotton towels

Or what called in the moment

Read a text that came through

Or the book by my bed

Or walk in the rain.

 

I’d cram in dusting end tables

Pruning a bush overreaching the walkway

And mending torn spaghetti straps

When the need could no longer be ignored

Then rush back to the real stuff.

 

I’m learning

To tend to each task

In its time

As part of a circle –

Creation and dissolution.

 

I’m leaning into the picking up

And putting away

Reflecting on what’s past

Readying for what’s to come

Partaking in the process

Relaxed in the ordering.

 

Though I struggle still not to take on

More than fits

As waves of endeavors arise

I’m becoming aware of

Distinct strands of motion

And separating out what needs attending

What’s mine to do

And leaving the rest.

 

No longer seeking heights

But following as the path weaves

Its magnificent fabric

In mysterious folds.

 

Not focusing on gaining

Status nor goods

But garnering lessons

Of the Way.

 

Understanding

And good will

Are pinnacles

I walk toward

Through every hill and valley

Of my earthly path.

 

As the wheel of life turns

Compressing me as it churns

Breaking walls

Making my soul part

Of its masterpiece

Of which I choose to be a part

The work done

In my being

Unseen by outer world

Shines through all

I say and do.

 

As we enter quiet of winter

I’ll not turn to electric bulbs

Once dusk falls with fading sun

But settle into darkness

Putting aside fright

And the need to act.

 

I’ll fan the flame of inner light

Take stock with inner sight

Look upon barren landscapes

Ponder what’s beneath

 

Reflect on what’s passed

Consider what’s coming

And pause

Before moving on.

 

Sometimes, the way forward is back and around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mission

I walk to my car after a presentation by Peace Corps volunteers. Tales told of rehabilitating lives, landscapes and structures in far off, impoverished countries get me thinking, What is my calling?

I recollect a story of Mother Teresa hearing of a Hindu family who had not eaten for a long time. She brings them rice and finds children with eyes shining with hunger. Their mom takes the rice and goes out. When she returns, Mother Teresa asks, “Where did you go? What did you do?”

The woman answers, “They are hungry also.”

And who are they? — A Muslim family.

Mother Teresa beams as the children and mom radiate with joy and peace on account of the mom’s love. Mother Teresa doesn’t bring more rice that evening because she wants them, Hindus and Muslims, to enjoy sharing, knowing this will feed a greater hunger.

I probe my pockets for keys, awestruck by this family’s love, pondering the essence of being poor.

Mother Teresa observed, “The spiritual poverty of the West is much greater than the physical poverty of India. In the West millions suffer terrible loneliness and emptiness, feel unloved and unwanted. People are not hungry in the physical sense, but in another way, knowing they need something more than money, yet not knowing what it is.”

I unlock my door acknowledging there are deeper wells to draw from than physical founts; poor folks are the blessed ones.

I bend into my car pondering the loneliness and emptiness in the West to which Mother Teresa points. I struggle to keep connected with others amidst independent living arrangements and time-consuming schedules. I grapple to keep afloat in a flood of belongings and groundswell of tasks. Mother Teresa speaks my mind, What do I do about my spiritual poverty amidst physical excess?

My work is right here.

I sit behind the wheel, mindful of my solitude. I’ve worked hard to create a natural space, just right for me, full of organic cotton, heirloom tomatoes and farmer writer Wendell Berry tales. Yet, I remain preoccupied with e-mails, paperwork and organizing. Writing unending lists of chores to do, struggling to squeeze in time to talk – much less sit – with friends and family.

I fasten my safety belt thinking, the American dream promises if I buy and own more, I make progress. And I do in a sense, when I don’t have enough. But past a point of sufficiency, I bloat my house with a closet clogged with shoes for any occasion, a pantry packed with enough pasta to feed the neighborhood and a table top buried beneath piles of magazines I never look through. At this point, for me, having less is moving forward.

I start my car’s engine and hear Jackson Browne swoon:

These times are famine for the soul while for the senses it’s a feast…

And there’s a God-sized hunger underneath the laughing and the rage (Looking East)

 

I drive home determined to better feed my soul and cut down on physical preoccupation. As cars race past on the expressway, I wonder what’s essential and what’s unnecessary, best to let pass by. The thought of hungry folks, scantily clad in tin shacks helps me trim the fat. A bowl of rice and beans, a hat and coat, walls and a roof are basically what I require.

I drive past another newly constructed mall thinking, I need to pare down.

As I prepare to change lanes, I glance in my rear view mirror remembering as a teen feeling overwhelmed and saddened in stores. Sprawling selections of milk ­- one percent, no fat, low fat and whole – beside aisles of shampoo, laundry detergent and toilet paper elicit endless decisions about trivial pursuits. Over time, though, I grow concerned about choosing just the right item for me and quiver between buying green leaf lettuce and romaine. Now I see that getting tied up in meaningless decisions eats up my energy and deprives my soul of simply being satisfied and grateful for food.

As I signal and look to the right, I remember living in Asheville, North Carolina. In this mecca of natural and cultural beauty, my greatest joy is visiting nursing homes to sit and sing with the elderly. Amid empty halls and vacant rooms dotted with card tables, pale, languid faces stare into space. My guitar strings shimmer. Heads and voices lift together in song: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” Eyes connect in bare stillness, souls unite. I am fed beyond the sustenance of Jackson Browne’s lyrics and Mother Teresa’s tales.

Real connections feed me.

I turn off the AC, roll down the window and sense the heat of the day sting my cheek. Sweat strolls down my rib. A flock of ibis glide by in formation. Hip hop pulsates from a Corvette speeding by. Less buffered, I am in touch.

I exit and U-turn, forgoing thrift store shopping to drive to a hospice care facility and be with my 58 year old friend Richard, spending his last days alone. Gaunt and listless, plodding behind his walker, he beckons me to a garden. We shuffle between palms, love grass and hibiscus and sit on a wooden bench. I slow my breath to settle stirring thoughts and be with him. He soaks in his surroundings and utters labored syllables spelling out his surrender and acceptance. Serenity fills the air. We inhale and exhale the lightness of being. And embrace our goodbyes.

Awakened to the pulse of life, I stroll to my car.

I’ve been isolated and absorbed, caught in a web of material comfort and ease. Casting it away and reaching out to others, I come alive and nourished.

I sit behind the wheel and leave the door ajar. Sun illumines my face. I reach for my calendar and pore over tasks of the week weighing their importance. I make a list of names of folks in need.

Budding branches reach to the sun. When laden with fruit, they bow to the ground. I have more than I need. I must bend down and offer my fill. When I am emptied, I will receive more.

Beside my parked car a red jacaranda sways in the wind. I am reminded of Carol, once vibrant, glowing with life. Now 76, she is trapped in an Alzheimer’s care facility. She got lost driving, couldn’t find her way home. Her son flew down from Philadelphia for the weekend, sold her red hybrid Honda, ruby love seat and crimson-doored house — without her consent. He then placed her in a facility for safe keeping because her memory is weakening. I call her to make plans to visit.

I drive home and clear the cooler, umbrella and beach chair from my back seat to make room for Carol’s wheel chair.

Days later I travel across town. As I wheel Carol through the facility, we watch two dazed women gazing at a flittering TV screen and a man wandering, giggling into space. I notice Carol’s bold demeanor is dulled after a few weeks’ immersion in this muted world. I pull open my passenger door. She struggles to lift her troubled body up holding onto the window frame then shuffles onto the seat. Looking forward she pronounces, I want my car back.

I nod in silence, sit in the driver’s seat and maneuver our way out of the parking lot. Slowly, grasping for words, Carol composes the landscape of delusional characters with whom she dwells, from whom she seeks relief. My heart sinks, knowing she does not belong here, yet aware there is little I can do but take her out for brief respites and listen.

Over the ensuing months, I carve space in my schedule to be with Carol and help carry her load. Her forbearance, persistence and composure are gifts to me.

Perhaps life is not an upward climb, but a spiral trajectory, looping between loss and gain, need and plenty, weakness and strength – both essential to growth and well-being.

One year later, through determination and will, Carol persuades her doctors and son to place her in a more suitable assisted living facility. Our world is set aright. My heart resounds, Hallelujah!

I am driving to Salvation Army with a backseat of boxes containing the tofu maker I’ve never used, old Yes magazines and dusty snow boots. I think of my friend Joe, on disability, unable to work. His trust fund ran out and he can no longer pay rent. He’s terrified he’ll be homeless as New York’s frigid winter approaches. Ashamed, I squirm, I’m here in Florida, grappling to shed frivolity, while Joe is scuffling to find a friend’s couch to sleep on to keep him off the icy streets.

What can I do to help him get what he needs? How can I free myself from excess, which leaves others without enough? How can we come from our separateness to share?

 

Excerpt of Mother Theresa’s address at the United Nations’ “International Conference on Population and Development”, held in Cairo on Sept 5 -13, 1994


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Mustard Seed

“Quite a mama!” Vanessa roars as she and her husband John mosey down the street. They joke about the milk quart-sized papayas ripening by my driveway.

I smirk. I am seeding radishes beside the house. I turn around and call back, “A few months ago, 80 mph winds took down the other three trees. The seed of this babe came from a fruit I got from a stranger at a potluck.”

I rise, wipe dirt off my knees and venture toward the couple to say, “A farmer from Oregon was in town helping his family in Myakka. He gave me a papaya he grew and I planted the seeds.”

The surviving tree leans like a ‘J’ rocked back 45 degrees. A green plastic lawn footrest wedges its trunk above the ground. Twenty busty papayas hang from its stalk. Its dinner plate sized leaves sweep out like the arms of a limbo dancer.

I discover Vanessa and John Walker live in the corner house. Would I like to come by? They have extra banana plugs. Sure! We saunter to study the gnarly bulbs — all brown, no green. We are rookies and they look strange. Somebody gave them these barky masses and we’re not sure how they’ll fare.

I take ‘em. They’re free and I want to try bananas. Verdant leaves shoot from the soil after a few weeks of my watering. A miracle!

Months later, a young father strolls his 4 year old son down the street. They stop to stare at five foot banana trees lining my driveway, opposite the papaya. Lanky leaves sway in the breeze.

“You know the banana you ate with your cereal,” the dad instructs his son. “It came from a tree like this.”

The boy gapes in amazement.

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard which a man takes and plants in his field.

                                                                                                                                                   Matthew 13:31

My first Florida garden is made of pots and window- and earth- boxes on the 2’x 20’ patio of my second floor apartment in Bradenton, Florida. Mostly herbs, as rosemary, basil and oregano, enliven my dwelling, along with a spindly tomato plant offering a pearl sized tomato. At least I am not bound indoors; I can step out the sliding glass door to crisp air, gleaming light and wisps of rain. But over time I realize I am ungrounded and long to live on the earth.

After five years there, I move to Sarasota, Florida. I now know it was essential that I rent a place where I can garden. I find a garage apartment adjoining a house whose tenant, Jessica, has similar leanings. The yard we share sits in a suburban neighborhood of mowed lawns and pruned bushes. I delight in the few houses nestled in native plants instead of grass.

My landlord gives me the green light. Since the backyard is heavily shaded, my boyfriend, Andrew, Jessica and I dig three 13’ x 4’ beds outside my front door which opens to the side of the house, facing south. The lawn maintenance guy informs me it was illegal to grow vegetables in the front yard. Apparently, he has run into trouble. Nevertheless, out front, by Jessica’s window, we dig another similarly sized bed and plant low growing, crawly foods like zucchini, watermelon and acorn squash with no backlash. Jessica chips in paying for water; I leave sweet potatoes, radishes and broccoli on the hood of her car.

[Mustard] is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows it is soon taller than the herbs and becomes a tree in whose branches the birds of the air build their nests. Matthew 13:32

I start plants from seed. I sow six varieties at a time, eight seeds per type. On average four varieties germinate and two of each survive. Attrition is high, but sometimes more grow than my garden can foster. So I cart tomato and mustard starts to our church in Andrew’s truck bed for folks to take home or email friends a list of surplus seedlings and they pick up cantaloupe and arugula starts from my driveway.

Andrew chuckles at my attachment to each plant. At the local organic farm where he works, it is common to sow extra trays of collard and spinach seeds. What doesn’t make it to the field is composted.

My endeavors are more personal. Tending to each plant becomes a matter of life or death. I lift each lilting lettuce toward the light. I soak every cilantro ‘til it’s satiated. And can’t abandon one thriving celery or squash sprout. After all, who knows what it’ll bring? Twirling okra that incites a child’s imagination? Deep purple tomatoes which stir a gardener’s heart? Sharing seedlings is missionary work.

Alyssa, the oldest daughter in the house bordering my garden, studies agriculture at an alternative high school. I learn this news chatting with her dad as he mows the lawn by my garden. I offer and she accepts green leaf and zucchini seedlings to bring to school to grow. Ever since, I come home to plastic bags of kale, tomatoes and kohlrabi hanging from my door knob. I tell her father they’re delicious! He admits he’s glad I take ’em; his family doesn’t know what to do with them. My heart sinks. He adds, “Alyssa is thrilled that I eat them.”

Mustard grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 78 AD

Carol and Cecily buy a house a few blocks away. My duplex-mate Jessica introduces us. Carol and Cecily are setting up a permaculture yard. They are planting perennial fruits and vegetables upon which they can graze. They invite me over to take a look. I gawk at the twisting twigs and budding leaves bending over glasses on the window sill – sweet potato starts! I have not been able to get any to sprout. Carol gives them to me – they’re extras.

I notice Carol and Cecily’s sweet potatoes grow well in the shade. I plant a few beneath the sprawling tree canopy out front where nothing seems to grow. They soon envelop the area in green.

[Mustard will] inexorably grow into something large and firmly rooted, which some [will] find shelter in and others [will] find obnoxious and try to root out. Ben Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A socio-rhetorical commentary, 2001

After two years, my landlord comes to the apartment to look at a clogged drain. He grumbles, “The property looks like a farm.” He doesn’t like the banana trees out front. I offer, reluctantly, to take them out. He declines. Months later, he calls to say a friend needs an apartment and gives me two and a half months to leave. I am in shock.

I click off the phone, crumble into Andrew’s arms and cry, “Now what am I going to do!” I am just starting to learn how to work with the land.

I sob, “He probably doesn’t like the tall shoots waving sprays of yellow flowers, soon to be mustard seeds.”

In my garden plants grow full circle. Emergent seedlings bud green amidst a bed of russet leaves. Vines and flowers soon fill the air with curves and forms of lavender and yellow. Then broccoli florets and rotund melons burst between green. Finally lettuce turns to seed and dwindling tomato branches hang brown, fall and unite with soil. Plants are not pruned for show.

Broken hearted, I dismantle my gardens. I pull out plants before the fullness of their time and shovel off two inches of topsoil that’s built up, leveling the beds with the surrounding lawn. Then scatter Bermuda grass seeds. I get a notion and wander to a house down the block whose lawn has recently been replaced with banana trees and native flowers and ferns gleaned from a nearby canal. I introduce myself to the owner and tell him of my plight. Then I offer gifts. His eyes pop as he helps himself to the rich dirt I’ve nourished to now enhance his sandy soil. He relishes the bags of leaves I’ve collected from neighbors’ curbs to use for mulch.

Church folks snatch tomato and okra seedlings ready to be planted. Jessica’s boyfriend grabs a banana start. As Andrew and I remove the remaining six foot sentries, my neighbor on Jessica’s side of the house piddles around her yard. Since I’ve lived here, Sarah has been away caring for her ailing mom. Her mom has now passed, so she is back, tending to what’s been neglected. I ramble over, say ‘hi’ and tell her my landlord’s told me to leave. Her sunny smile sinks, she sighs and says she has been looking forward to our being gardening buddies! I moan. I would have loved her companionship!

She covets my banana trees so we lug five pillars to her yard. She will plant them on the property line.

Andrew takes those remaining to the compost pile and chops them to pieces. A month later, I spot green sprouts emerging. Amazing! Our new landlord just remarked that he welcomes fruit trees. We grab the babes to plant along with dug up pineapples on our new property.

Wendell Berry says big problems require small solutions, place by place, among people who are faithful to the bonds of relationship and the lands entrusted to them.

Sometimes folks ask why I invest in land that is not mine. I am grateful to live closely with sun, soil and rain and partake in creation. I tell of rhythms and rhymes they bestow and I carry. I agree my gardens cease to exist when I leave, but surrounding trees, grass and bushes that remain are enlivened. A limp orange tree searching for light in a shaded yard bears rounder, juicier fruit. Grass below a thick canopy begins to grow. Bushes nearly barren fully flower. Drabness turns lush. My allegiance to the earth is fulfilled, at least in the land I am leaving.

[Mustard] is extremely beneficial for the health.      Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 78 AD

When I move, I not only pack inside belongings, but dig up, pot and transport strawberry, sweet potato, lavender and sage plants. Containers of blueberries, chives, and Okinawa spinach are carried away. Large pots of lemon balm and rosemary are discharged from duty as buffers to street traffic.

My boyfriend and I move to Venice, Florida, to help with family matters. We rent a relative’s place which they plan to sell in a year. There is no question about impermanence. Yet we are eager to bring to life the languishing property, making it more desirable to prospective buyers. Besides a majestic, overgrown oak out back, there is little vegetation and what is here is limp, moldy or wrangled with dry, brown leaves and branches. To some people this is dismal. To me it is a blank canvas.

I set up garden plots.

Andrew helps by digging a circular bed. It sits on our corner lot viewable by passersby on the busy street. I seed buckwheat to build up the soil in preparation for a fall garden. A small rectangular summer patch is placed nearby full of cherry tomatoes, collards, watermelon and yard long beans which thrive in the heat.

As Andrew and I pat soil around newly placed mango and lemon trees, a neighbor meanders over. She announces she has tons of plants and invites us to stop by to take our pick! Being welcomed by a kindred spirit is heartwarming!

I continue on, replanting sweet potatoes under the bedroom windows where they flourish in sandy soil. Strawberries are settled in by the shed.

The ground by the front door out the living room window is barren. I decide to unpot my rosemary and lemon balm, giving them to the land, freeing them from two year’s confinement. As I tilt pots towards holes in the earth, I witness twisted white veins filling every millimeter of space, squeezing every ounce of life from the soil. I feel pity and shame as I pull apart roots, gently coaxing them to spread and grow.

I am an emancipator on a crusade, realizing pots are for temporary use, not permanent dwelling. I scurry from potted plant to potted plant to set them free, no longer saving them for my someday home. I set spider plants with the natives out back by the fence. Chives, sage and lavender start an herb garden for the next owner. Only the blueberries remain in earth boxes, so I can better manage their acidity. The plants are no longer mine.


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Seasonal Fare

I have decided to discover and try to live aligned with natural cycles.

I had lost track of nature’s tempo, living mostly in well-lit, air-conditioned rooms, removed from ebbs and flows of light and dark, heat and cold. I had felt compelled to think in myriad directions at once, receiving cell phone calls at any time of day, sending me flitting from one activity to another. I had lost my sense of meter. So, I am looking now to the earth and sky to help me restore my rhythm.

But, it is hard to detect seasons in Florida. There are mostly mild, sunny days here, interrupted by sweltering, stormy summers and a few frigid frosts.  Used to the clear cycles of the Northeast, I find what rhythms there are here reversed, with vegetable gardens flourishing fall through spring and little growing in summer.

So, I have taken to gardening to live with this flow and learn of its passages. No longer buying plastic wrapped broccoli on a cellophane plate, I now touch the earth, place a seed, watch leaves and buds and follow the unfolding of life’s growth in phases. Not a product here and gone, with wrappers left to dispose of, but a relationship with a source of giving that is never ending, of which I am a part.

I have returned, too, to a more grounded route as a teacher, now tutoring for my profession. No longer trying to teach at-risk students, whose minds are distracted by hunger and fear, mandatory curricula of factoring trinomials and using the quadratic formula, I now meet with individual students on our own terms. We tell stories of sharing pieces of pizza, while moving colorful cut-up felt circles, and converse about wholes and parts. Through reason, in beauty, we discover patterns and processes of life with which we engage.

To live in the natural course of things, I refer to the traditional northern farming year as a framework, yet I invert it. Now, summer is the time to gaze over fallow fields, plan crops, repair tools and rest.  Fall is to sow seeds; winter and spring, to tend plants and to harvest.

And so, I plant crops and care for my garden, September through May, watering, weeding, and warding off critters. As the earth bears fruit, I gather what is yielded. From this and what local growers offer at the farmer’s market, I eat and prepare pickled brussel sprouts, Swiss chard pesto and dried zucchini to keep for the mostly barren summer. At times, I struggle with the utility of my actions, aware that I walk within seemingly artificial constraints. While friends freely buy California grapes and Maine apples, I confine myself to what is locally available: baby bananas, one week, star fruit, another. Yet, I feel excitement in discovering what treasures my surrounding area produces in its season and in living within these borders.

During the busy school year, I work with students, many of whom struggle with handwriting and sensory integration issues. Tomara finds it uncomfortable to write letters and numbers. Paul can’t focus on listening and learning, easily distracted by incidental sounds and his own thoughts. I grapple with ways to help them and other students’ overcome obstacles to the very foundations of learning. I look forward to summer to relax and reflect on how better to help them to learn.

Late spring, when temperatures rise too high for comfort as daylight lingers, I put my garden to rest, planting cover crops of lab lab and buckwheat to replenish the soil, as well as yard long beans and cherry tomatoes which can thrive in the scorching sun and incessant rain of Florida’s summer, without my care. I turn, now, for sustenance to my collection of canned vegetable soups, pickled mushrooms and dried bananas, along with the okra and Malabar spinach that still grow.

As the school year winds down and I look to summer, to rest and prepare for the next round, a bounty of opportunities to learn about sensory processing and handwriting spring up, like seedlings born of my inner questionings. Gratefully, I attend several local conferences and travel to Gainesville and New York for coursework. While my garden lies fallow, my teaching career feels as if in the height of the growing season. As when the earth yields more zucchini than one knows what to do with and one scrambles to preserve what’s given for another season, books, materials and teaching tips flourish and I gather what I can to take for use in the next school year. Though too hot for most vegetables to grow, this is clearly a time of expansion.

As September’s heat breaks with the shortening of days and temperatures again grow hospitable to vegetal life, I sow seeds for my fall garden and begin again working with students, rested and eager from a summer of frolic and freedom. Though eager to work with my new insights and tools, I am baffled at how I missed the rest I had hoped summer would afford me, as it did my garden and students. But, as autumn’s activity augments, I move in step, resolved to get rest next time ‘round. While cantaloupes and collards sprout and flourish in the cooling sun, I give more engaging handwriting lessons and introduce movements which develop focus to my students, enriching them with my summer’s yield. I notice, now, that the produce from my garden is more nutritious than last year’s and the fruit from the soil of my teaching has progressed.

Come January, with its darkened days and dull chill, viruses afflict folks around me and I frequently feel on the verge of illness. My boyfriend, Andrew, is weakened by the flu for weeks, staying home from work and sleeping a lot. Realizing he had overdone it over the holidays, he resolves to take off the week after Christmas next year, to regenerate. My neighbor, Jessica, notices she that has gotten sick at this time over the past years and decides to simply do less and retreat at this point. I, too, come to see that this is my resting season and that Florida, as part of the northern hemisphere, is in contraction. Though warm enough for plants to flourish, leaves have left the trees and it is a time of going within.

As mustard, lima beans and arugula are bursting with life in my garden, I feel tired most of the time.  Against an almost addictive pull, I stop myself from unnecessary study and canning, afraid of getting sick and not fulfilling my teaching commitments. When not at work, I lie around, napping and reading, spending a lot of time alone. The silence and absence of activity feels empty and lifeless at times, while sleep was fraught with dreams, enmeshed with jumbled thoughts and feelings. I journal to unearth distorted beliefs and am surprised to see tendencies revealed of my diminishing myself as a female and looking outside for authority, rather than trusting what I know. Day by day, I watch as underlying thoughts surface.  Within the stillness, old beliefs uproot and new ideas emerge. I have heard it said that the void is the source of creation. I now understand how in still spaces we find new life.

As Jacarandas bud and sweet potatoes flower, spring emerges. With the increasing daylight of a warming sun, I wonder what will emerge. What I know for sure, is that my course is more grounded and less chaotic, as it is bound to the rhythms of growth and gathering, rest and renewal.

 


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The Journey of Becoming

As my neighbor was fixing the gutter, he complained to me about the never ending upkeep of a house. He then looked at my garden and bemoaned it as requiring a lot of work. I began to think about how we always want to get to a place where everything is set and no longer in need of effort. We feel that this would be the life.

I got to thinking, is this not death?

As a child, I had learned of this ideal. It came to me in the image of a business man sitting back with his legs up on his desk and his hands clasped behind his head. He had arrived! I had wondered, though, about the wake he left behind him: the workers whose concerns weren’t heard, the issues not addressed, the processes not kept in check. To me, this aspiration led to doom.

Yet despite feeling this way, I find the idea rooted in my thinking. I believe I should automatically know what’s going on and what to do next. I feel embarrassed when I am not up on current events being discussed and foolish when I don’t know how to respond to a student’s challenge. I don’t grasp that I am in an endless process of learning and becoming. Instead, I feel like I should already “be there” or else something is wrong and needs fixing.  Being schooled in a way that recognizes only mastery conditions our minds this way.

National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner travelled the world, finding and studying groups of people who have lived the longest. A common thread among them was that their cultures had no concept of retirement, the ultimate place of arrival for many of us.  Instead, Elder folks worked and contributed in ways that they could to their families and communities.  In so doing, they had a sense of worth, which fed their souls and kept their minds and bodies enlivened. Not ease, nor health care, but effort and purpose gave them longevity.

As I wash my dishes and listen to the news, it is clear to me there is no arrival, only continuous travel, or what some might call, “travail.” The hope of getting somewhere is fruitless. It is seeking for that which cannot be found.  For, as we reach one destination, another appears on the horizon, in an endless cycle.

This all becomes meaningless when we focus only on our outer doings, forgetting the inner paths we are on too. While seeking to form the world to our liking, we can also become informed by it of its ways, ones that in the end are very much to our liking. In so doing, we can develop ourselves and our relationships with others and cultivate virtues like patience, kindness and understanding. These bring us the stability and peace we seek in our outer lives but cannot find there alone.  This, I believe, is what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven within us.

Rudolph Steiner, who created Waldorf Schools, referred to this path when he said that the spiritual being develops in the world as the child does in the womb. This world is our place of spiritual gestation.

I believe that only when our inner lives are enlightened by lessons learned along life’s way can our outer works be guided by wisdom and satisfy us in the ways we truly desire. This process is not always easy, but its fruits are nourishing, enlivening and uplifting.

In the never ending flow of life, we can find meaning and fulfillment through this dance of becoming.