Tag Archives: nature

Montana Ode to Spring– A Walk In The Woods

…in honor of all mothers of every kind everywhere…

“If it’s wild to your own heart, protect it. Preserve it. Love it. And fight for it, and dedicate yourself to it, whether it’s a mountain range, your wife, your husband, or even (god forbid) your job. It doesn’t matter if it’s wild to anyone else: if it’s what makes your heart sing, if it’s what makes your days soar like a hawk in the summertime, then focus on it. Because for sure, it’s wild, and if it’s wild, it’ll mean you’re still free. No matter where you are.” ― Rick Bass

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Sandhill Crane

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photo credit: fwallpapers.com

There are days in Montana when you feel like you are actually dancing with flora and fauna. On just a regular Saturday drive through the woods, in addition to countless critters, today I saw some rare ones:
A Sandhill Crane
A Black Bear

A Loon
A Trumpeter Swan
A Bald Eagle with a fish in its talons

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

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Arnica

And some springtime favorites:
Calypso Orchid (Fairy Slippers)
Glacier Lily
Oregon Grape
Arnica
Wild Strawberry

And my very favorite NW Montana tree: (the only conifer to lose its needles each fall) The Larch, so new and green among its fellow soldier conifers

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Calypso Orchid

 

larch

Larch

lily

Glacier Lily

 

strawberry

Wild Strawberry

grape

Oregon Grape

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Loons

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I would love to share my Montana Muse with you at a Haven Retreat
2015 (now booking)

June 3-7 (full with wait list)
June 17-21 (full with wait list)
September 9-13 (almost full)
September 23-27
October 7-11
October 21-25

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
–John Muir

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Create Community– You Don’t Have to Do it Alone!

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015 "I write in a solitude born out of community." -Terry Tempest Williams

Montana February Haven Retreat, 2015

as seen on Women Writers, Women’s Books

“I write in a solitude born out of community”—Terry Tempest Williams

I am home from leading a five day writing retreat in the woods of Montana where hundreds of people have come in the last three years to dig deeper into their creative self-expression on the page. That is my invitation to them. That is my only promise: we will dig deeply and I will keep it a loving, safe, and nurturing community. My call: Find your voice. Set it free. You do not have to be a writer to come to a Haven Retreat. Only a seeker. Come.

Look into these faces, these eyes, these smiles. These were strangers on a Wednesday, who journeyed to Montana from hundreds…thousands of miles in every direction.

This photograph was taken on Saturday night, three days later. This is what can happen when people gather to create in community, held safely by someone who knows what it is to use writing as a practice, a prayer, a meditation, a way of life, and sometimes a way to life.

I will keep doing this work until I answer the question I have asked my entire adult life: Do I have to do this alone? Is there anyone out there who cares? Is there anyone out there who can help me?

Be careful if you want to go on a writing retreat. I designed the retreat that I would want to go on, so Haven offers no “easy” way to get published, no bullet points to follow for success, no slick method to find your voice, no guru to worship. No gift shop, no 5-step DVD.

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Haven offers community, support, inspiration, and a place to take yourself apart a bit and weave yourself back together, new…through heart language. It is the most important work, outside of what I have birthed in my children and my own written stories, that I have ever done.

I didn’t know about writing retreats when I claimed my life as a writer in 1988, fresh out of college. I thought I had to do it alone. I didn’t trust community to understand my yearning, my craving, to make sense of this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. I didn’t trust community to give me permission to look into the dark corners and shine a light on an otherwise dim place.

My writing was for me. Alone. And I couldn’t understand why the product wasn’t landing in people’s hearts. I longed to be published and to every sinking sun I begged: Please let me be published to wide acclaim.

And then one day, after years of struggle, writing book after book, story after story, essay after essay, and always a journal nearby, I asked myself why. Why? Why this pain from something I was devoting my life to? At that time, I had learned my craft well enough to land an excellent New York agent who had gained the attention of some major publishing houses. There was hope that my words would land in readers’ laps to a significant degree. But things kept breaking down in the end, and I was bereft.

So I looked into a blank page, as was my practice, my most safe and dangerous place, and asked m

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yself: Why do I write? This is what came out:I write to shine a light on a dim or otherwise pitch black corner to provide relief for myself and others. It floored me. Relief? Service? Not just Sense? That changed everything.

If I was writing to help, I needed a new perspective. And that perspective felt spacious. Expansive. Full of possibility. I had already cultivated a hunger for my seeking spirit on the page. In-so-doing, maybe it was possible to help others do the same just by relating with my raw real journey. And THAT’S when I got published. Well-published.

New York Times best-selling author published. Suddenly I was on major media, driving around in limos, going to the book signings of my dreams. It was powerful, but nothing in comparison to the act of creating. And I got it: What we must long for…is our voice. Our craft. Our way of seeing…and what our stories want to say. It was the best news I could imagine because we can control that! I couldn’t wait to get back home and back to my writing.

The poet Rilke says, “Go to the limits of your longing.” That longing, for me, is in the creation, not the product. It’s in the process. The work. We can control the work. That’s it. Success and failure are myths. That is the greatest relief I’ve known and why it occurred to me one day to lead writing retreats. If I am an authority on anything, it’s how to do the work. How to cultivate your own unique voice and become hungry for it.

To show up for it every day and find out what it has to say. We are so caught up in the supposed-to-be and the should and the perfection of it all that we forget what this writing thing is all about: it’s in the ability to give ourselves permission to put our hearts in our hands. To see where we are in our own way, and truly feel our flow. To go where it’s natural, not forced. To have it be easy. How about that? Easy? Breathe into the groundlessness of that and live there for a moment. Feels good, doesn’t it.

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A woman on my last retreat took that breath one morning, sun streaming in through the Montana winter skies, and said it so perfectly: “There is a way to use my head if I let it follow my heart.” She looked around the room and smiled at each of us. Born out of community, yes. And held by sacred solitude.

Please, if you hunger for your voice, if you need permission to speak it, if you value the transformational tool that is the written word, consider giving yourself the unstoppable experience of writing in community.

The next Haven Retreat is at the incredible Ranch at Rock Creek

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April 29th-May 3rd

For more info, email:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com


 

 

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Retreat Season: A Time to be Mindful

As featured on the front page of Huffington Post 50
dock_2Mindfulness is on the map.  Time Magazine ran it on its cover last January:  “The Mindful Revolution.”  The Chicago Tribune headlined it:  Use mindfulness to pull yourself out of a funk.  An article in The New York Times urges us to use mindfulness and meditation as a powerful resource in healthy living.  The Washington Post challenges us to be mindful at work.  The Huffington Post offers 5 mindful things to do every day.  And Forbes touts mindfulness as a tool for Success.  (And we all know what Forbes means when they talk about $success$.)  It’s like a miracle or something.  Mindfulness has been my dearest pursuit for as long as I can remember.  I just didn’t know what word to attach to it.  And maybe that was because I was fairly positive that mainstream society wouldn’t support it.  I’ve never been very good at being called names.  So in an effort to lessen the offense, I decided to call myself a Writer.  And I moved to Montana where nobody seemed to care one way or another.

I have spent the last 25 years living in Montana, writing with all my mindful might.  The natural world is the perfect stage to develop this practice, this prayer, this meditation, this way of life, and sometimes this way to life.  I fiercely believe that creative self-expression on the page should be up there with diet and exercise as a therapeutic tool in the realm of preventative wellness…whether or not it adds up to a published work.  Writing is the best way I know to process this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life.  And nature has been my best writing (mindfulness) teacher, calling me to retreat into my most sacred, quiet, deliberate place and find the wilderness of my words.

This time of year is a loyal reminder of the power of retreating into that still place.   As summer winds down, my muse steps out of the huckleberry bushes and mountain lakes, stretches and notices the trajectory of things.  Like dragonflies on screens.  And Monarchs on Echinacea.  And bats hanging in eaves.  This is the time of year when I stop the flurry of my summer check list, and start to imagine the world white again.  Dormant.  Where I get still, the world sleeps, the woodstove teases ideas into words which turn into stories, and most important, morph into understanding.

Late summer’s corner into autumn is the perfect time to abide with the rhythms of the natural world.  To pay attention to how it prepares slowly, methodically, mindfully, for that dormancy.  Nothing is an accident.  Every winged thing knows that everything counts, especially the ones who stay.  Every hibernating creature is taking stock, making sure it has just the right kind of burrow with the right kind of egress.  I follow their lead, preparing for a winter of words.

It’s the same every year.  After months of ignoring the stacks in my house, the clutter in my closets, the flung grenades in my garage, I find myself hungry to clean it all out.  I go through my pantry, making sure I have the basics:  flour, sugar, clean Mason jars for the jam and canned tomatoes I’ll put up in a few weeks.  I gather the gardening tools which have been too long leaning against fences, hose them down, return them to their home in the shed.  And my office—I divide the things that I thought would matter from the things that do matter—trash the former, file the latter.  In other words, I throw away a lot.

All of this is in anticipation of autumnal work which I have learned is essential to my winter work.  Autumn is the time to prime the pump of my creative flow.  Prime it so that it will flow through deep freeze.  Autumn is the time for mindfulness at its best:  It’s the time for retreat.

With the first hint of chill, I know that it’s time to retreat into that free zone which summer has procured.  I sleep with my windows wide open to let the night air roll over me, hoping that it will filter into my dreams and fuel my muse.  I keep my journal close to my bed, and I wake up early and open it, feeling my words sift through my mind’s fingers like the larch needles that will fall in early October.  I let them come.  I don’t think about how they might stack up.  I don’t need them to add up to anything other than freedom.  Permission.  Hunger.  Need.  The work will come in winter.  For now it’s time to stretch my mind, loosen what has lodged there in the summer months, let it flow.

Where do we get this free zone in life?  Where is pure expression without scrutiny ever exercised in our lives?  When I am in this corner season, I am less interested in the words, and more interested in where they come from.  It’s like a portal place.  An opening deep in the forest where I used to imagine the animals and fairies and teddy bears went in the nighttime to dance around bonfires.  I believed in that place as a little girl.  When I am finding and releasing words in this way, I am that little girl again.  We all need to be that child.  Children know that freedom is more than a high concept or a goal or that it comes with a cost.  They know that it is a place inside us and they know they have to access it in order to do everything else that constitutes living.

That’s what writing is for me.  That free zone.  That place behind the words and stories.  And that’s what I want other people to know.  It’s not unlike the birds and chipmunks preparing for winter.  It’s taking stock.  It’s finding the basics.  It’s procuring survival.  It is a retreat into self.  I believe in retreats as a vital way to tap into that creative self-expression on the page.  I know I need them and I believe other people do too.  So in the spirit of what I have been practicing for many years, mindful writing, I started Haven Retreats.

This fall, forty brave “grown-ups” will come to Montana to dig deeply into that wilderness that lives in them.  Some will call themselves “writers.”  Some will not.  Some will have stories they want to write.  Some will simply hope for words to come and to meet them on the page like new friends.  It’s my job to lead them to their words by inspiring them to go places they would not likely go on their own.  To facilitate an experience for them that they can walk away with and weave into their daily lives.  When people do this sort of work, they become aware of who they are; that portal place in the woods where they dance around bon-fires, unabashed.

The act of going on a retreat is not woo woo.  Leaving our daily lives behind and retreating into our primal rhythms, our purest flow, has been done since the beginning of time.  The Native Americans went on Vision Quests.  Jesus went to the desert.  Buddha went to the Bo tree.   Muhamad went to a cave.  From those retreats came stories and words.  Wise words that have lasted ages and profoundly informed how our civilization endures.  Mindfulness, especially on a retreat, is ancient practice.  It’s no small surprise then, that our country’s major publications consider this important “news.”  With the stresses of our current world, people are understanding the value of what we have lost and what nature does intuitively.   Mindfully.  Deliberately.  Creating ourselves over and over again.  And that, indeed, is miraculous.

 

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To Teach

dove

bird on a wire in the desert

My next Haven Retreat is a rare event in Boston after the MA Conference for Women. If you seek a deeper relationship with your creative self-expression…come!  Here’s the info.

I had a personal day today. I wrote. I rode a bike around Tubac, Arizona where I just lead a Haven retreat. I took photographs. I looked at light and breathed deep. Here’s something that came in on the desert wind:

TO TEACH

To teach is to listen for heart language
And to let people know that they have a pulse.
Or to remind them.
Sometimes to convince them.

To teach is to aid and abet the vivid “yes”
And the vivid “no”
And to call the troops off the battlefield
At least for the observance of Sunday supper.

To teach is to see past windows of eyes
Into souls
And be a curator with hands behind you
Not touching the painting
But seeing its meaning
Feeling the waves of the oil-brushed tempest against the dinghy
Smelling the salt air
And the breath of the painter
Knowing, if you were to point,
Exactly where her tear dropped
Into that salt sea.

To teach is to push a cart up a steep hill.
And have a line of people who believe in your brawn and compass.
And feet’s familiarity with the ground.
And to have people fall out of line.
Stray.
Turn back.
Come in front of you and push against the cart.
Until you show them a better place to push.

You say, “Thank you.”  

You feel a wordless joy.

And you weep a little.
But only inside.

You have a cart to push.
And you are tired.
And your muscles are in question.
And your sense of direction.
And you can never remember on which hilltop stands:
The Bo Tree
Golgotha
That mount.

You are a student.
You know where it is.
You just need reminding.

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Haven August 2013

portrait

2014 (Now Booking!)

February 26- March 2
June 18-22
September 10-14
September 24-28
October 8-12
October 22-26

When this Haven group left, there were tears, new friendships; there was transformation, fierce self-expression, and most of all community.  We need community, especially in our creative pursuits.  I want you to look at these pictures.  I want you to imagine giving yourself your dreams, despite what your inner critic says, or your friends and family for that matter.  Take a stand for what you believe in.  What you want.  What you want to create!  And if that sparks a desire to come to Haven…DO IT FOR YOURSELF!  In the minute of the spark…is the flame.  Come burn.  yrs. Laura

Here’s what a few of my last retreaters wrote about their Haven experience.

Click here  and here and here.

Yes

It could happen any time, tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen. Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know. That’s why we wake and look out–no guarantees in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning, like right now, like noon, like evening.

–William Stafford

(with thanks to Lorrie…and all the  Haven brave and beautiful souls.  Thank you for your enormous YES!)  This is for you.

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Montana Haven

Montana has been my home, my muse, my inspiration, my teacher, my challenger, my haven for over twenty years this month.  Here is my tribute to this Last Best Place under the Big Sky.

Come with me on an adventure of a lifetime!

Haven Retreats in Montana: email me:  laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

August 7th-11th (full)

September 4th-8th (full with a wait list)

September 18th-22nd (full with wait list) 

 

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Garden Haven

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Come with me on an adventure of a lifetime!

Haven Retreats in Montana: email me:  laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

August 7th-11th (just a few spots left)

September 4th-8th (now booking)

September 18th-22nd (full with wait list)

This year, a miracle occurred in my garden.  It wasn’t a great year.  Let’s just leave it at that.  And I decided that my home was my safe haven.  So I took crystals from a light fixture that belonged to my childhood room and wired them to the old honeysuckle wood that surrounds the archway beginning my garden path.  And I decided that they were protection.  That in passing under that crystal be-decked archway, I would be protected, whether I was entering my home, or exiting it.  Every time I passed under, I took a deep breath and imagined myself surrounded in a white light that nothing or no one could permeate.

Fall came, and with it, the usual garden death and dormancy.  One by one, the last asters and sedum and black-eyed Susans gave way to frost. Then rain, matted it all down, their winter cover.  I chose not to put the garden to bed as I usually do, cutting back the stems so that in the spring, the tulips and jonquils have space to send their shoots.  I just let the garden blanket itself, knowing that snow would soon come, holding that blanket firm.  I’d pull off the plant blanket in the early spring when the snow melted to make way for the bulbs.  But each day, as I passed under that arch, the crystals hanging from stark, leafless, bloomless honeysuckle wood…I noticed that there were a few small branches that weren’t yet dormant. Paler green leaves, yes, and limp less-orange blooms…but still thriving.  November, December, January, February…they held on in the driving ice and snow of a Montana winter.  I couldn’t believe it.

It was as much hopeful as it was stubborn as it was a little scary and sad.  I worried about the whole vine, not taking its winter rest.  I rely on that archway to be full of lush orange and green welcome all summer long, and I feared that the honeysuckle was somehow trying to martyr itself for me.  But there was nothing I could do but just receive this feat of nature as what it needed to be.  I wasn’t sure what that was.   But I had to let go.  I finally resolved that it was a gift.  It was promising protection, year long, and it was getting its power from the crystals of my childhood ceiling light– one which I gazed into all my foundational years for comfort.  I thanked it every time I passed through.  Which meant that I not only felt protection.  But I felt gratitude too.  Gift after gift.  Day after day.

And this summer, in its twenty year long life, I have never seen my garden in such profusion.  I let it go.  And it took care of itself.   And even thrived when it wasn’t supposed to.  The lesson in this runs as deep as those honeysuckle roots.  Sometimes when we let go, the world holds us just a little closer, a little more bravely, a little more tenderly.  And hope abounds.

Please enjoy this slideshow of my garden haven, 2013 by clicking the right arrow after each slide:

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #25

May we open ourselves to the gift of self-expression with empathy and courage.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

Saving the Community/World by Angelika Bowerman

When I was a little girl growing up in Germany my mother taught each of us kids how precious life is.  We had a small apartment with a balcony and I remember my mom putting out small pieces of cheese and bread for the birds, especially in cold winter times. There were many times that we tried to nurse a sick or almost dead bird back to life but most of the time they died. This instilled in me a sense of wanting to preserve life and to do my part in preserving the environment around me. One of my favorite things to do is to hike in forests or walk a beach appreciating with all of my senses-seeing and hearing my beautiful surroundings.

Appreciating nature makes me an environmentalist of sorts but mostly with my heart. Mind you I help people in my day job but “saving the world” has been a heartfelt passion of mine and I want to find ways to contribute. What I do is I support a handful of agencies that do just that, they are working to save the world.  My favorite such agency is the Nature Conservancy.  I have been a member for several years and enjoy hearing about all the work I do through my measly contributions.  Over the years many articles have made me smile and I feel really good to be in support of such an awesome organization.  The article “The Missing Link” from the 2012 #4 magazine has especially inspired me and I wanted to share these feelings with others. I feel admiration for the vision of the projects, the human initiative and how this inspires me, the individual, to action.

My admiration is endless when I read how the project manager plans the project of protecting the California Connection so that this ecological corridor  will connect with vast ecosystems to the east, west, north and  south. I admire how he and his team actually see the whole picture of conservancy and sustainability of the land. Each time the Nature Conservancy buys a portion of land, they are making a difference not only locally but for our planet Earth and this is mind blowingly amazing to me. The collaboration that takes place by working with landowners, ranchers and conservation groups is short of making miracles happen in my eyes.

The  result of that this project shows Project director E.J. Remson and his team able to secure a corridor of 50 miles of the Tehachapi range in California for conservation and yet improve conditions for cattle operation. The conservationists not only saved this area from construction of more housing projects and development but with their efforts left behind a sustainable community that will leave the land much less abused and open to wildlife. It takes people that take their passion, their talents and their initiative to start a project from the bottom with an idea and spin it into the actual  possibilities.

The initiative of such individuals as E. J. Remson can actually change the way things have been done for a long time.  The cattle ranches in the area of Tehachapi  have been ranched for generations.  Typically cattle graze near a river for water and this area gets easily overgrazed.  The Conservancy helped build water towers across the range to have cattle graze more evenly throughout the land. This not only protects the Ranches but is a crucial wildlife corridor for migratory species.  These special projects inspire me do my part to preserve what I can.

My personal inspiration shows in my back yard; it is a natural sanctuary with tree trunks, berry bushes and big trees that many birds, butterflies and other critters enjoy. I share this little piece of heaven with others that can sit with me on my deck watching the birds around us.

I feel that I am making a difference in a minor but important and steady way.

So while I am not really “changing the world,” I can congratulate myself in doing my portion by supporting an agency that affects major change. I,on the other hand, will read about the awesome and inspiring projects that I support with my heart.

This article on saving the Tehachapi Corridor is in line with what I consider helping a community and saving the world, one project at a time. What started many years ago with my mother affecting her environment is now my firm belief that I must do what I can in my lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Long Ago: Community Entry #7

Benign fences in the wilderness of writing...

I took a break from my winter writing retreat to join the living and it was scary how quickly those buttons called and how quickly I heeded that call.  I’m back for a week and then will retreat again.  I’m beginning to think I could live off-the-grid forever.

Submissions for my Long Ago:  Community series/contest close tomorrrow.  Thank you to all who have entered.  I have loved reading your stories.  I will announce the winner in mid-February…but the truth is…we’re all winners when we share community.  Thank you.  yrs. Laura

Please enjoy this journey of mindfullness, land, food, and deep connection…with writer, Emma KateTsai.

Common Ground, by Emma Kate Tsai

Context clues couldn’t prepare me for what I found when I arrived at the Live Oak Friends Meeting House, those five words more than just the name of a facility, a place of worship, a center for congregation.  Each word lent its own definition to a place—the space, the land, the built structures, the air that moved between all three elements—that was nature and humanity and togetherness and home.  I felt the grass and dirt beneath my feet, the common ground we stand on, the common ground we share.  And that’s why I was there.  For the Common Ground Festival, a gathering a local farmer had organized to raise money for a community garden.

David, the farmer, introduced himself to all of us. But he didn’t tell us what college he went to, or where he was from. Instead he told us about his relationship with land. That he spent summers on his grandfather’s farm.  That he wanted to grow bamboo.  That his men knew the land intimately, they spoke its language, and he demonstrated how they showed height by a simple stroke upwards and laid down seeds with a kind of balletic arm. I fell into a kind of trance as I watched the graceful movements of hands that have worked the land, but never stopped being gentle with it.  David would close his eyes sometimes, thinking about what he wanted to say next, letting his mind catch up with him, maybe.  “Friends, music, food, and silence,” he went on. Together, they would contribute in some way to common ground, that ground being the garden he was helping to erect.

A teacher named Kimberly Alexander spoke next.  She smiled without trying or needing any encouragement, she stood easy with herself and straight without straining. “We’re growing humanity together in my classroom,” she breathed, “where I teach ESL to such amazing students.  I’m in love with every single one of them.” A Chinese boy with a self-portrait of a face running with tears that had no mouth.  He had no voice, because he couldn’t speak English.  A boy who’d been rejected by the girl he loved, and said, “I feel like a lemon with the juice extracted.”

She told stories like a mother might. We were all each other’s children, each other’s mothers, in that room, that day.  As Kimberly talked, her paintings were passed around, each one inspired by one of her students, containing a line of their dialogue. She let the students be heard—through her words—and seen—through her art.  “See, we’re all displaced.  All of us don’t belong.”  Which means all of us do.

Then it was Darwin Nelson’s turn.  Bamboo brought he and David together. He grabbed a chair and sat down, explaining his behavior as he did so, “I’m gonna sit down because I’m a student, not a teacher, so I’m gonna sit with all o’ you.” Darwin spoke with a Texas drawl, which was encloaked in a deep, timbred voice.  His wasn’t a presentation, or a speech, but half a conversation.

“This is such a peaceful place, is it not?” Darwin asked, and our answer was merely assumed, not heard. “All the Nelsons,” he says, using that very Texan way to refer to his family, quickly taking us to places I’ve never heard of—Mount Home, Spring Creek—“we were married to North America.  The reason why I tell you this is to tell you we were in the minority view.  Doin’ sheep in cattle country.”  Darwin emphasized his words carefully, speaking some with full force and volume, never forgetting to help us along.  Like Larry McMurtry, this Texas-wise man spoke a language that was both Texan-colloquial and literary at the same time.

“I have a li’l bamboo farm, nothing like David’s, but I feel good bein’ there,” he says, almost scowling with intensity as he leads us toward the wisest of all plants.  “The key to happiness is relationships.  Happiness is love.  Hard to go wrong with that.  There’s interpersonal, right, an intrapersonal, our relationship with our self. And we’re rougher on ourselves. Remember, everything’s about connections.  There is no such thing as individual.”  He pauses. “Each person is a system.  We exist in an environment, just as a plant does, in the soil and the sun.  That’s the healthy way to exist, that means being human.” His big, almost childlike, hands move through the air.  They have lived.

A history of bamboo follows: its nativity to Texas, why it works in our climate, stories from China of how horses “kill for bamboo” and only the emperor’s horses could have it—it gave them a sheen.  He talks about the fertile river valley, and how the plant is really an ancient grass that’s older than the trees.  “I don’t disagree with the Dalai Lama on much, but I disagree with him on this.  He thinks plants don’t think, but I know bamboo does.  A mother bamboo plant cares about its children, squeezing moisture out so the children plants will live.”  Then, he seamlessly brings us—people—back into the world that bamboo lives in: “The Internet has helped us connect, and we’re all connected.” Darwin looks out the window again. “I don’t like to see houses and cars and stuff.  I like things perfectly quiet.”  Adjusting his glasses with both his hands, almost like a little boy, he continues weaving his tale, one of love and romance, really.  “I’ve been studying bamboo for thirty-seven years, and I’ve learned more from it than I have anything else. I was sixty-five and almost dead—yeah, I’m a slow learner—and I woke up on a stage in India, with a bouquet of flowers in my arms.  I found a sudden awareness.  I’d smoked, I weighed three hundred and fifty pounds, and I was arthritic.  You know?  You kill yourself off that way.”  Darwin leans over his arm towards us. “What do you need to live?”  We look at one another, kids in a classroom afraid to answer and disappoint this man we already look up to.  “You need to breathe, right? Drink water, eat, exercise, and sleep.  That’s it. Do you know less than three percent of people do that?”

Darwin moves further and further into my own psyche, my own philosophy, at a leisurely pace, until I barely know where I am.  I feel a bit suspended in mid-air, so thrilled to be in the presence of someone who knows more than I do about what I believe.  He puts his hand up as if to tell us to stop, but he doesn’t.  “China’s struggling.  All from bad habits.  I clicked on to it finally.  Gardening is the single most important thing in the world.  Look at Emerson and Thoreau.  Read books.  Take action. Stay close to nature.  It’s what people have forgotten.  We don’t know where our food comes from.  Think reflectively, naturally breathe.  Start and end every day.  Otherwise, they just never end.  People used to go to bed at sundown, they had a balance.  Bamboo illustrates all that.  It’s really a Chinese philosophy.  Humility, strength, flexibility. Bamboo bends, it won’t break, it has a quality of selflessness.  That’s the secret to long life.  Bamboo is resilient, it nurtures itself, it creates shade, it stops erosion, you can build with it.  But,” he teases, “it helps to be seventy.  Things make impressions.”  He pauses again.  “What we do we need to eat for?  Why? For energy.  At twenty-five, the brain stops growing.  I never thought of it.  So we need to regulate entropy.  What we need is balance.  Things, people, that give back more than they take.  Do what David’s talking about, and you can’t keep the people away. It’s all about friendship, and peace.”

I sat there, trying to catch my breath from all that he said, and I couldn’t help feeling like we were sitting around a campfire, and he was sitting in the middle. Walking around, symbols of humanity caught my eye: all the clothes, how different they all were, what they said about their wearers; the smiles on nearly everyone’s faces, people introducing themselves in every corner of the house and the open air that surrounded it.  I looked down at my wrinkled shirtsleeve stained red from the hibiscus.  It looked like a battle wound.  I almost hoped it wouldn’t wash out.  Then I walked out into the garden, or what was just a lawn but would soon become a garden. David’s men sat under a tree, one solo band member began setting up quietly and respectfully, making no eye contact with me or anyone but his instruments and the concrete floor.  I noticed a grown woman in a sweet jumper who made me smile.

We walked back in, took our seats—I moved to the other side—and we quieted down.  All voices went still, all footsteps softened, and people began shhhing one another, but in an affectionate way.  We were all friends here.

Links:

David’s farm is Utility Research Garden, and the URL is http://www.utilityresearchgarden.com

Darwin’s Bamboo Farm: http://bambootexas.com/

The Meeting House: http://friendshouston.org/

 

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Haven from Home

Even when you live in the wilds of Montana, life is life, and life is busy. So what might be one person’s creative haven, could very well be another’s Grand Central Station. To that end, during this time of my Long Ago: Community series, I have sought haven at a little cabin up near the Canadian border. No heat. No running water. No electricity. No cell phone service. Outhouse. Mountain Lion paw prints on the porch upon arrival. Hip high snow. Miles from a neighbor this time of year.

I thought I’d give my readers some visuals. This is what happens when you realize you bet wrong on how much drinking water you needed. Enjoy!
yrs.
Laura

Snow tete a tete

Wok fried snow

Snuggled snow by the wood stove

“There are certainly times when my own everyday life seems to retreat so the life of the story can take me over. That is why a writer often needs space and time, so that he or she can abandon ordinary life and “live” with the characters.”

–Margaret Mahy

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Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, Haven Newsletter, My Posts, Retreats