Sunday, September 27, 2020

Trust the Journey

Embracing Uncertainty
A half-century or so ago, a kid-from-Kansas washed up on the shores of California. It was like rain falling on a desert seed which then blossomed into a love affair.

A bit more than fifty years later, wearied after so many moves, that same not-such-a-kid turned up in a not-California place, determined to grow where she had been planted. After all, it was the beginning of the year of perfect vision and a bright new decade stretched before her. 

So, she began to spin a dream, a dream of delight, a dream of living from her true center … learning, creating, connecting, and sharing. Soon, change came, saying, “Ok, you want a ride? Let’s go!”

All around her, storms began to tear at the old foundations. While the winds of politics howled, an unseen enemy locked down the customary paths of everyday life, and hatred, hurricanes, floods, and fires raged across the land, making life seem less predictable, each day a precious gift.

In the midst of the cacophony of tribulations, our weary traveler heard a tinkling bell and followed it, step-by-step, to a blue lake … in California … where a new adventure was waiting.

I sit here in the still-dark morning, the stuff of my life melting away, my new turtle shell home looming on the empty lot just outside my door, waiting for the rest of my basic necessities to be stuffed into its nooks and crannies.

Five days from now, a man with a truck will shepherd my tiny home toward a new life, a new project, a return to California. I have moved for jobs, for a partner, for reasons not quite understood. 
This time, I’m moving to follow a still-undefined project that calls me. Bits and pieces of the project are clear: California - wildflowers - nature - indigenous wisdom … but the details are still a swirling fog and it’s easy to fall into doubt: Who am I to attempt something which feels so enormous?

Every once in a while I just breathe deeply and try to remember to trust the journey. This morning I woke to my mostly empty house, words demanding space on the page, and a thousand questions rattling through my brain, wondering if I'm on the right path.

Breathe. Trust the journey. Breathe.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Wander & Wonder Date #1: First turnings of Fall

Stop #1 along Hwy 88
Recently I made a decision to uproot my life in order to answer a question: What would it feel like to feel connected to nature? 

It’s a question that has been emerging for some time. Several years ago, in a values exercise with a friend, “connection” was in my top three values, and, more recently, the tagline for my art appeared as “connecting through art.” 

Connection may be what I’ve been looking for my entire life. Strange things seem to be churning my decisions, pulling me in directions which seem to have no logical rhyme or reason, making me feel somewhat like I’m just along for the ride, paying the bills and packing the boxes.

You know those fall wind spirits that swirl leaves and dust like a mini-tornado? That’s a bit like what’s going on in my head. I catch bits and pieces … wildflowers and nature, California and connection ... but can’t seem to grasp the whole. I know I need time in nature, slow time to observe, to invite connection, to feel myself as part of the universal whole, part of nature. I have the sense that this is going to take a new way of being in the world. Thus chopping and tossing my life like Sunday fruit salad. 
I’m not sure I can do any of this. I’m a product of my first 74 years and the dominant culture that considers the earth a supply cabinet of resources. Do I even know how to begin to open up to a different way of knowing, learning, and being?

Today was a baby step that tells me I have far to go. However, it was a joyfully delightful day so that must count for something.

I’ve always been something of a road warrior … point A to point B with no stops other than the mandatory requirements of body and car. My husband slowed me down a lot since he was constitutionally unable to pass a historical marker, a fruit stand, or a small town museum. Now, my camera slows me down, although I still tend to have that antsy “gotta get there” feeling if I dawdle too long.

When I decided to sell my house and establish two RVs at different ends of California in order to spend a year (at least) exploring California, photographing wildflowers, and reconnecting with nature (on the assumption that I was once connected.), I knew more than geography needed to change. So, I developed the idea of having a weekly “Wander and Wonder” date … based loosely on Julia Cameron’s artist date concept. 
Yesterday was the trial run as I left social media and projects behind with only a loose idea of going to Page Meadow, somewhere near Lake Tahoe where a member of a Facebook group had taken a lovely picture of a Toad Lily. When my GPS didn’t want to find Page Meadow, I stopped in a shady spot next to one of the many Emigrant Trail signs I would see often during the day. I realized I wasn’t particularly concerned with where I was going. It was a glorious, blue sky day and I was happy taking pictures and enjoying the beauty around me, delighted that I could finally recognize the difference between a ponderosa pine and a Jeffrey. 

When I saw a sign for Silver Lake, that seemed like a fine destinaton, so I continued up the hill, stopping frequently for photos that just had to be taken. The first fall colors were spotting the hillsides and, as usual, Aspen gold made my heart flutter. 
Church at Plasse's Resort
During the trip, I was listening to Bioneers' podcasts and heard a speaker say:
The Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh was asked what we need to do to save our world and he replied: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying.”
When I stopped for lunch at Silver Lake though, what I heard was more like purring as I gazed across the peaceful lake surrounded by granite mountains and pines. 
Lunch at Silver Lake

 Red Lake Vista Point

After lunch, I continued to Lake Tahoe's Inspiration Point on Emerald Bay. This has to be one of the world’s most stunning places and the signage offered nuggets about the area and history. One of them told about the early days when people in their Model Ts and Oldsmobiles would drive up the makeshift road to see the incredible colors of the water. I think it particularly impressed me because I had been gripping the steering wheel and trying not to look over the edge as I drove up the perfectly paved but narrow road.  
Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe

The Lake Tahoe area is one of those places that has been overloved. The beauty is breathtaking, but even on this off-season Tuesday, the parking lot at Inspiration Point was jammed. I felt more touristy than inspired or connected. 
The last stop of the day was the Spooner Lake Trailhead day use area where I lost a battle to a food bee. They must have the most acute sense of smell in the world. No sooner had I opened the snack baggie of deli turkey than they were all over it and me. One of them must have been starving and was not about to be shooed away or take no for an answer. He won. When he stung me, he and the food went flying and he’s probably still there pigging out.

Each of the picnic tables was covered with graphic images that looked a bit like place mats. Each told a story about the area and its history, reminding me that Chinese immigrants who came to the US were not permitted to own mines or bring their families to the US or marry a non-Chinese person. They were forced into service roles such as railroad laborers, flume builders, or camp cooks. 

Picnic Table info graphics
In these political days that often baffle me, I wondered about the process that resulted in a body of legislators three thousand miles away deciding who could own what and who could marry whom based on where they came from or the color of their skin. And then I remembered that it’s all about money.

Even in my bee-wounded condition, I was able to wander though the Aspens looking for carvings by the Basque shepherds. Most, though, were the marks of young lovers and I wondered how many of them were still together, or what their lives were like today.

All in all it was a pretty remarkable day that I thoroughly enjoyed. However, as I drove home reviewing the day, it seemed like the ratio of gas burning to nature observation was out of whack. It felt like a tourist day rather than a day of connecting with nature … other than the bee, that is. We definitely connected.

Thoughts about my next Wander and Wonder date: slow down. Maybe include time for sitting in meditation, sketching or doing watercolors, limiting the day to one or two places.

A few “rules of the road” appeared throughout the day:
  • Wherever you go, there will be beauty to be found.
  • Stop often! You may never come this way again.
  • No eating in a moving car. Stop and savor. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The broken windows of our lives

Update: September 19, 2020

Every once in a while a post from some time ago, pops up again as did this one.

In this time of COVID-19, it's an interesting reminder of how important little things are. So many people are acting as if it doesn't matter if we wear a mask and avoid crowded conditions, especially those that involve shouting, cheering, and singing. It does matter. Our actions matter. Our choices matter. ***

  It doesn’t matter 
if I forget to make
my bed,
     I’m just going 
     to sleep in it 
     again tonight.
It doesn’t matter 
if I eat that last 
piece of pie,
     it’s small and 
     it was so good.
 It doesn’t matter if I miss yoga class,
     they won’t miss me.
 It doesn’t matter if I don’t make that call,
     she’s probably busy any way.
It doesn’t matter if I don’t create art today,
    no one will notice or care.
It doesn’t matter if I don’t write that poem,
     few people like poetry anyway.
It doesn’t matter if I don’t vote today,
     everyone knows who’s going to win.

There is a theory of broken windows that says little things matter. People see other people getting away with minor crimes and they think they will also. They see broken windows in a building and assume no one cares, that it’s okay to break more or take that interesting bit of decoration. The first tagger who spray paints his name on a billboard opens the door to others.

Thinking about this concept made me wonder about the broken windows in my life. What are they and what effect do they have?
Obviously, little things matter. If I don’t make my bed in the morning, I have a tendency to throw things on top of it and soon it’s a looming mess. Eating that last piece of pie is sort of like a broken window ... if I can eat that, I can also order fries instead of salad, and oh those mocha lattes! Maybe no one will miss me at yoga class, but my body knows and after awhile, it tells me about it.

They're small things those
Unmade beds,  
unwritten poems,
unplanted flowers,
unexpressed love,
uncreated art, 
and uncast votes ...
They may each seem as if they don’t matter,
but they all add up to a life unlived.

Everything matters.
Every breath we take, 
Each decision we make,
All the lessons we learn ...
I … you … he … she … we ...
Every one of us matters.

Everything matters.
Earth, air, water, sunflowers, frogs, fungi,
even chiggers and bacteria,
every micro nit beneath our view,
all the stars, black holes and universes
beyond our scope,
Every thing matters. 
(c) Copyright, Joyce Wycoff, 2017

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Love Letter to My Life #27: The futility of swearing

by Joyce Wycoff

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.)

I fell in love with California when I arrived at 22 with my Marine Corps husband who had just returned from Vietnam. This kid from Kansas/Oklahoma was enchanted and was fortunate enough to spend most of her adult life in some of the most beautiful places in California: the southern coast, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Bishop, the Sierra foothills, the central coast, and even a place called Paradise. 

At one point I remember swearing three things:

                I would never retire

                I would never remarry 

                I would never leave California
I had forgotten the powerful refrain: never say never. 
  • I loved my work and thought I would do it forever … until the Universe retired me in the recession of 2008. 
  • My husband died fourteen years ago and I haven’t remarried and think there’s little likelihood of that happening, but 2020 is such a weird year, who knows?
  • A few months after my husband died, I left California and experienced three years of Arkansas and Colorado before returning to California.  Later, when it seemed impossible to balance my income to California housing prices, I left for Mexico for two years and then tried Nevada for a year. 
Now, I’m returning once again to the land I love (after discovering that it’s possible to downsize enough to make my income work). I would say … even swear … that I’ll never leave it again. However, I know better now. I know that the person I am today is incapable of swearing to something that the person I will be five years … or five days from now … would have to deliver. 

We change. Life changes. The Universe changes. Under the onslaught of the corona virus, there are probably millions of us doing things that we would have sworn we would never do. That’s okay … as long as we can stand on the bedrock of our most important values. 

Recognizing that bedrock isn’t all that easy. Life is constantly giving us tests or opportunities to make decisions that reflect that bedrock … do I want X enough to give up Y? When I decided to leave Mexico, I was having a hard time figuring out why. I loved being in Mexico, exploring its history, culture and beauty. I lived in a stunning and affordable place and had friends I enjoyed spending time with. What was it that pulled me enough to give that up? 

Part of it was family, however, it wasn’t until I stumbled on the possibility of living on the lake in Northern California that other pieces started falling into place … trees and water … wildflowers … nature … beauty and peace … kayaking on a quiet lake surrounded by yellow pond lilies. 

My place on Lake Almanor was limited to five months a year (too much snow for the park to stay open in the winter); I knew that was not going to be enough. I wanted all that peaceful beauty year around. The price would be giving up the normal idea of house as home. It would mean recognizing the bedrock of my spirit: freedom to explore, to find beauty and connections to the Universe, nature, people, stories and all the surprises waiting around the next corner.

In my many years of doing values exercises, I never came up with freedom as my bedrock. In these days when freedom is linked to the idea of carrying a firearm or not wearing a mask, I’m not sure I would have chosen this particular value as my bedrock, however, it seems to have chosen me, so I’m going to explore it and see what it has to teach me.

I am not, though, going to swear to it. I’ve learned my lesson. 
 So, what’s your bedrock?

Friday, September 11, 2020

Podcast #1: Bioneers: From Slavery to Stardust: What Would Healing Look Like?

Sankofa Bird

I’ve always had enough time; it was just filled with too many distractions. COVID took away some of those distractions and a life change put me in the car for longer periods, so I started listening to podcasts and discovered a world of inspiration and wisdom. 

Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature quickly became one of my favorite sources.

This is the first in a series of podcasts that will be featured here, this one chosen because of a bird featured at the beginning of the podcast. The sankofa bird is a metaphorical symbol used by the Akan people of Ghana, generally depicted as a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back. It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress. (

Learning from where we’ve been seems to be a particularly timely metaphor and this is a powerful podcast about one of the darkest places in our history: the slave trade that built wealth for some while destroying the lives of others. 
Belvie Rooks, one of the speakers on this podcast, states, “The sankofa bird symbolizes the courage to look back into the past while boldly moving forward and taking that knowledge and transforming it into the wisdom needed to guide the present into a benevolent future for the entire community."

This particular story begins in the North, where a sailor who came to Rhode Island in 1744 built a great wealth in the slave trade. Two honeymooners happened on a book about the family’s history and it changed their lives and brought them together with the author.

This one is a great example of how podcasts can inform, inspire, and make your heart hurt for all the unhealed places. Racism wounds our community and maybe if we could have the courage of the sankofa bird, we might create a benevolent future for all of us.  Listen here.

Intro: What’s it like to be in someone else’s skin? What if the color of the skin is different – say, black and white? What might happen when the descendants of a white slave trader and of black people who were enslaved meet? That is the brave and wrenching journey embraced by Thomas DeWolf, whose white ancestors were once the nation’s biggest slave traders, and Belvie Rooks and Dedan Gills, descendants of African people who were enslaved. Together they depict their remarkable journey to discover what healing looks like.

Movie: Traces of the Trade: A story of the deep north