Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Going Green, Gone Solar

About 750 years ago I was a little kid living in a small town in upstate New York. It was actually the only city in a rural county, surrounded by dairy and farm land, and from my youthful perspective not the kind of place where progressive thinking was a common thing. Yet somebody was progressive enough to install a solar energy system on a little house near the high school, and before I knew anything about anything I was enchanted by the thought of the Sun keeping a home warm. Solar energy became part of my eventual dream for a little cottage. 

Fast forward centuries later, and Rhodes and I bought a little house last year that clearly had the potential for becoming our combined dream home, and the house that needed some work became Bear Path Cottage. 

As a couple we are committed to going green as much as we can. We aren't ever going to win any awards for being environmental heroes, but we do our best to reduce our negative impact on the environment, and to reduce our carbon footprint. The green changes we have made to the outside of the property are the most visually evident ones; adding gardens and planting trees and other things to attract and sustain pollinators as well as make our family a little more food independent is a big deal to us. If we don't beat the birds, raccoons, and bears to the berries every year, well, that's just part of the gardening game in the mountains and they are just some of the neighbors we can share our harvest with. 

Some additional changes we made were replacing the electric tank water heater with a gas tankless system, replacing old windows with more energy efficient ones, and when we decided to add a parking space for my father-in-law's entrance to the house we opted for a permeable parking system. That choice was inspired by (though it looks nothing like)  the amazing parking system that we saw when we visited The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY. ( Those water penetrable paver lots made such an impression on us we carried the thought of them with us for four years. Thanks, Wild Center!

We had long discussed and agreed that we wanted to implement solar options if we bought a house where it was suitable. The long roof side of Bear Path Cottage is directly south facing and is basically a solar dream. After we closed on the house I attempted to research reputable local solar companies, but it is not easy to find information about that. The regional electric company was also no help, and there is actually a great deal of misinformation on the internet. We decided to put that project on the back burner until we could find more information. 

We had just started talking about it again when I saw that a former colleague is working as a sales rep for a solar company. I chatted with her a bit, did some research on the company, and then she came to meet with us to discuss the process. We were excited by the options presented to us, and couldn't wait to get started.

In February of this year a crew installed the solar panels on our roof. I admit it was a little disconcerting to listen to people drill holes in the less than a year old Cottage roof, but the work crew was professional, our rep was on top of everything, and in half a day's time we had the bones of the system in place. 

Duke Energy seemed to drag their feet on their end of things that had to happen to get the system running, and then the arrival of a pandemic and the related shut downs also slowed things down a bit. No worries - we are patient people. After more paperwork, and more emails, and the installation of the net meter, we were finally ready to power up. 

Four days ago Rhodes followed careful instructions from the solar company and flipped the switches that officially turned Bear Path Cottage into a generating facility, complete with a net meter and a solar photovoltaic generating system. But what do these $5 words even mean? 

For starters, it does not mean that we are off the electric grid, and it does not mean we can make money from the electricity generated by our solar panels. Duke Energy doesn't like either of those things, and does not allow them to happen. 

However, it does mean that we are now offsetting our electric bills with renewable energy produced through the solar panels/generating system installed at the Cottage. This is how our solar company explains our system: "After solar panels are installed on your home you begin producing power. Any excess power your home doesn’t use will be sent back to your utility company. Your electric meter will run backwards. You will feed excess energy to the utility company during the day and then receive it back during the nighttime, at no cost."

It also means that some time down the road when solar batteries became an affordable option we will be able to store any excess energy produced by our generating system and then potentially go off grid. Additionally, we will still pay Duke Energy for whatever usage we have over and above what the Cottage produces. 

In less than four whole days the system has produced 58 kilowatt hours of electricity, and yesterday produced nearly 25 kWh. According to Duke Energy, we used 773 kWh in the last billing cycle of 31 days, which averages out to slightly less than 25 kWh per day. Translation: overall we are breaking even with output and usage, so are successfully reducing our use of fossil fuels and our carbon emissions. That's a good feeling, and another part of the dream coming true.

Dear hometown person from the 1970's who installed a solar energy system: someone noticed, and it made a difference. Thank you. 

Note: No photos, because the electric system bits are boring, and the panels blend so well with our roof that they are difficult to distinguish from the angle from which I could take a photo. So, here's a photo of the view from the Eagle's Nest at The Wild Center. 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Time is on my side...

I wonder what I would tell this kid if I could go back to 1983 and actually sit down and talk with her. I wonder if she would listen to me, but even more than that I wonder if I would like who I might have become if she did. I do talk to her, and to many of the versions of my Self as they existed within this lifetime; doing so is part of the healing work with which I am engaged. As for going back - all I have to do is close my eyes.Time is nothing more than a human construct for measuring events that seem like they should matter. The more in tune I become with fully living each moment, experiencing each event, the less relevant the construct of time becomes and the more relevant the event. Eventually time will have no meaning to me, and hold no sway over my existence. When did I last see your face? Last hear your voice or your laughter? When did I last see the roses bloom or drift with the ocean? It was just now, this moment, In the room where memory is always present. There is no need to hurry through or Hurry on or hurry back. Doing so negates the value of being In this moment. Doing so negates the value of being.

Monday, April 27, 2020

For there is nothing lost...

I had a fairly well established daily routine before the COVID-19 pandemic initiated the Great Regrouping throughout the world. I am not a very social person and my anxiety disorder prevents me from straying too far or too often from home, so I didn't think social distancing would change my life very much. Wowser, was I wrong.

For the first time in my 53 years of living, I have had the opportunity to allow my body to find its own rhythm. I have a once a month writing deadline, and I am currently answering only to the demands of nature for working to get my gardens established. I might sleep three hours in a night, or I might sleep ten or twelve. I might be up before dawn or not go to bed until then.

My daily spiritual practice has evolved into happening while I am working in the gardens or outside for a walk about. It happens while I am sitting under the loblolly pine, watching the baby American Robins in their nest, or sitting under the night sky. Bear Path Cottage has become a rather substantial sized altar, and my connection with the Divine is ever deepening.

Inside the house, well, some days it looks like I am losing a game of Jumanji, but the world hasn't ended because of this lapse in housekeeping. This is just another part of life that is slowly settling after being shaken up. When my kids were little I embraced a "messy doesn't mean dirty" housekeeping style, and I am once again keeping home with that liberating philosphy.

I am shaking off a lifetime of constructs created by a world external to me, and that is exhausting work. I am grateful for the time to allow my entire being - body, mind, and spirit -  to rest from this work as it needs must. I am most grateful for the journey work that has led me to a place where I can recognize what is happening and embrace it without paying harsh judgment to myself.

I am also mindful that I am not living within a destination. I haven't arrived anywhere. I am still traveling, no matter how far I go or don't go. I am living wholly in this moment. I am alive.

“For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto an other brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.”
― Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Finding Grace

Today I wrote to a friend that I have been trying to find some grace in every day.

I am tired. Somedays I am exhausted, even beyond the normal fatigue I deal with because of some health issues, or the physical fatigue that comes from working outside as much as I am able, and I think that this is normal during this difficult time. The pandemic and the political climate in this country, on top of everything else going wrong in this world, can be overwhelming. So I make myself slow down, I make myself see, I make myself hear, I make myself feel, and by doing that, I find grace, which in turn gives me hope and some sense of peace in this Upside Down.

Yesterday morning I was busy moving wagon loads of plant debris from the raised bed in the front yard to the compost pile out back. Its a bit of a walk and on my second trip back I sat down on Blueberry Hill to rest. The sun was warm on my face and there was a light breeze blowing. I closed my eyes for a while and did a quiet meditation, then I opened my arms and let that wind move through me, carrying away all that was negative.

When I opened my eyes again the day seemed a little brighter. I heard the low cooing of a Mourning Dove in the loblolly pine branches above me, and I turned my eyes to see if I could find the bird. A pair of them had been nesting in another tree in our front garden, but had abandoned that nest after a wind storm. I was hoping to find their new home space, but they both moved in and out of the high-up branches and then flew away.

Movement on the ground caught my eye and I saw a female American Robin doing a funny little walk/run across the driveway, moving towards where I was sitting. She would stop and look at me, then run a little more. She eventually went up the hill past me and I watched until she caught a worm then flew up into the tree over my head. And lo, there it was. This year's nest in the loblolly pine. The minute she stepped close to it two little heads on two scrawny necks popped up out of the nest, and those little mouths were wide open, ready for their elevenses.

The Sun was lined up so perfectly behind that nest, behind that branch, that in that moment the babies were completely backlit. The light actually shone through their beaks, illuminating them and making them appear transluscent. It reminded me of last Autumn when the rising Sun shone through the sunflowers blooming in our front garden; the whole scene was so magical that I held my breath, not wanting it to end.

Then their mom moved to feed them, and in the next instant she was fluffing her wings and settling down over her babies in the nest. Take whatever message you want to take from that moment, from that image, but I was just so overwhelmed by love that I cried.

I sat there under the tree for a while longer, musing about that moment of grace and about the way the Wheel turns. Moments pass, days go by, the year moves on, but I am often gifted with reminders of how everything is connected. Sunflowers and baby birds kissed by the same Sun. Friends who share music that makes them dance, or laugh, or cry, or worship. Art that makes people smile or sigh. Garden talk and critter pictures; despair and hope; loss and love.

There is grace in every bit of it, and I am blessed.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

One Mississippi...Two Mississippi...

I am awake in the wee hours of the morning, summoned by the noise and power of the first real thunderstorm of the season rolling through the river valley in which I live. Without even thinking about it, I find myself counting the intervals between each flash of lightning and burst of thunder, and my mind is flooded with memories of comforting and empowering my children in the dark and stormy nights of their tender years. 

The helper is a simple meditation and sleep ritual that I never realized was either one of those things until now. The children would call to me or come to me in the dark, frightened by the storm, and we would wind up snuggled together, sometimes just one of them and me, sometimes all of us snuggled together on the couch. In the lull after a boomer I would ask "Are you ready? Let's watch now," and they would very nearly hold their breath, waiting for the night sky to light up. When it did, we would count outloud together: One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. 

BOOM! The thunder would come, and they would jump, but their eager minds were already busy watching for the next flash to cross the sky. As they grew older those lulls between flash and boom were often filled with questions about different kinds of lightning, how storms move, or what animals do during storms. They each went through a phase when they just had to spell out the word, Mississippi, in the sing-song rhyming chants so many of us know from childhood, and I remember a night one of the girls dissolved into giggles because she was missing her top front teeth and couldn't say the word. 

I would gently encourage them to hush, to watch, to listen, to quiet their breathing so they could hear. They learned that they could tell when the storm was drawing closer and when it was moving away. The lull between boom and flash would lengthen, their fear would settle, their breathing would slow, and eventually they would not so much fall back to sleep as to be carried there by the peace of the lull and the sound of the rain. 

Sometimes when it storms now, I wonder if they remember. 

The boomers have passed through now, and the sound of the rain is hypnotic and sweet. My gardens are being watered, and I am going to wrap myself in gratitude and allow the rain to lullaby me back to sleep. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Yarrow for the Heartache

Walter has insisted that I work at my desk this morning, so here I am. I'm catching up on messages and emails, writing a review, and staring at my journals and my pile of unused journals like maybe I recognize them, but I'm just not sure. You know, like when you see that person in the store or on the train or at the show, and you are wondering if you went to school with them or maybe met them at a business meeting or they might have sat at the table next to you at that restaurant you went to two months ago when we still believed it was safe to dine out.
I have been woefully neglectful of my daily writing practice, and I realized yesterday that it is because I am avoiding writing about COVID-19 and what it is doing to the world. I don't know. Maybe it is triggering the Anne Frank nightmares of my childhood or something. Maybe it is just one too many traumas; one more level down the abyss that this country's current political environment dragged us into. One more monster in the Upside Down.
I am saturating my social media content with garden stuff because that's where the hope grows for me. That is where the distraction lies as well. I'm soaking up all the art and music and nature that other people are sharing because my spirit needs those balms. Who knew that Penguins touring zoos and aquariums could actually warm the human heart?
There are times that I am overwhelmed by everything that is happening, and it usually hits me from out of the blue. I will be sitting on the couch or out in the garden or talking with Rhodes, and all of a sudden I find myself crying. All of a sudden I am aware of the fear and concern I have for the people I love, for my friends, and for my community, both local and world-wide.
My daughter works in a health care practice that is essential. Their office cannot close, and they are affiliated with the local hospital. My mind does not allow me to acknowledge this in every minute of every day but I am all too aware of the number of health care workers who have died from COVID-19 and I am terrified for my child. I keep that fear locked away in a box inside my head because if I didn't I wouldn't be able to function.
I am worried about other people in my family, some as much for the psychological strain caused by unemployment and uncertainty as for the disease itself. My 82 year old father in law lives with us and we have just now managed to convince him to stop going to the grocery store. We have everything we need in this house right now; there is no point in risking his life or our lives for things we might want.
I worry that I can't do enough to help other people at a time when I *should* be helping as much as possible. And then I remind myself, or my husband reminds me, that we are doing the best we can to help those we can help, in all the ways that we can help, and that is all anyone can do.
So, I am silencing my muse because I am afraid of what she has to say. She rebels in my head, gets wild and loud and crazy, and sometimes bursts through the seams so that I hear little bits of what she has to say. But while I am silencing her, I am tuned in with perfection to the Divine all around me, and I have a sneaking suspicion they are passing notes.
A few weeks ago before things went completely topsy turvy, I acquired some plants for the altar we keep for our Beth. I've never grown yarrow, but I've seen it and admired it, and I saw some at the nursery and I just had a sudden knowing. "Get the yarrow," the quiet voice said. "See how beautiful it is? Beth would love this." Then an even quieter voice said "Yarrow for the Heartache. You could write about that."
I got the yarrow, and later that night when I sat down to do some research, I'm fairly certain I heard the quieter voice giggle when I found a dozen articles about the uses of yarrow to comfort the heart.
I'm still musing about how to write about the Yarrow, but here's some free verse that's flowing through my head like water over the rocks in a small creek, catching here, stopping there, turning, skipping along.
Peace out, peeps.
When this is all said and done Will you remember when a stranger bumping into you In the market was an annoyance and not a death threat?

Will you remember the privileged horror
Of the finally undeniable truth that children in your
Neighborhoods go hungry every day?

Will you remember that Margie next door

Baked homemade cornbread for the neighbor girl
Who brought buttermilk home for her?

Or that Kim shared beagle pictures to make us smile

And Star shared recipes and let her cats work the stove
And Karen's cat learned to use the Ipad to watch videos?

Edie who kept her grandbaby and crossed generations to care for those she loves.
Chris who has to love her mother from a distance, and
Others who cannot touch or hug or see their children and grandchildren or friends.

Will you remember those who shared wisdom and

Those who shared words intended to comfort and
Those who reached through the screen to send love?

Those who stood up against injustice and

Those who muddied the waters and
Those who fought for all of us and meant it?

Yo Yo Ma is giving us Songs of Comfort and
So are Garth and Tricia, Paul Simon, Jimmy Fallon,
Gail Gidot, and people who can't carry a tune in a bucket
And my ears are drinking it up.

Sidewalk chalk art is as inspiring and beautiful as the
Free tours of the Met and the Getty and the Tate and
Dear Goddess, please let me keep believing that I will
Tour them for real in the Great Regathering someday.

I am crying for strangers and grieving for families and whole nations
And thinking of the exquisite bouquets my friend Wrex creates
And the love and hope that she effortlessly and magically imbues them with

And I suddenly feel hopeful again, thinking wry thoughts
About how to show love in this Time of Chaos,
And offering Yarrow for the Heartache we are all feeling. 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The False Narrative: The Need for Forgiveness in Order to Heal

The False Narrative: The Need for Forgiveness in Order to Heal

The path to healing from trauma and grief is deeply personal and can be fraught with contradictions and confusion.

I have carried a great deal of anger surrounding the circumstances of my youngest daughter’s life challenges and death. Her mental illnesses and addiction issues took her into terrible circumstances and into contact with some horrible people. Over the years she shared details of some soul shattering experiences with me, and after she died I received confirmation about the worst betrayal of them all.

It has been my experience that many people do not have any idea how truly bad life can be right here in America. I don’t want to share those horrible stories here or anywhere else, but I will say that the cringe-worthy, frightening, nauseating kind of things you see in movies or read in novels or social media posts really do happen to people you know and to people who live in your community. Making that statement isn’t a quest for drama, nor is it an exaggeration. There are monsters in this world, and most of them are human.

There are many victims of those events and those monsters; the individuals who experience them, their families and friends, the communities that absorb the impact, the EMTs, the police officers, the social workers, the emergency room personnel, the detectives who work countless hours to build a case. The list goes on and on, moving out in endless ripples that create small waves for some and tsunamis for others.

In the midst of all that overwhelming motion, victims are often told that they should forgive the person who caused the harm. They are told that forgiveness is the only path to peace, that in order to heal, to move on, to become whole, they must forgive the offender. And if the offender has found religion, found Jesus or Odin or the Divine in any form, the victim especially must forgive them and welcome their presence in community.

I had been hearing that call for forgiveness for 50 years, and after Beth’s death I wanted to believe it because I wanted to finally move away from the pain her years of suffering had caused. I was willing to grab hold of whatever seemed like a viable means to do that. Three years after her death, three years of feeling and processing and thinking, I have come to a point where I call bullshit on the topic of forgiveness as a means to healing.

There are times when forgiving someone may be a healthy thing to do, as when persons in a healthy, balanced relationship have a serious conflict or disagreement and then come to a resolution of the matter. There are times when an individual’s faith allows forgiveness to bring peace. But there are times when forgiveness is a toxic tool, the use of which is driven by misperception, laziness, selfishness, and power imbalances present in outdated patriarchal religious, legal, and community systems.

Who benefits from forgiveness, overall? What falsehoods are behind that mask? Sometimes victims are urged to forgive an offender because it makes it easier for everyone else to move on with their lives, and because the existence of their pain and trauma is an inconvenience to others. Harm caused creates an imbalance that is felt as an energetic negative. Individuals and communities, consciously or subconsciously, perceive that imbalance as a debt that must be paid to restore wholeness to the individual and to the collective. The presence of that debt is, consciously or subconsciously, discomforting and disturbing, and so the whole presses for balance to be restored to itself above the needs of the individual victim. Salving the conscience of the people who cause harm or those who are made uncomfortable by anger and grief should never be made the burden of the person who has been wronged or injured.

The act of forgiveness implies that a debt has been settled or released, and the suggestion that the victim must release the offender from that debt creates an unnecessary burden on the one who has been wronged. It creates a false narrative that forces the victim to give yet another thing to someone who has already stolen things of immeasurable value, and creates a disturbing cosmic sense of the balance of debts owed and paid. Furthermore, there are circumstances in which any debt owed by an offender is owed at a level beyond human constructs; when the injury caused is so grievous a matter that the debt created is held by the Divine, and so the matter of forgiveness becomes a matter between the offender and their own Divine.

Contained within the grief of losing someone are multiple boxes. One box holds anger and all the other negative feelings directed towards the external factors that influenced a loved one’s death. Another box holds all the questions that can never be answered, all the regrets and unspoken or unaccepted apologies, and all the misunderstandings and miscommunications that were never quite sorted out. But there is also a box that holds the love, the happy memories, and the hopeful dream of one more sunset, one more conversation, one more smile somewhere on the other side.

Comes a time, and it is different for each person, when one realizes that the weight of what is held within that negative box is overwhelming, that its presence causes weariness, that one cannot rise against its pull. With that realization comes the choice to be made: which box makes life better? Which one is worth carrying? Which one is it time to put down?

It is possible to experience compassion without forgiveness. It is possible to have an understanding of circumstances without forgiveness. It is possible and healthy to focus on healing one’s self without carrying the responsibility of healing others, and forgiveness is not a necessary step on that path.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

This weekend didn't go quite as I'd planned, but I'm not complaining. Rhodes and I have been running hard for the past few weeks, and without setting an intention to do so, we spent this weekend in a state of semi-hibernation. We caught up on some much needed sleep, ate good, healthy, home cooked food, and stayed up ridiculously late at night talking, reading, and watching some thought provoking television. We also spent a few morning hours lazing in bed together, watching the birds through the big bedroom window that I still love so much.

The feathered extravaganza in the backyard never ceases to amaze me: our avian neighbors include Blue Jays, Cardinals, a pair of Eastern Towhees, Carolina Chickadees, Titmice, Song Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Mourning Doves (I am sure they are the same babies that I watched mature in our front yard last spring), Cowbirds, Phoebes, Brown Nuthatch, Robins, Red Winged Blackbirds, and Black-Capped Chickadees. They move in and out of the yard in a casually choreographed way, their flight patterns as they come and go weaving a spell into the fabric of the Cottage's being.

The weather and temperature were so perfect today that we were lured outside to do some projects. We finished construction on the raised bed garden for the North Wing, and I can't wait to see how it will look later when it is full of beautiful, vibrant plants. Here are some before, during, and after shots of the project:

We also marked out the space for planting blueberry bushes along the north fence line, and sat on that hill (yes, it will become known as Blueberry Hill!) for a while, soaking up the sun and talking. Plans were made for hammock, witch hazel, and hazel nut tree placement, and plans were finalized for placing the habitat fence along the existing fenceline. Although we've had a compost pile since last spring, today we built the first of three compost bins, using pallets we've acquired with rock and materials deliveries; another of the ways in which we are slowly sorting out how we fit into this beautiful space we now call home.

North yard sitting and then wandering as we talked turned up some gifts from the bird neighbors: a scattered collection of Blue Jay feathers. I hope I can find a way to save them that will preserve the colors.

And now the kitchen is calling, and I must go. I'm going to carry this peaceful, easy feeling with me for as long as I am able. "I've got a peaceful, easy feeling, and I know you won't let me down, cuz I'm already standing on the ground."

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Topsail Island Sand and Prayers

A little more than seven years ago my new lover and I took a trip to the coast of North Carolina; for different reasons we both wanted to touch the waters of the Great Mother. We arrived sometime after 4 a.m. and went straight to Herself. I walked across the moonlit sand feeling a mixture of joy and reverence in the duality of Her presence there, slipping my shoes off as I went, already talking softly to Her, eager to get my feet in the water.

My lover, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, ran past me. Two seconds after I said "Hello, Goddess," I heard him shout "Hello you bitch, I'm back!" Then he laughed like a maniac as he strode into the water to meet Her. I learned over time that their relationship was often a tempestuous and challenging one, but he loves Her, unfailingly, in Her form as Ocean. I married him a few years later - best decision I ever made. 

On that trip I gathered shells and sand and ocean water from the various beaches we visited. I'm a Witch; that's how we do. I've kept them all in carefully labeled mason jars for all this time, just like I keep herbs and flowers and horsehair. One never knows what one is going to need to make a correspondence or connection.

I've been doing the musing side of working on a ritual for the safety of someone I love very much. Like many others he is in danger because of the dire lack of statesmanship and intelligence that exists in this world.  I've been trying to piece together the hows of sending energy around the world. Things like this can be so very simple, and so very complicated. 

Then tonight I was reading a passionately beautiful and righteously angry post by Corky Edwards of Australia, who while writing in response to how some folks are trying to help with the fires devouring that country reminded us that "Every grain of sand and dirt and stone touches that which is next to it, from one grain to the next, covering the entire globe. You can send your energy everywhere and anywhere if you focus."

The little light bulb in the closet in my mind went off, and I made my way to the closet in the study where I keep my Craft supplies. I searched through dozens of mason jars until I found the one I was looking for. Then I found just the right candle and some other supplies, set my altar for a specific purpose, and essentially asked my Topsail Island sand to convey the message to that sandy land so very far away.

I am tired,and a little sick, and a little sick and tired, so I'm going to acknowledge that I don't have the energy to write this to completion tonight. I'm not always as good as I want to be.

Goddess, please bless all the people caught up in this unholy storm. Shelter those who can be sheltered, protect those who can be protected, heal those who will need healing, and be gentle with those beyond such need. 

Safely home, kid; you and all your brothers and sisters. Safe in body, and as safe in mind and spirit as you can possibly be.