Life’s Vexilar

Column 20 – Published in the February 16 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

A comfortable settling-in happened here at The Angle just recently. Seismic shock waves of normalcy have this roller-coaster-ready girl reeling in unexpected surrender. Surely others must have felt it. Surely it’s the reason fishing is so slow.  The steady drip, the slow, evening out of life, now that I see it, seems about as dramatic a change as the world turning white with the first winters’ snow.

I usually can’t predict when a shift is about to happen because I’m mired in the blackness that precedes it. It’s as if a trip around the dark side of the moon is necessary in order to fully appreciate the beauty and the light of our blue green planet.

Full blown depression gets me good still. It has for decades. But being at the über wise medium age of 40, the means and ways I’ve learned to work through depression seem a lot more purposeful, more productive.

It isn’t until I’m on the other side of it that I can come to understand why I needed to go through it. Still, I look forward to the day when the signposts are clearly visible, and instead of slogging right on in to the middle of the slush, I can cautiously and quietly walk the edges, placing no blame on potential stuckness, holding no judgement over that which teaches me.

Dealing with depression at The Angle isn’t all that different than dealing with it elsewhere. Only here, when I need to be still, I can watch the deer instead of pedestrians. I can walk in silence for an hour before meeting anyone. I can melt into the backdrop of our white world like a painted pony in a Bev Doolittle piece. Of course, life’s chores and now parenthood keep me functioning and moving forward, but the pace simply isn’t as frantic. On a recent morning commute, I met four cars. A record high so far this winter season.

And so, this shift, this settling-in feels as refreshing as our well water tastes after a weekend away in some fluoridated, chlorinated city. I went to sleep one long night ago as a girl, and somehow, woke up as a wellspring of a woman with a voice that isn’t afraid to be heard, with hips that suddenly remember what it is to walk as a woman should, with shoulders thrown back in soft readiness, and eyes that need only wait and see.

It doesn’t feel like “settling,” not in that loaded definition of the word. It’s not a slumping into an easy chair, but rather the rightness of good posture, a lengthening of the spine until I feel a tingling in the crown of my head, as if I’ve suddenly grown up into new air. And indeed I have. How does one go through life measuring 5’2 and ¼ inches and then suddenly in my late 30’s grow nearly another inch?

The patient parent that is The Angle has been steadily, almost stealthily, nourishing me with a diet of fresh air and black earth, old sorrows that are the sweet manure of change and growth, and a surprising abundance of new and good people and experiences waiting in the ready for when my eyes could finally see them.

The challenge it puts forth now is to help me slow down even more. To not rush head long into the waiting vigor, but rather saunter with gaining confidence. I read a quote by the Persian poet Hāfez recently: “Run my dear, from anything that does not strengthen your precious budding wings.”

And I found truth in the thought of this settling-in actually representing the growth of wings. “The Angle will provide,” as we like to say, anyone with any opportunities that anywhere else can. It may not take the same form or shape, but the lesson to be learned is as sharp and useful, gentle and healing, wholesome and all-encompassing as the ones I would have learned had I chosen somewhere else to usher in this shift.

But no, I won’t run, as Hāfez counsels. Running from something has meant that I’ve had less time to understand and choose where I was running to.

No, I think I’ll walk. I think I’ll make a snow angel or two along the way. I think I’ll learn to sing. I think I’ll stop from time to time to string words together in composition celebrating that which I find beautiful, joyful. I think I’ll sway a full-hipped sway and relish being a woman in this unbalanced masculine world. I think I’ll learn to look at men differently, with gratitude and honor and respect for what they go through. I think I’ll settle-in and get to work.

But first, I think I’ll go fishing.

Year of the Wolf

Column 18 Published in the January 12, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Spending any amount of time in these north woods means that sooner or later you’ll encounter a wolf or wolves. I’ve watched one cross our front yard. I’ve seen them traveling across the ice or along the road. I’ve come across tracks, a kill site and have listened to their mournful calls under cold and clear skies a handful of times.

Encounters are rare but not exceedingly so, and even passing visitors may happen across such a gift.

There was a time not too long ago when the popular sentiment in this anti-progressive area was “shoot to kill” at the very sight of a wolf, even when the animal was simply being its animal self, not posing any threat to human, pet or livestock.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, wolves in the sub-boreal forests of northeastern Minnesota independently kept the wolf population alive in the lower 48 states for many years. And after a reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, wolves are finally being understood for the ecologically important species they are, changing even the behavior of the forests and the rivers.

In Minnesota, the wolf population hovers around 2,000 wolves and in 2014 they were again listed as endangered and thus protected. Since that time, there have been more unofficial moose sightings again in this area than I can recall in recent history. That may seem counter-intuitive to some, but in truth, it’s not. Wolves are connected to everything in our natural world.

Since moving to The Angle, I’ve found wolves weaving themselves through my experiences and my writing, symbolizing for me a metaphysical return to the wild, to my intuition and the great wide open that our wilderness and our lifestyle freedoms imbue.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote in her impactful tome “Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” a truth that rings through my psyche even today: “Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”

I first read her book on my gloomy commute to and from the chilly halls of Microsoft when I lived in Seattle. There then came a point in my city existence when it became abundantly clear that I needed to get back to the land, back to the water, back to home.

And so I did.

Every creature on earth returns to home. Home represents protection and freedom. We as humans understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature, and so we create refuge for all sorts when it is needed. We embrace their wildness, and yet we quash our own. Just as we pushed out the wolves, we have pushed out our own wild nature, fled from our homes and denied our intuition, thereby killing our voices, our creativity, and our natural inclinations to empathy and compassion.

This returning to home and habitat for me has been a journey back to an earthy intuition and reclamation of self and soul that has made me nearly unrecognizeable to many who thought they knew me. But no matter. As I read in Women Who Run With the Wolves, “It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”

Bringing it back to the wolves, I wanted to share a short vignette I wrote after a simple but magical encounter a few years back. May we all run with our hearts and minds gifted to the winds, to the wilds, to the wolves as this new year breaks, passes and is soon forgotten. Happy 2016 all.

***

“Wolf,” he said softly, unnecessarily, breaking the long quiet on our early commute to town. My eyes had already been following the loping animal for several moments and even from a great distance it had registered quickly that this was not a deer or fox.

The wolf changed direction and crossed our road, still at the comfortable gallop that lent it both nonchalance and regality. As it reached the tree line, my eye caught the outline of its partner sitting alert and stoic. “Two wolves!” my heart whispered.

They met then, and the running wolf stopped and turned back to watch us as we crossed its original trail. I could see the rich grays and whites of a thick winter coat, its dark eyes and wide paws.

These were healthy wolves, aware and unafraid, perhaps on the hunt or simply traveling as wolves do. Their trained eyes burned into us as we slowed just slightly, watching, meeting their gaze. When the eerie, hair-raising feelings of years-ago experiences and learned expectations didn’t arrive, I was gently and instantly flooded with warm gratitude at being in their presence, at having witnessed a moment of their journey.

They would assign no meaning to this briefest of encounters, would not recollect beyond the noises and associations with the road, the vehicle, humans. Even that, who knows.

But for me, the vibration of it rang sweetly and clearly for many miles. The grid lines of connected experience flashed visible for another instant. I felt right and true on a path that has offered small support and only minimal delineation of late.

Seeing little point in miring myself in those gray thoughts, my mind stayed with the Wolves, running on their wooded trails, crossing silent, snowy fields, following just the idea of a scent.

Joyous, without labeling it joy. Free, without defining it so or understanding its opposite.

I whispered my thanks to the trees as our vehicle sped on, trusting they would keep my message until it could be passed on to the rightful recipients.

Falling back in love

Column 16 Published in the December 8th issue of the Warroad Pioneer

It’s not hard to get hooked on this place.

Oh, perhaps when you first start coming here you look around, vacantly, like I did, at all the great nothingness, the remote and simple lifestyle, the ever-present hardships and doing-without, the still-waters-run-deep people who are slower to let you ‘in’ than pine gum runs in winter. Perhaps you decide, like the majority, that the annual or bi-annual visit is enough. Or…perhaps you, at a near subconscious pace, start taking note of the few and far between real-estate signs, the jovial attitudes of the locals enjoying their freedoms, the wildlife, the birdsong, the beauty in a rutted gravel road.

Not too long ago, when a good gal pal and I were working through similar hardships with life and men, we’d walk the trails and the roads wondering how it came to be that we had momentarily fallen out of love with The Angle. We’d lost our eye for the mystery and romance of what we called our own Secret Garden.

Often, it would take only that walk and that bit of talking to my friend, the trees, the listening birds, to clear my head and bring me back to the beauty of it all.

Women, it seems, suffer from the chatterbox mind more than the menfolk do. Diffuse awareness, author and relationship expert Alison Armstrong calls it. In the faraway past, men would focus all physical and mental energy to bring down a four-legged beast to feed family and village. Women, on the other hand, didn’t have the luxury of a one-track mind. Out of necessity, we’ve always been multi-taskers. In the time it takes the hunters to sharpen their tools, we tend the fires that stew the old bones, cure the hides, carry the little ones and ensure the bigger ones don’t wander too close to the stream. We dig for root vegetables, gather nuts and seeds for winter stock, take mental note that the stone cherries will be ripe in a week and store away a long-term reminder to come back a couple weeks earlier next year for the blueberries in the meadow two hills over. All the while, we keep eyes and ears acutely tuned for signs of danger.

Of course, our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness. In my case, and I’m sure that of many women, diffuse awareness in this day of easy survival is the thorn when we’d like to get out of our minds and relax back into the physical, into the now. Compartmentalizing is difficult, if not impossible. We can’t slow down, enjoy, and receive. And presently, we fall out of love with anything that we perceive as pressure.

Women need to be in love.

Marianne Williamson writes in her beautiful book A Woman’s Worth that it’s a need as real as the need to breathe. A man or partner, a job, a child, a project, a home, a friendship:

We need to be in love with anything that we can throw ourselves into and make it more beautiful for having loved it.

That is exactly how I feel about The Angle. It’s why I work so hard on a few small projects that have big potential for such a small community. It’s why I’ve torn open my soul to write truthfully about the ugliness of addiction and the scars it’s leaving on this place and these hearty people. I know something good will come of that, even if the re-lived pain is real during the writing and during the subsequent public critique. I’ve been asked to self-censor for the sake of privacy, but what good would that do anyone? I much prefer to let manure become fertilizer so that beauty may grow for all to experience. A writer writes in order to heal, to work towards self-forgiveness, self-love, and if there’s anything of worth for others along the way, that is the gift we offer.

After losing myself and all of life’s grace and beauty in a short stint of domestic despair, the worst of which will never be written about publicly, I’m falling back in love with The Angle. I’m falling back in love with myself. With the reasons I came here and chose to stay. With motherhood. With friendships and family relationships long neglected. I’m falling back in love with life.

And it won’t be long now, after that long, roaring belly-laugh that is building, building, that I realize life and all of its compartments never fell out of love with me in the first place.

A Man’s World

Column 11 Published in the September 29 Warroad Pioneer

 

The Angle is undeniably a man’s world. It is a land of extremes governed by a hearty few who have toiled under back-breaking conditions to make it the civilized mess it is today. I have read the dry and distant history books of this place; I have visited on end with the old-timers; I have thrown myself into the community jumble as much as anyone can, and still I know nothing.

My future at the Angle is as up in the air as the wind-riding pelicans. I am still very much a newcomer, and now I may be a short-timer. There are less than a handful of single ladies at the Angle, and suddenly there’s a new demographic, one single mom, or as my weathered ex likes to say “a single mom at age 40 who still lives with her parents, has no job and no car.”

It’s all truth. I turn 40 in November, live with my parents in their large unfinished B&B, and my hand-me-down Angle vehicle barely runs; I have to air up the tire and reconnect the battery every time I want to use it. I’ve never really had a fulltime “job” here at the Angle, but I do make a sustainable income, and, unlike some, I keep track of every penny and report it on my taxes each spring. Normal jobs for women at The Angle involve slinging drinks, flipping burgers or cleaning cabins. Jobs for men are in fishing, heavy equipment and construction. There are exceptions on each side, of course, for the lucky few (or unlucky, depending on your vantage) who sit behind a desk at home or manage to be a Jill of All Trades.

Regardless, we keep busy in a man’s world. Everything and everyone is commoditized, especially women. In this world, our worth is measured first by our appearance, second by our helpfulness and third by our survivability, because yes, The Angle way of life can certainly be a test of extreme survival in a matter of moments if someone is careless or disregards intuition.

Driven by the desire to learn and honor, I’ve started to dive in to the stories of the amazing women who shaped The Angle. Earlier this summer I interviewed Joan Undahl, a gracious and lovely lady who can, but doesn’t, claim the title of The Angle’s first (and only?) woman fishing guide. She seemed completely oblivious to the power, leadership and compassion that came through in her voice. She is an islander, a more challenging life-style by far than simply living on The Angle mainland.

I assumed we were all one community, and that is how Mrs. Undahl told the story as well. But while the feminine unites, the masculine seems to divide. As I watched my recent relationship crumble, I heard again and again the words that I couldn’t get on board with how “half the Angle does things.” Apparently there are two different worlds up here: it’s not the stodgy landlubbers vs. the hard-living islanders as he might have had me believe. Rather, it’s those who want to keep themselves and The Angle growing forward in a positive direction vs. those who resist change and insist on the old ways.

Drinking and carousing seem to be written into The Angle rule book by the very men who built this place, the same ones who now complain about it following its natural evolutionary path that they helped kick start.

It was Marilyn Monroe, the most commoditized of all beauties, who said, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.” I came to The Angle and danced in my long pink hippie skirts. I let my hair go curly and natural. I brought a bubbly little blonde force of feminine energy into this world in my out-of-wedlock child. And we love it here.

Around the world, people are aware that life is changing. The feminine is rising into partnership with the masculine. And The Angle is no different. Human beings are undergoing a massive change and turning away from old perceptions and ideas. In 2009, at the Vancouver Peace Summit, the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the Western Woman.” Our natural gifts of intuition, healing and building community will be the foundation of that saving grace.

Some might say that airing dirty laundry in public is unbecoming. But once upon a time, we were all down by the river washing our rags on the flat rocks of love and connection.

Today, I prefer to cleanse mine through all manner of therapeutic remedies and then hang it out in the gale force wind to dry. For the most part, these beautiful, thick-skinned Angle folk would simply chuckle if the winds of change blew something unmentionable across their lawn. It might be a man’s world, but it does indeed need saving. Thankfully, some of us have the energy and inspiration to change our own lives and help make a difference outside of ourselves as well.