Angle Days Filled with Friendly Competition

One-Room Schoolhouse to Benefit

The fifth annual Angle Days and the 32nd annual Chili Cookoff is in the books at the Northwest Angle.

People of all ages came out to enjoy the near-perfect weather and a variety of events held across the Angle mainland. Continue reading “Angle Days Filled with Friendly Competition”

Fishing for Humanity

 

This past weekend I went trout fishing. I caught a bass.

One olive green, bug-eyed small mouth who tacitly reminded me that I’ve been taking this ridiculous and beautiful game far too seriously. She said exactly that as I looked into the placid depths of her dark eyes. I drug her up from 60 feet on a barbless hook as fast as I could reel, and she forgave me instantly. The experience left her shocked, and she lolled about in the ice hole for a time before coming back to her fish senses. Silently, so as not to appear too off my rocker to those fishing with me, I said Thank You and wished her well on her journey home.

I’ve been lolling about in the ice hole too, stunned that all is not as I believed it was. That the game isn’t being played by the limited rules I had once understood. That the false-bottom my Vexilar displayed is a million times more complex than I once thought, though still false.

Life isn’t what it seems.

My bass saw it and accepted it without understanding. But bass don’t have an ego masquerading as a spiritual quest.

Sure, I can continue to write about our quaint gravel roads and the close proximity of wildlife. I can rhapsodize about the birds at the feeder or make melodies of the scampering squirrels and pine martens. I can translate as the wind pushes winter off the trees yet again, or romanticize the solitude and the seekers who find themselves here to unwind.

But what’s happening within me dictates what I see without.

And I see a tiny community in existential crisis, because I am. I see a country totally divided, because I am. I see the vocal majority picking on the quiet minority, because that’s what’s happening with me. The big ugly ego within is demonizing the still quiet voice, because one spells love, truth and the awareness of the other. And we all know it’s not the loud-mouth who’s gonna win in the end.

My fundamental notions of what life is all about have been breaking down for some time, but witnessing what’s going on in the world makes the internal escalation now feel frantic, chaotic.

Is anyone else feeling this? As if something’s gotta give and soon or it’s all just going to collapse?

This morning I awoke from a dream about a waiting room of sorts at a makeshift birth center. I sat in the middle with the organizers, and around the edges of the huge rectangular room were women of every color, creed, shape, size and social status, their pregnant bellies full and prominent. Some were alone. Some had partners. Some reclined on matts on the ground. Others curled in sleep. Some danced the slow sensual dance of creation. Some stood rigid and tight. Some women laughed and sang. Others wept silently.

My four-year old had found her way to my bed again, and as I lay awake unmoving, thinking about my dream, she said loudly in her sleep, “Yep! We are tree frogs.”

I long to be able to see the hearts of the people behind all the social constructs, beyond the religious labels, despite the political leanings. I want to see two people of different belief systems stare each other in the eyes until they can both recognize the humanity in the other. I want to see a big-bellied Muslim women next to a big-bellied Christian woman and all the fear and hatred be put aside in honor of the life they bring into the world.

It feels like that’s what everyone everywhere is fighting for. “Acknowledge my humanity. See my suffering. See me. Love me.”

We are the same, and yet we spend every ounce of our egoic energy working to define and differentiate our Selves and then even more to defend the righteousness of our differences. But, we are an idea, nothing more. The way we’ve got it all constructed, these crazy lives surrounded by meaningless crap in this crazy constructed world. It’s all just ideas, reinforced rather messily with more made-up ideas that seem as real as every dream does while we’re in it, unawake and unaware that we are dreaming. Every single one of us is screaming through our night terrors that “My ideas matter. My stuff matters. I matter.”

But we – as we see ourselves and as we want others to see us – are just ideas. And we WILL wake up, because that is the law of dreams. We can’t choose to stay in the dream because it doesn’t exist.

What we really are is those babies about to be born in that big room of creation. We are undefined and perfect. We are loved without knowing it or knowing we need it. We are the same as the baby born next to us whose skin tone is totally different. We are the same whether our grandmother prayed in a mosque or a temple or a wide-open meadow. We are the same whether it was a woman or a man who held our mother’s hand as we came into the world. We ARE the same.

Beware of those who tell you you are different. Beware of those who tell you you are better. Beware of those who tell you to defend you. They are afraid. They are lost in their night terrors and they want you to join them in hopes that they will feel less alone and less afraid.

Don’t.

Unless you are awake and can gently guide them back to here and now and help them awaken to see it was all a dream, don’t go down to meet them.

Rise up and dream of love, if you must dream at all. If they insist on falling back asleep, coax them into dreams of tree frogs and trout, I mean bass. Or better, rise up holding their hand and show them the dreams of humanity standing together. Seeing each other. Loving each other. Show them that every good thing is possible, even finding meaning in the eyes of an olive green small mouth bass that was supposed to be a lake trout.

(Published in the Feb 28 Warroad Pioneer)

On Corporal Punishment

(Column 50 – published in the Feb 14th Warroad Pioneer)

Life is heavy at times. Like the weight of the rain on top of our snow base, thickening a crust that can hold the fox and a four-year old but not the sharp-hooved deer and a Muck-booted mama.

I have emerged from my self-imposed social hibernation with short trips here and there. Sledding, skating, fishing. A weekend Kenora visit along the winding ice road.

We even scheduled a date, as many couples do, leaving the little human with the grandparents for an evening. It was pleasant to sit quietly over dinner, talking only with the man I choose to love about topics that make us smile. There was no struggle to find non-phone distractions keeping a new four year-old occupied and in her seat.

At The Angle and near-abouts, we allow her the freedom to roam and visit with strangers. Social interaction is a commodity in this lonely road’s-end home, but she is unafraid and inquisitive, and people are beautiful and interesting. Her forming sense of identity is still innocent enough to readily share what she knows of herself with them. It is a gift she can give truly, sincerely.

I hope she will always give.

So many of us go so far away from that as we age. What we call life seems mostly about “getting” and “keeping.”  Me. Mine. My family’s. My country’s. The more successful we are in “getting,” the more revered we think we are. The more “getting” we achieve, through whatever means, the more justified we feel in labeling those who have more barriers to “getting” as lazy and freeloaders. Some who are born “having” are granted the elevation the rest of us earn through hard work. They, in their unearned “wisdom,” are boosted by the people whose heads they stand on, and they climb more quickly because they started further up where the rungs are closer together.  It is comforting to put our salvation in their hands, yet it is hard to see from way down here that their hands are, in fact, NOT held open to those below them. No, their hands are white-knuckled around each rung as onward, upward they climb to see what else they can “get.”

It is understandable how we came to be this way – this selfish putting-first of everything pertaining to me and mine, this closed-eye faith in those who did a better job of “getting” and “keeping” than we. In a word: fear. I wrote in my last column that fear, in and of itself, is very simple. Just as darkness is the absence of light, fear is the absence of love.

Simple in definition, perhaps, but complex in its manifestations. As a parent, I hold many fears about my child’s future. So much seems beyond my control. In reality, what matters most is completely within my power to transform.

Most fear is taught. Studies have shown that 90% of all parents inflict physical pain as a way to teach right behavior from wrong. Fear certainly serves a useful purpose in keeping us safe from lions and tigers and bears for example, but in the case of corporal punishment, our moral decisions are then built on the fear of physical pain. As we grow, it is natural for us to go into self-protection mode when anything uncomfortable confronts us.

Me. Mine. Protect.

From the minutest example of a parent spanking a child to the grandest scale of a dictator’s deadly regime, fear of physical pain is a biological weapon used to enforce obedience.

Unquestioning subservience over time becomes blind glorification of the ties that bind.

As a result, there are billions of child-adults who logically choose Me/Mine over what is morally right. We run away from perceived fear instead of walking towards it shining our lights to examine its nothingness.  We hold close what we believe won’t hurt us. We make enemies out of the slightest possibility of pain.

Me. Mine. Get. Keep. Push. Punish. Protect. Disconnect. Demonize.

Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammad would never have struck a child, no matter what the crime. Why do we think it’s okay that we parent in a manner different from how God loves us? God doesn’t isolate us in time-outs either.

My Bible study group argued once that God in fact does punish us BECAUSE he loves us, and that is supposedly what parents spanking their children is all about. I disagree with every ounce of my being. We may perceive the consequences of our wrong actions as punishment, but the two are very different things. Consequences are natural, organic. They are our mistakes correcting themselves, our free will teaching us to be still and listen to the voice of God.

Punishment is the hell humans put each other through when we’ve stopped listening to God.

Yes, I have spanked and slapped hands in my ill-formed, ever-evolving parenting approach, but it was certainly not out of love. No punishment is born of love. Punishment is the result of plain and simple fear that the child will become the manifestation of the behavior we have judged as wrong. Spanking a child for failing to pick up toys is about our fear of them becoming irresponsible and slovenly, but more importantly, it’s about our fear of losing totalitarian control in our home, in our lives. “She didn’t listen to me, so I punished her” actually means “I am afraid of not being fully in control of what I consider ‘mine’ and of perceived disrespect towards that which I consider “me.”

So, yes, it is understandable, but it’s not OK. Spanking gets results in the short term, but I’m not raising my child short term. “I was spanked, and I turned out okay,” I might say, defensively. But did I really? Look at all the fears I hold, desperately, tightly, as if they were my Beloved.

In the game of Love – and make no mistake, that is the only game there is – none of it makes any sense. We have grown to physical adulthood and yet our spiritual maturity has been left in the smiling eyes of the four year-olds we once were.

Give, said Jesus.

Give mercy, said Mohammad.

First, practice generosity, said the Buddha.

That is the way to freedom.

Freedom is what I want, and it’s what I want for my child. Spankings and punishment become stillness and connection. Me and Mine becomes Us and Ours. Man-made borders become ribbons connecting the beauty of humanity.

We walk awkwardly through the snow. Her chatter balances my silence. I give.

Life is the crashing through the crust time and time again and yet crawling on. Because that is how I grow. That is how I gather strength and endurance for the tests ahead. For the toppling of the ladder. For forgiveness of the head-steppers. For unclenching their fear-filled fists so that we may join hands. As children would.

Through the Eyes of a 12-Year Old

 

(Column 47 – Published in the January 3rd Warroad Pioneer)

We had all joined hands in a huge family circle before our Christmas dinner, waiting for the last few to straggle in from the various parts of the house. When almost everyone had found a place in the circle, my younger brother Ward stopped the show holding up a piece of paper.

“Ellie wrote this story for school,” he said. “And this would be the perfect time to share it.”

Ellie is his wife’s 12-year old daughter and we welcomed them both as part of our family well before the wedding took place. Ward walked across the big circle. “She’s too embarrassed to read it, but here…,” he handed it to Kristal, our oldest sibling. Kristal is always good at on-the-spottedness.

She found her new reading glasses and within the first paragraph, Ellie, through Kristal, had most of us in tears.

We laughed and we cried, and at the end of this young girls’ story, we all held hands a little bit tighter before letting go for applause and whooping hollers of appreciation. My dad’s voice cracked as he said the blessing and looked around the circle at all of us. “You have no idea how much this means,” he said quietly, referring to the family as he held up both of his linked hands. “Just wait until you get older.” A single tear slipped down.

“You mean like Tony?” Ward guffawed. Everyone laughed.  Several more wise cracks floated through the sentimental wrinkles of our tough facades. But for everyone standing in that circle, and for the few on opposite sides of the country who couldn’t make it, nothing means more to us than this great big and growing-bigger family.

Here is Ellie’s story. It touched my heart to hear about our family’s celebration through her young eyes and tender position. It is one small but hugely important perspective of the amazing big-family experience I’ve been blessed with my whole life. And my dad is right; it only gets more precious as the years go by.

I’ve left her story as it was originally written, without correcting one word or punctuation mark. It comes from where she’s at in the world and it’s exactly perfect as is. Enjoy. And Happy New Year!

The Knight’s Christmas

(By Ellie Sabourin, Age 12)

Every other year the whole Knight family gathers at Grandma Linda’s and Grandpa Bill’s HUGE log cabin, named “The Big House.”  The house looks like those beautiful log houses you see in the magazines. It doesn’t sound like much, but when your grandparents had 8 children, all of them are married, and they all have about 3 children, and not to mention the half dozen dogs that try to eat every scrap that hits the floor. We should have our own movie, like the Griswold’s. Just imagine the chaos and excitement in that house, and the amount of cookies baked.

Since Grandpa has a band, we have a party and the whole Northwest Angle (population 150) comes. It’s so much fun! The Knight Lighters play until 3 in the morning while us kids get thrown into the snowbank by Casy, or for entertainment we put Iris’s Barbie on a remote control snowmobile. Other memorable activities include the 12 days of Christmas puppet theater. We each got to design our homemade sock puppet character with a cartoon singing voice. We also enjoy racing up and down the driveway barefoot in the snow. I’m pretty sure we could be youtube stars.

Grandpa Bill added a swing inside the house hanging from a log beam and we push each other just high enough to touch the delicate and massive moose antler chandelier. One year we put out all the mattresses from the 23 beds into the great room and it was like a trampoline park. When we are all worn out from countless games and running non stop Auntie Kellie spoils us with a big screen projected movie and Grampa’s amazing popcorn with just the right amount of butter (about 2 sticks) and salt.

All the women and girls enjoy baking in the kitchen around the island handbuilt by Grampa. Our family is so big we have a calendar that tells us whose turn it is to cook. We all get a turn to make a mess and taste test our creations. My favorite is the ice cream that Layla and I made from snow. I also enjoy decorating sugar cookies with Oma and Auntie Kristal except the little boys eat them faster than we bake them.

Last year in particular was one of my favorites. We had a expedition to get Grandma a real Christmas tree to add to the 6 artificial ones. Here’s the challenge….we had to get 22 children round up, dressed up and loaded up into sleds and snowmobiles. Talk about being squished like sardines into sleds! Plus the tree had to come back with us, after much disagreement on choosing the perfect tree. As children were dozing off in the snow we finally agreed to disagree on the perfect tree, did a headcount and headed off back home. Every little kid on the way back were saying “my hands are cold, i have to pee, don’t touch me, are we there yet?” A 45 minute deal turns into an 2 hour deal.

Then Nolan, Layla and I went snowmobiling with a sled. It was freedom from the little kids and a opportunity to start a new game. We called it Whiplash were one crazy driving cousin pulls someone on the sled behind them whipping them off the sled into the field. The person with the least amount of falls win. After all that pain we are rewarded with delicious hot chocolate.

Another favorite activity is we got to make gingerbread houses with Auntie Kristal who bought every kind of candy in the world. Most candies were eaten before houses were assembled. The most talked about and debated tradition would have to be the girls against boys ice fishing competition. We spend the whole day on the ice. One year the boys cheated when someone in a nearby fish house offered the boys there extra fish. Of course they added that to their total, winning by 1 fish or something like that. But details don’t matter and we all had a great time.

I can’t wait for this upcoming Christmas. No matter what we do, we always have fun because we are together. With all the chaos and excitement you are never bored! I love being a grandchild in the Knight family even if I have to wait in line to use a bathroom (there’s 3).

 

The Knowable and the Unknowable

Column 39 published in the November 1, 2016 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Angle Schmangle.

Grace Schmace.

I weary of my own proselytizing.

I’m on Week 10 of reading the Bible. The plan skips around a bit, thank goodness; if I had to start at Genesis and plow through to Revelation, I don’t know that I’d make it. I constantly pray for an open heart and an open mind, but the defensive skeptic in me still seems to be the loudest voice.

I ask myself constantly while reading, “What are you afraid of, Kellie?”

I must be afraid of something, because I am certainly judging the Bible and slamming my eyes closed to what it may have to offer. Ever the defender of women, I can easily point at the Old Testament as partial cause and definite perpetuator of the centuries of subjugation, violence towards and utter objectification of womankind.

No wonder we’ve only had the right to vote for 96 years. No wonder the Equal Rights Amendment never passed. No wonder we are only just now seeing a female-led ticket for one of the two major political parties. Women have learned to behave as objects, train our daughters to assimilate gracefully, and viciously punish any sister who dares to embrace their truth, their wildness, their inner she-wolves.

Remembering that all things work together for good is hard in this new beginning, especially as my questions grow on all sides of the Biblical equation.

For instance, I don’t understand how one comes to accept that the God of the Bible condemned to death the unborn children of suspected unfaithful wives (Numbers 5:27) at only the jealous feelings of the husband. And yet today, Christians are fighting an all-out war to declare that life begins at inception and “thou shalt not murder” zygotes, and Big Government needs to enforce as much over all its citizens regardless of faith. How does religion reconcile this? How is it explained away, as so many other things seem to be?

About that and many other topics, I’ve read a hundred articles, listened to dozens of speakers, poured through numerous other books, gone to church every week that I could, and confessed to and asked questions of my Bible study cohorts. Yet I still don’t buy into the explanations of how the one true God can love and yet punish so absolutely, so cruelly. How He can be omnipotent and yet jealous, ego-less and yet require unending sacrifices, merciful and yet so intolerant of a human nature he surely predicted.

I guess I simply can’t yet take it on faith. Or maybe it just takes the stubborn, evolution-believing intellectual types more than 10 weeks to submit, to surrender.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m not quite grasping that it’s impossible for me to fully grasp God. A tiny sliver of life’s pie represents the things I know that I know. A slightly bigger sliver are the things I know that I don’t know. And all the rest, surely in 95-99% range, is the multitude, infinitude actually, of things I don’t know that I don’t know. God is there. In the holy space of the unknowable. Or at least that’s where our small minds put Him.

Or maybe God isn’t so distant at all. Maybe God is the very make-up of our cells, as science suggests, so infinitely within us that what we’re not grasping, can never grasp is the utter simplicity of His glory.

My naivety is surely cringe-worthy to the long-practiced Christians in the bunch. And I’m ok with that.

I won’t judge you for judging me.

I won’t even judge you for abandoning this column. It hasn’t been easy to be on the inside of all this muckity muck, so I can’t imagine it’s been any kind of fun looking on from the outside.

Back to life at The Angle…

As a new non-drinker, I’ve stayed away from The Angle’s normal social scene. It was out of necessity at first and then became a lack of desire to witness in others the way I was. Now, the staying away has changed into a need for relating to my fellow humans that is deeper, more fulfilling than the false affection bought by a handful of cocktails. A glass of wine has turned into a cup of tea. Putting on the kettle, choosing the flavor, letting it steep in a sentimental little tea pot with matching cups has taken on more meaning and delight for me than uncorking a bottle ever could.

In years past, my little family put hours of creative effort into our Halloween costumes, and this year, we found ourselves with zero desire to dress-up and attend the drinking party. “Let’s put our focus on Iris,” Tony suggested. And that felt right and good.

And so, we’ll be bats. Her idea. Her desire. A family of bats, creatures of the night, embraced by the children of God, made beautiful by the inherent creative power of love.

Just kidding. I won’t theologize our dollar store bat masks. It’s a costume. Nothing more than a tiny sliver of life’s little knowable pie.