Calm Amidst the Storm

In my effort to hold things together, I’ve managed to fall apart. After many years of robust health, my body has started to cause me grief so I decided to seek some relief by visiting Union Square's community acupuncture center. I was immediately calmed as I entered the dimly lit space and was warmly greeted by the woman on duty and her sweet dog. After the needles were in place and a soft blanket was draped comfortable around me, I was gratefully lulled into deep rest while ocean waves from the sound system surrounded me. I left the session feeling better and was able to finally have a solid night sleep.

Encouraged by this experience, I made an appointment for the next day even though another winter storm warning was in the forecast. As I approached the building I saw a large and growing crowd of 20-something protesters chanting passionately for gun control. Cars driving by would honk their horn and the rowdy crowd would go wild. I was amused but also annoyed as this likely meant my vision for another blissful visit was dissolving. “Isn’t Massachusetts known for having the strictest gun control in the country? I asked myself. “Wouldn’t their efforts be better spent outside Congress?”

I reluctantly entered the office hoping the noise outside would not be an issue. I noticed another person having a treatment and the young man working that day said the noise from outside might not be so noticeable if I chose a spot away from the windows so I settled myself into a seat near the audio speakers and hoped for the best.

After the needles were in place and I was covered with the blanket, I started to focus on the soft rain sounds coming from the speakers when all of a suddenly came a loud thunder strike which then merged with the energy and chanting coming from outside. Instead of annoyance as I suspected I would feel, I felt a rush of excitement and gratitude for those young souls out there speaking out so passionately about something extremely important. Sure, their voices were likely only echoing those of the progressive community around them and would not make an impact on the actual cause, but there they all were out there on a cold, damp winter day coming together and taking action.

The feeling of excitement and gratitude soon turned to relief. Perhaps this was due to the needles releases my stuck energy or perhaps it was because it reminded me about what I already know – that our world is in the middle of a great transformational storm right now and we’re all going through it together. People are finally waking up to the injustices and imbalance that exist in our society and I believe the younger generation will help lead us out of this mess we’ve created. The burden is NOT all on my shoulders as I sometimes feel it to be. For a brief few minutes I felt cocooned and protected, realizing we are all in this together.

My physical pain stubbornly persists but I will continue to work through it while remembering to remain centered and calm as the turbulence swirls about me.

 

 

A Day on a Farm

Teaching children about the nature world, should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.
— Thomas Berry
 Checking in on the baby piglets.

Checking in on the baby piglets.

I have vivid memories of a second grade school field trip to the Alfalfa Farm. The dairy farm was located 20 miles from my hometown of Winthrop, just outside of Boston, but it was an alternative universe to my impressionable, eight-year old self. To this day, when passing the farm from the highway, I recollect sitting on a stool in a dark, cool, smelly barn learning how to milk a cow and realizing there was another way of life than what I had known.

Perhaps it was that experience, along with some profound intuitive flashes received after being laid off from my soul crushing corporate job, which led me to become a part-time farm educator at Natick Community Organic Farm this past year. The hourly wage I was paid just about covered my travelling expense from the city, but it wasn’t about the money. I was determined to contribute in a meaningful way and I could think of no better way than to help kids become more connected to the natural world.

Teaching kids at a farm fell WAY outside my comfort zone. I never had kids, had never taught before, and spent only a handful of hours on a farm. Things move quickly on a farm. After a few hours of training and shadowing,  I found myself standing in front of 30 pairs of young eyes for my first maple sugaring tour. There was little time for nerves to set in. I had no choice but to dive in and give it my best shot. I was relieved when the tour was over. I survived and believe the kids may have actually learned something. I was an exhilarating experience and I was proud of myself.

Each morning of my shift, I would arrive early so I could walk around and visit with the animals and see what changes had taken place since my last visit. There was always something happening – animals were born (or sadly taken away), new fields were being planted, and farmers were busily crossing items off of their never ending chores list. After a few moments of blissful peace, the school bus would arrive and out would pour dozens of rowdy, excited kids. It was then “on-time” for me for the next 75 minutes.

With each subsequent tour I became more knowledgeable and comfortable and learned how to adapt my style based on the age and dynamics of the group. The kids stole my heart. No matter how young they were, they amazed me with their insight and intelligence. There would inevitably be two or three kids that would stick by my side and share their stories with me as we walked around the farm. Sometimes they would take my hand or call me Farmer Anne. I secretly loved that.

As the school season came to an end, so did my job at the farm - just when I felt I was starting to have an impact. But if I helped to spark a bit of wonder in just one child, my time and effort would all be worthwhile. I will dearly miss my time at the farm and mostly the kids. Who knows what life will throw at me next year but perhaps when the sap starts flowing again in late winter, I’ll be back.

Looking Back

To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, or a tree without a root.
— Chinese proverb

I’ve been walking around with a tiny framed photo of my grandfather Wallace in my pocket for a couple of days now. I snatched it from an old shoe box that was tucked into the back of the hutch in my parent’s condo. The photo is of my mom’s father and it’s the only one I know that exists.

It has been four years since mom passed away and my siblings and I recently moved dad into an assisted living facility. It has been a bittersweet process sorting through the belongings left behind from my parent’s life together and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of.

Neither of my parents shared much about their childhood with us kids. I know my mom’s mother passed away from cancer at an early age, leaving my mom and her three sisters to fend for themselves while their father, a postal clerk for the Boston and Lowell Railroad, spent most of his free time at the horse track. My mom was the second oldest and left with a lot of responsibility and she took to it well. She was always extremely self-reliant and passed those qualities onto us kids.

My grandfather passed away when I was seven so my recollection of him is very faint. He visited us infrequently even though he lived in Somerville which was easily assessible to our home in Winthrop by public transportation. When he did come to visit, I remember my sister and I would greet him at the bus stop and we'd each take a hand as he exited the bus and cheerily walk with him the few blocks back to our home. He would play a game of chess with my father before dinner and depart soon after dessert. I recollect that on the day he passed away, he had plans to take my brother to a baseball game. Perhaps he was starting to form a bond with his grandchildren that he was unable to form with his daughters?

In the photo, he looks distinguished in his collared shirt and buttoned up cardigan and serious expression. I see my mom and my aunts (and myself for that matter) in his image. I was curious to know more about him so after some research I discovered that his father passed away at a very early age, leaving him and his mom on their own. The same circumstances had befallen his grandfather as well. I can conjure up how difficult it may have been for my grandfather to have been brought up without a strong father figure and then have the fortune of being left to raise four young daughters alone. Perhaps I can understand why he escaped to the horses.

With the surname of Wallace, we all assumed our family lineage led back to Scotland. So I was very surprised when I learned that the Wallace name was adapted several generations ago from the original name of Waltz! In the early 1750’s, 1,500 young Germans were enlisted to migrate to rural Waldoboro, Maine to work in the shipbuilding industry. They were promised a better life but upon arrival, the young immigrants learned things were going to be much more difficult than what was sold to them. Nonetheless, they persevered and made the wilderness their home. After several generations in Maine as boat builders and farmers, my ancestors made their way towards Boston in the mid 1800s, likely to work within the booming industries which was deemed a step up from rural life.

As I peel off the layers of our family tree, it reveals to me more about myself and why I am the way I am. Each generation must deal with life based on the circumstances and decisions of those that came before. I believe that by looking back and understanding the past, we are capable of healing hidden shadows not only for ourselves but for our ancestors as well. Once we acknowledge past grief and pain, we can reconcile and release it and move forward in a new light.

I feel a kinship with my Grandfather Wallace now. I have placed his image down next to his daughter, my mother, and will try my best to bring the family legacy forward in the best possible way. Rest in Peace.

 Grant Emerson Wallace (1899-1970)

Grant Emerson Wallace (1899-1970)

 Claire Wallace Brown (1933-2013)

Claire Wallace Brown (1933-2013)

 

 

 

Our Giving Nature

Among other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.
— Maya Angelou

There are times (more recently lately) where I feel like packing it all up, moving to the countryside, amassing a barn full of animals and becoming totally self-reliant. That way I can distance myself from a society that appears to be increasingly unaware - or worse yet, aware but uncaring - for the well being of others around them.

I try my best to surround myself with positivity, but it only takes turning on the news, walking through a mall, or reading hateful comments in social media to bring me spiraling down into despair. It’s usually about then that something happens that touches my heart and restores my faith in humanity.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Lawrence, MA recently doing some filming for a documentary project. I’ve gotten to know some truly inspiring people doing amazing work to better the lives of those within their community. I’m learning it is those who have the least, who are often the ones with the most compassion and willingness to give.

As I was waiting in one of the large mill buildings for my interview subject to arrive, an older woman appeared carrying two large paper bags. She asked if I knew where the donation drop-off point was for the Christmas Eve fire victims that she read about in the morning paper. I steered her towards someone who could assist her. As I continued waiting, a large pickup truck backed into the loading dock filled with bags upon bags of donations. Volunteers were busy unloading the goods when my contact appeared and we headed off for some shooting.

When we returned to the Mill a couple hours later, we ran into a timid looking middle-aged couple with bags in hand inquiring about the donation spot. I spied stuffed animals and warm coats in their bags and I envisioned them bustling around all morning collecting items they felt would be helpful and meaningful. I pointed them towards the donation drop-off area but they returned towards us with bags still in hand and explained that a posted sign stated that due to the overwhelming response, donations were no longer being accepted. The couple looked truly disappointed until my compansion suggested other nearby organizations that would surely welcome their offerings. They purposefully headed off.

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As I was walking towards my car, an old, beat up SUV pulled up next to me. My immediate impression was that the mother and daughter were no strangers to a hard life but they appeared eager and excited as they asked me if I knew where the donation area was. Their truck was loaded to the brim with children’s toys and other items. I explained compassionately about the situation. The look of sadness and disappointment on their faces is not something I will soon forget. The mother then perked up and said that they had a Pack and Play that was specifically mentioned as needed and I directed them on their way.

Perhaps I won’t be packing up and moving off to the wilderness just yet.  I might need some fine folks nearby to assist me at a time of need in the future. And I’ll be reminded that they may be as happy to give, as I would be grateful to receive. And next time I find myself wallowing in despair, I will look about and see what help or service I can be to others.

Wishing peace, happiness and health to all for 2017.  Let’s take care of each other.

 

 

Letting Go of Martha

We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full
— Marcel Proust

Shortly after moving to Arizona, my friend and I decided it would be a great idea for me to get a companion for her kitty George who had bravely endured the cross country road trip with us. We headed out to the Rabies Control Center on the edge of town and walked into a windowless, badly lit corridor lined with cage after cage of abandoned, lonely cats.

At the end of the corridor, just before the sicker animals, was a scrawny, short-haired, patch-work young female nursing a younger kitty. When I approached, she immediately jumped to the front of the cage and stuck her long, thin paw out for me to take. I was immediately charmed by her nurturing and affectionate nature.  

My friend yelled over for me to come look at the adorable black and white kittens that had just arrived. We were told they would be scooped up quickly. After much anguished deliberation and wanting to please my friend, I reluctantly selected one of the cute kittens and proceeded to the front desk. At a pause in the checkout process, I asked the woman behind the counter about the history of my friend down at the end of the hall and was told that she was the runt of a litter and the person who surrendered her had named her Loner. Tears streamed down my face and everyone in the room looked on with pity assuming I was there for an entirely different reason. My friend gave me a disappointed look when I told the woman I had changed my mind.

As soon as we introduced “Martha” to George they immediately despised each other and it was at that moment I became acutely aware that I had made a serious commitment to care for this sweet, gangly creature through the good times and bad.

Fast forwarding seventeen years. We survived the cross country road trip back to Boston and lived contently in a cramped one-bedroom North End apartment for fifteen years, occasionally sharing it with boyfriends, a few who were kind to her but most were indifferent. We eventually settled into our cozy condo in Cambridge complete with a sheltered courtyard allowing Martha to explore any wildness that might be left within her.

It was a warm, sunny winter morning and Martha was failing. She had not eaten for days and wanted nothing more than to find comfort curled up in my lap. I went to yoga class and when the instructor asked us to set an intention for the practice, I silently asked for calmness, clarity and strength to do what I knew needed to be done for my friend.

When I returned home I was surprised Martha had enough will to get herself down the stairs and outside. She defiantly walked over to her favorite spot but I could tell she was not able to find the comfort there she was seeking. She slowly headed back to our front door and started to stumble. I swept her into my arms and walked upstairs and stood near the kitchen window where the sun was streaming in. I looked into her eyes for guidance but she was staring off somewhere unknown to me. I knew it was time. She obediently got into her carrying case and once we were in the car, she crawled out and settled deeply in my lap as I slowly drove to the animal hospital.

I waited alone in the cold, sterile waiting room as she was being examined. The Super Bowl halftime show was playing on the TV and the Black Eyed Peas were cheerily singing, “Tonight’s gonna be a good night.” The bitter irony of the lyrics stung me and anger filled my body. The caring doctor called me into the room, confirmed my suspicion and carefully explained the options and what she felt was the most compassionate thing to do.

Martha was prepped and brought to me in a small, foreign, round sheepskin bed. We were left alone and I lifted her from the bed and placed her on my lap to feel her beautiful, soft fur against my skin. She was calmly draped across my lap when the doctor came back to give the injection. Soon after the fluid entered her sick body, I felt a sudden, very definite release, and then a complete blankness and a letting go. My gut and mind unclenched and I heard in my head the words, “It’s OK.” I’m sure that was the moment Martha left me, this world, and her pain behind and was thankful.

After the doctor confirmed Martha was gone, she asked if I wanted to spend more time with her and I said yes, thinking that would be best. Soon after, I felt the warmth leaving Martha's body and quickly called the doctor back to take her away. I knew she was no longer there. I asked the doctor how she could possibly do this work. She took a deep breath and explained it was hard but she meets the most wonderful people, who care deeply for their pets and she feels honored to be there together with them as they said goodbye and she helped it happen in a compassionate way. She said it was beautiful and special.

I’m not sure why I chose to share this story from my past. Perhaps as a path towards deeper healing or perhaps because I know countless others can relate to this story and by sharing it, they will know they’re not alone and might be able to find some healing too. 

Peace.

Finding Meaning

We inherit from our ancestors gifts so often taken for granted... Each us contains within...this inheritance of soul. We are links between the ages containing past and present expectations, sacred memories and future promise.
— Edward Sellner

I’m constantly trying to make sense of this beautiful, turbulent world and my place within it.  I enjoy reading insights from progressive thinkers, both past and present, and weave their ideas with my personal experiences and observances to find meaning. I think what I’m really aiming for is to make sure that my life is well lived and know that I’m making some sort of positive contribution to this planet and humanity while I’m here.

One way I’ve tried to gain a better understanding of myself and where I fit into it all is by researching where I came from. Anyone who has done genealogy research will tell you that it can be a life changing experience. It brings history to life like no textbook can and makes you rethink whatever narrative you’ve come to believe about yourself. Without going into all the details, I discovered that my roots are deeply entrenched in New England and can be traced all the way back to the founding of the country.

On one hand, there is a sense of pride knowing my ancestors were among the earlier settlers. Perhaps that is where I get my strong belief in freedom and traits of hardiness, resilience and independence. It could also explain why I have such a fierce love and connection to the land and sea spanning from Massachusetts through Maine towards Canada.  But it’s easy to romanticize these things. I’m sure there were unbearable struggles, sordid stories and less admirable traits amongst my ancestry.  

After thinking about where I came from for a while, I came to realize that we are ALL immigrants. We know that the longstanding inhabitants of this land prior to the European colonists were the Native American people. After a brief period of peaceful relations between the natives and colonists, boundaries were overstepped and agreements broken. The native people tried valiantly to maintain their land and culture but they were ultimately outnumbered. Many perished by disease or battle and those that remained were forced to conform to the newcomer’s ways. There were some who went into hiding or found it possible to continue their beliefs and practices and pass down their sacred knowledge to those they trusted.

I’ve been studying Native American culture for the past few years now. The people lived in harmony with the land and took only what was needed. They believed the land and all animals were imbued with spirit and treated it with respect. They believed and followed the concept of “Seventh Generation” where every action and decision made ensured the welfare and well being of the seventh generation to come. There was a clear understanding that every action has consequences and that ultimately we are all connected to creation.

I recently took a trip to Washington, DC and visited the amazing National Museum of the American Indian. As I walked through the extensive exhibits showcasing native customs, ceremonies, tools, craftwork and their simpler ways of life, I trailed a dad and his young son. The young boy was enthralled and asked lots of questions which his dad deftly answered. At one point the boy looked up at his dad and said “Boy, they were so lucky!”  I was thankful that the museum existed to tell their story so well and to represent a way of life very different from our current chaotic, technological and stress driven existence.

I can’t help to think how things might be different today if the early settlers had better assimilated with the native people and their culture. There is so much damage that has been done with the prevailing worldview that we are separate from nature and from each other. I hope it is not too late for us to make the appropriate retributions, resurrect some of the native ways and correct our course for the generations to come. 

I surely don’t have things figured out and know it's futile to think I ever will, but I’ll continue to search for truth and meaning to help understand myself and how I can best be in this world.

Peace.

We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
— Native American Proverb

Talking to Strangers

It’s all about hope, kindness and a connection to one another.
— Elizabeth Taylor

I recently took a day trip to Block Island. After dropping a friend off at the marina for a sail back to Boston, I anxiously headed off by myself on my rented moped to explore the island. I soon came upon a popular lighthouse stop and pulled in to check it out.  After exploring the lighthouse a bit, I ventured out to the large grassy space in back to take in the view and take some photos. Due to the slanted slope, it was hard to get a full view of the steep cliffs below so I decided to perch myself up onto a large rock in the center of the lawn. I watched a young girl of about 6 or 7 easily scrambled up the rock. There was plenty of space for another body up there, so I asked her about the best route to get up and she helpfully directed me.  As I sat myself down, the young girl sat beside me and I mentioned to her that this was my first visit to the lighthouse. She started pointing out some points of interest to me. As I was feeling a bit lonely, I was thankful for her friendliness and happy to be in her company. 

We were suddenly startled when behind us her mother screeched, “Get down right now! Do you know that woman? You’re practically sitting in her lap!  Get down!”  I looked at the woman to assure her it was OK but she gave me a stern dismissal as the little girl scrambled off the rock. She hung her head shamefully as her mother pulled her aside and continued reprimanding her. “I’m sure that woman is nice but I’ve told you many times before to NEVER talk to someone you don’t know.”

I was shaken by the woman’s reaction and upset for her daughter who was being so publically scolded for something that came so naturally from her pure, joyful soul. I felt sad for her and a little shamed myself. Was I wrong to have engaged with the child? Had she gotten into some trouble before with a stranger?  Was the young mother scarred from a past experience of her own?  How might the mother’s fear and actions impact her daughter's naturally gregarious personality as she matures?

Not being a mother myself, perhaps I don’t fully understand the fierce protective nature of a parent. I was a very shy child so my parents did not have to worry about me talking with strangers. I don’t think that was as much of a concern back then as it is today. Today it seems we live in such a fear driven society which can lead to a crippling sense of wellbeing if we let it.  It can also become self-fullfilling if we’re not careful to temper it with common sense and faith in fellow human beings.

My introverted nature has softened as I’ve matured. I’m still not overly chatty but when I do feel compelled to engage with a stranger in my travels, I usually walk away from the exchange feeling more connected and lighter and sometimes wiser and more enlightened. We all need more of that in this world today.

Peace.

Transformation

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
— Socrates

I’ve been thinking a lot about change and transformation lately, both personal and societal. Old systems and ways of doing things are breaking down. Instead of resisting and fighting to keep things together, the better option is to stop, take a good hard look at things and release what is not working. I'm learning to trust my gut to know what needs to change and take the necessary actions to build something new, meaningful and long lasting. So it’s no wonder that ‘transformation’ ended up being the theme for my newest video project. 

I love the creative process. I marvel at artists and craftspeople who by sheer imagination, talent and effort give birth to new, beautiful and though provoking things for all to appreciate. I particularly love ceramic arts and when I was thinking of a subject for my next video project, I contacted a local ceramic artist that I’ve long admired, Judith Motzkin, and asked her if she would be willing to work with me and was very happy when she agreed.

Judy is a dynamo as I learned when I visited her at her studio in Cambridge. She’s well known for her beautiful saggar-fired vessels, spirit urns and functional bread pots. She is less well known for her photography of the dune erosion which she’s been taking over the past thirteen years at Newcomb Hollow in Wellfleet, close to her summer home.

Judy made it clear she was not interested in being in a standard “talking head” video. We talked a bit about her dune photography and how the images she captured looked very similar to the landscapes found in her saggar-fired vessels. Judy also mentioned that while others find the erosion of the dunes very distressing, she finds it fascinating. The steep cliffs of grass, clay and sand are constantly shifting due to gravity and the barrage of strong sea winds. Each time Judy visits the dunes, she discovers new, interesting layers revealed. I see a connection between the beach erosion and the process of living life. Things must change to bring forth what is new.

I thought it might be interesting to combine Judy’s photography with her saggar-fire process and tie it together around the theme of transformation. I met Judy on a cloudy morning in April at the dunes in Wellfleet as she ran around taking photos. We then headed back to her home where I captured her unloading and loading her handmade raku kiln. With images captured that day and dune photos and video provided by Judy, I put together this final piece.  I hope you enjoy it or at least find it interesting.

Learn more about Judy and see her work.
Learn more saggar-fired process.

Peace.