365 Grateful: a visit from a walkingstick

365-08-30-2015A walkingstick comes wandering to my garage today, all slender-like and tentative, his woodsiness sorely out of place on the white vinyl doorjamb. The pincers at the bottom of his abdomen give him away — only males have those.

I think it odd to see a four-legged species — an anomaly for sure, given that his kind sports six twiggy appendages, but as I gaze at him, he takes a few lumbering steps. Ah, there they are! Two legs splayed directly above his head like thick, stick-like antennae, obscuring the more delicate feelers below.

I marvel at my visitor, for it’s been years since I’ve seen one in nature and not pinned in pseudo-lifelike poses beneath glass at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, with taxonomy neatly scribed beside it. He’s a Diapheromera femorata, I think, of the Northern Walkingsticks clan.

I shut my door, reluctantly leaving him on the doorjamb, to go about an afternoon of errands. But when I return, I slip over again, curious to see if he’s had enough of vinyl and hot sun. Gone! Then I look up. He hangs above my head, clinging to the lintel, still in stark contrast to the white vinyl. Though I’m ridiculously glad he’s still visiting, I can’t help but think he’s vulnerable on my vinyl since he normally prefers the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs in the woods, where he blends in and camouflages for protection. I’ve yet to see vinyl thriving and growing in the woods! Luckily, the edge of our woods is mere yards from my door. Better yet, I’ve a red maple tree a few steps away.

I glance around and spy several leftover spokes of straw from our spring grass seeding, and I thrust a few up toward him. His legs wave in alarm but then grasp at something organic, something that must jog his memory, perhaps. He climbs aboard for the short flight to my tree.

I don’t know if that journey seems miraculous to him or is just another moment in his life that simply spans a few walking stick football fields. I hold his transportation up at the intersection of a small leafy branch, and he daintily — but quickly — steps off that straw vessel and onto what I think must feel like home.

Within seconds, he clambers underneath a small leafy umbrella, lifting one leg as if saluting some benevolent spirit for carrying him to safety … or perhaps simply searching for the next step. With a pang, I watch him blend in, knowing I’ll not find him again in his own habitat. While I may be a little bereft of his presence, I’m infinitely more wealthy for having spent time in his company. And I’m grateful that he chose to grace my vinyl sided doorjamb today.

365 Grateful: All my life’s a circle …

365 - 08-20-2015
Once upon a time …

There was a West Virginia native who lived two clicks over into Ohio across a deep river. On the day of separation from an awesome Circle Way Practicum on Whidbey Island, Washington, where cell service was slivered, she reached the big city of Seattle, where she curled up in her hotel to await the next day’s dawn flight. She begrudgingly decided to check email (she had 300+) and found tucked in among the spam and junk a tiny inquiry from a local educational institution back home: “Wondering if you would be interested in teaching English Composition this semester. I need an instructor.”

“English comp?!? How uninspiring,” was her first thought, as she thought only of the her end-of-year schedule.
 “Although it would be cool to start with a Story Council,” was her second.
 “Wonder if it’s possible to change the whole ‘boring’ classroom experience by conducting it using circle way concepts,” was her third.

So, on her 12-hour trip toward West Virginia Ohio, she let those thoughts roll around in her head. The next day, which she had presciently taken off from work, she struck out in her trusty Prius only to discover a nail – with a circular head – stuck in her circular, though somewhat misshapen, tire. The AAA repairman removed the lug nuts (arranged in a circular way around the rim) to install a cute little donut tire, leading to the subsequent transformation of the misshapen tire back into a fully inflated circle. Voila! Whole again, just in time to visit her sister who, in addition to taking pity on a jetlagged sibling by cooking breakfast, showed off her newly installed circular firepit, perfect for a Story Council Circle.

And she began thinking about how the closing of one circle is truly a difficult, sometimes painful, process, yet absolutely natural. And how that closure makes way for the creation and repair of new and continuing circles in life. It’s uncanny how the universe just hands you what you need and want, if you simply take the time to see, and notice, and listen deeply.

So she’s agreed to teach that English Comp class and committed to trying to find circle applications in the doing of it. Her ongoing circle meets in a week and is interested to hear about her experience, so she’s hosting that with renewed circle principles, a little like that reconstituted tire. At work, new opportunities to work with circle practices are emerging.

Grateful for the opportunity to study the Circle Way with the founders and with 19 other amazing participants in a most sacred space in a Pacific Northwest alder marsh. “All my life’s a circle, sunrise to sundown…” *

*Harry Chapin, All My Life’s a Circle


365 Grateful: It’s the little things

We’re on our way to a weekend family reunion in Virginia when, yes, that diet cola kicks in and the words “Rest Stop” become magical.  We pull over along the West Virginia Turnpike so I can zip in to the women’s room. What I spy there almost (almost!) makes me forget what I came in for.  

There on the wall by the sinks with their typically placed soap dispensers is one hanging about waist height … and it’s absolutely awesome! Colorful, bright, just for kids (and a few adults, like me!)  I have to bend down to stick my hand underneath, sure I am capturing some special kid-only soap.  It’s magical. I laugh out loud, whip out my phone, and snap a photo.  The folks coming in the door sidle away, but what do I care?  They’re grown ups … big people.  Not kids. A flash of sympathy sweeps through me, and I fling a wish into the stratosphere: that they may experience for themselves — and soon — the excitement of discovering delight in little things. Grateful that I still do.  

365 Grateful: we are infinitely more than we seem

365 - 08-02-2015

We visited the Butterfly House at Thomson’s Landscaping in Marietta, Ohio, this weekend. While there were a few Monarch butterflies in various stages of life — from still-wet wings to voracious flower hunters — there were far more striking caterpillars inching their way along the leaves, leaving behind them strangely denuded stems.

As I watched them cling, and eat, and eat, and inch, and dangle, and eat … they seemed so far removed from their future selves. If I hadn’t learned about the life cycle of a butterfly in science class so long ago, I would never think that one begets the other.

Maybe we’re like those caterpillars. We travel in our ruts, doing what we’ve always done, looking for what we’ve always seen, hearing what we’ve always heard. Until one day we pause in our journey and wonder what else is out there and what more we might become. Purpose takes hold, and we know — we just KNOW — that there’s something else out there for us.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung called it individuation — the process of the self emerging from an undifferentiated unconscious. It’s then that innate elements of our personalities (our immature psyche) integrate with our life experiences and we become a more complete, well-functioning whole. It takes a lifetime, and we never become fully, totally complete. We can always evolve.

Today, I’m grateful for delightful caterpillars, as beautiful in their many-footed way as their winged selves will be in the not-too-distant future.

Caterpillar2    butterfly    Caterpillar1

365 Grateful: Lessons from a cabbie

I met an amazing man today. We shared a cab from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to downtown, and talked all the way about anything from politics (always dangerous) to education to work ethic to cars (he believes the Toyota Prius is the best car out there, and I pretty much agree).  

He told me about his daughter, his pride palpable. She just graduated from Loyola University with a 4.0 in business and pre-law, and she spoke at her graduation ceremonies. He is so proud that she only has $15,000 worth of debt after four years, courtesy of her smarts and willingness to work hard to achieve her goals of getting a college degree (scholarships being the end result … Loyola is not cheap).  That $15,000 is a car loan, by the way, not tuition debt. 
But that’s only part of the story. This man was my driver, his heavily accented English cluing me in that he hailed from another country. Albania. He, his wife and two kids arrived here with nothing. He took two jobs — by day at a car wash and at night as a dishwasher at a Chicago hotel — just to keep the family going and give his kids a great start in life. 

His pride when he spoke of going to see his daughter graduate and hearing her give the address made my eyes leak.

He asked me, “Do you know what she said?” His eyes met mine in the rear view mirror before he continued. “In front of thousands of people there, she talked about how we had come here with nothing, knowing no one, and how she studied and worked hard to get to where she was that day. She told them that if she could do that with nothing, knowing nobody, they could all do it, too. Every one of them.”

This man drives a cab in Chicago. He works seven days a week. He almost didn’t go to his daughter’s graduation because he needed to work, but she insisted, and he’s very glad he did. He makes money, he says, but he wasn’t able to pay for his daughter’s education, although it worked out because she was smart and got scholarships.

Still, you know what he said? “I’m happy because I was able to support my family so both of my kids could get college degrees and jobs. If I do nothing else, that is enough.”

After I caught my breath, I told him he had done a marvelous thing and had every right to be extremely proud. 

So very very grateful to have gotten this particular cab.   

365 Grateful: ancient artifacts lie in the eyes of beholders

365-07-19-2015So tiny. Smaller than a thumbnail. So meticulously constructed. Abandoned after a year of storage on the wires of a bird feeder. It’s  like a miniature pottery vase, maybe from some ancient insect civilization, if you consider a year to be ancient. But then, perhaps to an insect that IS ancient history.

I found it today, marveled at the workmanship crafted undoubtedly by a paper wasp. I’m grateful for this glimpse on a different level altogether of the world in which I live. Paper Wasp from last year, Ancient Egyptian from 3100 BC, Hopi potter from 1300. When I look at nature, as Thoreau suggests, at the level of the tiniest leaf or from the vantage point of an insect, those worlds are not so different.

365 - 07-16 -2015They’re tiny little things, these fungi in my front mulch, clinging somehow to elusive nutrients in sticks and chips of wood, made hospitable by the fact we’ve had rain nearly every day for a month or two.

I woke up to a veritable forest of slender, pale gray toadstools that had poked their leggy selves up overnight. I came home to a wasteland, as if some terrible wind had plucked them from the ground, uprooting what tenuous connections they had to Mother Earth.

Dismayed, I looked closer. Ah, peeking up through those inhospitable chips of wood mulch were new, tiny heads, no bigger than a quarter of an inch. Another forest’s worth of life ready to bust forth tonight while I sleep.

Grateful, then, for tiny toadstools living gloriously fleeting lives in the space of a day in my front garden bed of mulch. They make me realize that we exist in a symbiotic environment. I respect that. It’s a give and take kind of world, even when it seems so many of us prefer taking to giving most of the time. There’s still hope.