Friday, September 11, 2020

September 11th Reflection essay

Written during college Fall 2001. Santa Barbara, CA.

How deserted lies the city, 

Once so full of people!

How like a widow is she, 

Who once was great among the nations!

She who was queen among the provinces 

Has now become a slave. 


Bitterly she weeps at night, 

Tears are upon her cheeks.


Lamentations 1:1-2


The alarm clock goes off and in a daze I walk into the shower. Misty comes in and is talking about something in New York. I hear the words “fire” and “World Trade Center” and in my ignorant stupor fail to realize the severity of the situation. I fail to make the connection that there has been an attack on my nation and that many people are dead or dying. My class is cancelled and I travel, with a herd of others, to our school cafeteria to watch the history unfolding. I view the horrific scene of the plane crashing into the second tower of the trade center again and again and again and am overwhelmed with indescribable feelings. The words of Joseph Conrad echo and I can think of nothing more besides, the horror. The horror. I gave up at the screen completely dumbfounded and try to decipher the nonsensical and imperceptible jargon and commentary coming from those just as confused as we. So many lives lost. The carnage too deep even to comprehend. Two hundred sixty six killed in airplanes. Eight hundred people working in that particular section of the Pentagon. Over fifty thousand people supposed to be in the World Trade Centers that day.

 I run numbers in my head. One hundred and sixty eight: number killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing. Two hundred: number of people who lived in my dorm last year. Eight hundred: Three-fourths of the population of my school. Fifty thousand: The number of people that live in my town. Five: The number of people I wish that I could hold right now. 

Like Alice, I have descended down a rabbit hole into absurdity and confusion and have not yet awakened from this unshakable nightmare. Everyone is making declarations.

 “War has been declared on America.” 

“Osama Bin Laden is the prime suspect believed to be responsible.” 

“We are going to punish the people responsible for this and the nations that harbor them,” our President George W. Bush says. 

A chill runs up my spine when I think how many more may die if that is the course of action that is taken. I cannot understand this mentality of retaliation. Attacking Afghanistan, for the acts of a few extreme fundamentalists, seems synonymous with beating a child to teach him not to hit his brother. To paraphrase Ghandi, if we all maintain the mentality of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth we will soon be interacting with a plethora of blind and toothless people. Will this decisive action, on the part of the Americans, cause greater long term destruction? Will it continue the downward spiral of hate, turmoil, pain, and prejudice for years to come?

            Will there be a war? Will this situation escalate into the Vietnam of my college years? There is a fear of war, fear of retaliation, fear of death, and fear of a recurrent situation as America’s pseudo security is shattered. The mighty nation is enslaved, overturned, and her underbelly is exposed and bleeding. Billions of dollars spent on military intelligence, airport security, and anti-terrorist precautions; in vain. The American machine is reminded that it too, like the rest of the world, can bleed. And in a matter of minutes, a system of order becomes complete chaos as for the first time ever all airports were shut down, national monuments closed, our biggest military office overturned, and our financial market in complete disarray. We have been, up until this point, America the mighty, America the invincible. We have arrogantly stood behind our iron fortresses, often ignorant and deaf towards the pleas of our neighbors; we are now amongst the pleading. 

            We are instantaneously reminded of our own individual mortality and of how fleeting this life really is. In an attempt to decipher the emotions of the situation, to recognize our own grief, to express lament for our nation, and to find God in all of this, our school holds a memorial service. Softly we sing. Humbly we pray. One by one people come and lay roses under the freshly planted tree. Someone tells me that there are a thousand. The line is seemingly endless and I weep to think how many is a thousand. A thousand is too many. 

            “Did you notice? It has heart shaped leaves.” Kate softly laments as she leans her head against mine. Together we gaze at the memorial tree and the shape seems incredibly appropriate as I think of all the broken hearted people mourning the loss of their loved ones today all over the nation. Some having already received the awful news that they have located a body. And others wait in agonizing anticipation as they know nothing more except that their precious family member is missing. They have potentially become someone without a mother, father, child, spouse, or friend. As they think of the void that would replace that person, a wet shawl of fear suffocates them and every breath is anguishing. 

            Across from me I see Rob propped up against a tree, just staring. Like most of the rest of us he is completely numb. He simply doesn’t understand. Elair walks by and, as she places her flower beneath the tree, shatters the silence with a sobbing gasp. She covers her mouth with her hand, fearful of the sound that has escaped her. It is the epitome of the noise of grief: choked, stifled, obtuse, saturated with pain, and desperate to be heard. She fears that such a horrific grief has taken root in her heart. The college president joins his wife. He tries to retain his composure I watch her small hand slide around his arm and his face grimaces as his stoicism slowly dissolves. She will hold him tonight, and together, they will weep. 

            I turn my head and an unassuming angel of the Lord appears in the midst of this burning bush. Out of chaos, uncertainty, and fear: God again speaks. This time his megaphone is a baby sleeping in her father’s arms. I am overwhelmed at the sight of such serenity. The dam of emotions has been broken and tears of peace flow down my cheeks onto this hallowed ground. The looming presence of the night forcefully envelops me and I am reminded of the words denoting a similar situation. It is a silent and holy night in which all is suddenly calm and is becoming exceedingly bright.

Image from Public Domain pictures

Monday, June 8, 2020

Bleeding hearts

Bleeding hearts seems like an appropriate flower for these times. 

Perhaps you too are taking out all of your anxieties in plants; the one plus side of the last three months being that many of us are going to have our best gardens ever. As I read about more and more continuing stories of brutality and unrest, a woman who's car is surrounded by ten officers who beat the windows out before pulling her out by her hair in Chicago, an old man pushed aside and bleeding out of his ears--my peas have no idea how many emotions I am trellising alongside them. 

Yesterday I came across this very thoughtful article "Making peace in inner city Oakland, one block at a time" by John Dear. Peace. It reminded me so much of an interview I did in college with the founder of a community garden in Pomona, CA which was created in response to a child, not yet in school, who was killed in the crossfire of rivaling races. This was in the same neighborhood as my middle school. I think it was then I became committed to gardens as a place for social justice as well as eco-justice. I knew I would somehow incorporate gardens into my graduate work. 

From the article, “To be a presence of peace and nonviolence in the neighborhood, …means going deep into contemplation and connection with the earth, especially if you live in the inner city”

I no longer live in a city. And besides our local small University my region is depressingly homogenous. For the first time in my life I understand how it is even possible for 75% of white Americans to have 0% of their friends be a minority ethnicity.  We (collectively)need some new friends y'all. If our social circles were a plant they would be something like bermuda grass: homogenous, boring, pervasive, obnoxiously exclusive, and unsustainable. 

"We want to take down the physical fences in the neighborhood and the fences in our hearts, because we know our real security is not in our fences or the bars on our windows, but in our relationships. This is the way to peace. We have misguides warrior energy in our neighborhood(s).  Our young people are fighting and dying to protect their 'turf.' We want to suggest that the turf is the earth. These young people are our future and we need to invest in them. That means redirecting their 'warrior' energy toward fighting for and protecting both open space in our neighborhood, so we can grow food locally..."

During this time when no one was visiting, a new friend and I keep leaving pots on each other's porches. She has things I need. I grew things she wants. My daughter and I leave plants as presents for people we are missing. My church is also using this time to double down on their community garden. (A garden is something I see as an essential requirement to joining a church). They hope to bring more joy and make a dent in self-sufficiency for food security for those for whom this time has brought financial insecurity. I hope in this way the future is going to pot-- tiny little sprigs of hope being disseminated to all the nooks, crannies, and cracks where they are needed most.

Every few weeks my friend and neighbor brings me eggs. The church gardener though is the only other visitor I have had. Cheerfully he leaves seeds, plants, and a bountiful amount of compost. He knows, and I'm re-learning, again and again, that with intention, with cultivation, beautiful things can grow from all of this rotten stuff. 

Rainbow out car window on the way to Lake Superior

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The world is full of treasure- An 🌍 Earth 🌎 Day reflection! 🌏

This week I was reminded that:
1)I need to spend more time looking at rocks.
2) I need to begin filling the gaping hole of Geology in my naturalist education. 

When I was a kid collecting rocks was one of my favorite past times. Even though I grew up in urban southern California, mostly collecting driveway fill, no walk was complete without pocketfuls. I had immeasurable egg cartons FULL of them in my closet. There's something primordial about the need to make collections and gathering the things that strike our fancy. The world is full of vibrance. Perhaps just the act of physically holding something of fancy jumpstarts our dopamine out of dullness. Maybe searching for something shiny helps us hone our skills to spot a last morsel, a berry on a bush, or an edible from a closely shaped inedible. Finding beauty, making art, this creates a scallop around the fringes of our survival skills. 

Most of us think of state parks first as the place to polish those skills. With most state parks currently closed though we are exploring new areas and I hope you are too! During this time, the original mass migration to state parks is a testament to the power of these places. Hopefully in our new world they will get more of the budgets and staffing and resources that they need. Resources that have been aggressively and disproportionately slashed in recent years at state and federal levels. 

I hope though that during this time you are fortunate enough to find your wild.  I hope you will consider that the schooling your children need most might actually be re-wilding them, especially during this opportune time when we don't even have to compete with city playgrounds.  

Get out and explore, however, where ever you safely can. 

Check out the places nearest to you with new eyes. Whether it's a garden square, city green spaces, scenic trails, Bureau of Land Management, National Forests, National Sea or Lake shores, Conservation areas , National Wildlife Refuges, National Recreation Areas, Scenic Rivers, marshes, rails to trails, or a hidden local easements. This land is yours (and for a love letter reminding you why, read Mark Kenyon's That Wild Country).

Familiarity. Thinking Like a Mountain. This IS how we will save our spirits, and hopefully most of the other creatures that we ought to share more space with. 

Maybe you will even have a very lucky day. Maybe, like us, on the way you will see a pair of bald eagles out for a joy fly. Maybe you will see a doe and a buck step out from the bushes to watch unabashedly you, strange creature, in their habitat. Or bluebird seeking a nest, or an iridescent forest swallow. Or a first bloom... I don't know what you will see. But if you look, you will see something.

Meanwhile, up and down "for sale" signs are gobbling up stretches of shoreline. 

My daughter asks if we can take the rocks home. Everyone, it turns out, would like a little beach front property-- even if only a shovelful. We are, after all, not so different from birds. Like some myopic magpie, I too want all the shiny things. I want to hoard them for myself. I want to line my nest with all the objects of novelty. In this time especially, a new dominion seems a longed for, entitled even, distraction.  We are all loosing our minds. My artist friend has even started having crows appear in his black and white tangles-- Corvid, not COVID he says is the new mantra.

 I consider. I reach out. I re-organize. I fantasize about how I could display them and where I would put them. Soon though, the water dries. The coveted objects quickly lose their enticing sheen. So, for today, I settle for some pictures. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Great Big Virus and the Teeny Tiny House

Story by Hannah Harder
Sculptures and photos by Hannah and Cali, age 8

Once, in this time, the people moved very fast. They were always going somewhere, in their cars, or on their planes, or by their fastest trains. They liked to be loud. They liked to be around other people. Often they went to school, or work, or parties, or parks.

Until one day, there was a virus. 
It was a sickness smaller than a smidge,
or a speckle, 
or a speck. 

It was smaller than a sprinkle.

It could stick to people and make them sick. Some people would cough very hard. Some people wore masks to help people stay well. 

Most people would get better, but some people would not. The virus stuck to people and travelled very quickly around the whole world. It spread in a GREAT BIG WAY. Soon it was in nearly every country on earth.

People stopped going to school. And then to parties. And eventually to parks. Some people couldn't see their grandmas and grandpas. Some people cried. Sometimes, it was grown ups. 

The world felt very very quiet. More quiet then it had ever been.

In this great big world there was a teeny tiny house.  

In this teeny tiny house, they needed things to do. They did things that made them happy. They got busy painting, and knitting, and reading. They made music. They started playing catch more often with their brothers and sisters.

They did things to make more beauty throughout their house.
 They brought in and brought out flowers. 

They remembered to take comfort in other creatures.

They spent more time in the kitchen. 
They drank more coffee and tea. 
They sat down and finished every cup. 

They made delicious and healthy food. 

They celebrated with cupcakes and candy. 

Once, they even made a triple decker chocolate cake with flowers and blue frosting. 

They started seeds, and made a garden. 

They made a tree house with a rope ladder and TWO swings. 

Best of all, in this house the fire never stopped going. 
The fish never floated. 
The candy never disappeared,

AND the ice cream never melted.

After awhile, the world felt a teeny tiny bit less lonely. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Spring is not cancelled!

Spring is not cancelled-- and I am indescribably grateful. That message was on the placard when I pulled up to pick up my drive-by order at a local greenhouse. And while I'm hoping to add more native plants in the very near future, today I was thankful for these bright be-speckled spots smiling at me. To be able to add some color into a world that has been gray, to be able to feel my fingers again, and give some purpose to a heart that has been grieving. I'm grieving over the loss of my mom about two months ago and for a deeply declining father. He is now trapped in a nursing home that is COVID positive. I am grieving for complexities that have spanned generations and for prayers that will go unanswered. I am drifting.

And in this sea of pandemic, I am sure that you are too. For people that we can't see, for jobs intercepted, for freedoms we can't have (some that may not be ever fully restored), for timelines we can't know, for paychecks not given, for gatherings we can't have, for love we can't give--for lives overturned.  Lives are not the only thing being lost. A pinnacle was hearing today about a young special needs child who can no longer see her speech therapist who had been working with the child on swallowing therapy, because the therapist was not deemed an essential worker. Now the child can't eat and had to be moved back onto a feeding tube. Everyday new stories. Sure, progress. But, also, progress?! We regress. 

I digress, but I don't want to, from all of those things that we need to keep us human. 

I am reaching out to give you a hug. A real one.

And maybe some seeds or plant starts. 

And the joy of a new flower turning towards the sun. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Textures for ten

Today started out with some significant yelling. The world is overwhelming right now, for grownups as well as kids. You have permission to hold space for that emotion too. For yourself. For others.  I took myself for a long walk in the woods to calm down. A grown up time-in nature instead of time out of my own head meeting other people's expectations. Sometimes noticing all that is going on outside of yourself is a good way to refocus and remember that we are only very small and insignificant cogs in a much greater machine. When the panic or anger rises inside of you, have you ever tried the focusing exercise to find five things for each of your senses? Grounding. That's what we are all trying to do right now. 

I started  thinking about one of my daughters current art assignments to find many different textures. I decided I was going to see what  I could find. I was really mad, so five anything would definitely not be enough. While the human world feels imploding from this crazy, but also infinitely fascinating virus, the rest of the world moves on. The world though, it's there, offering its gifts, whether or not we chose to look for the blessings. Here the world is getting ready for spring. There are hints of colors popping out. The daffodils and crocus are on the cusp of unfurling. We counted four birds nests. I'm grateful that if we must be in a pandemic, here this one is happening at the beginning of spring and not the beginning of winter. I'm glad that for the most part things are emerging more than they are dying. Today I found what I think was a turtles nest, exciting because I have never found one before; but all of the shells were cracked. The cosmic significance of that was overwhelming. Still, though, beauty in brokenness. 

The weather was amazing and finally warming. I can feel my fingers! I came home and the first of the seeds we planted is opening. Which, even when home, I never feel confident that step will come. I'm like Toad in Arnold Lobel's "The Garden."  "Now seeds start growing!" I spend a lot of time shouting at things, that maybe I should be singing too.  It's hard to have faith in things beneath the surface. I too feel like everything requires my oversight, presence, and management. I took out more rage on dirt clots. I mixed and filled pots. I moved compost.  I try to trust in the mighty powers of the microbial world. Like toad, I too must start what I can, and then walk away. Soil from refuse. Seeds from soil. Soon. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Let's go fly a kite

Outside a pair of doves are courting each other. I have mating pairs of red winged blackbirds, chickadees, juncos, purple finches, goldfinches, nuthatches, downey and hairy woodpeckers, and several kinds of sparrows visiting my feeder. 
Inside though I'm really frustrad or sadstrated. I'm deeply angry and sad and it's all mingling up together. To recap. 

  • March 9- a few hundred cases in the US. Less than 5 in my home state of WI
  • March 10 - Global pandemic declared
  • March 13 - School in our state to close or go online after March 18. Nursing home visits are banned nationally
  • March 16- School to close after the 17th (our kids were already home)
  • March 17 Governor Evers issues all restaurants switch to takeout and curbside only
  • March 23- Governor Evers issues 'Safer at Home' order and even more businesses will close
  • March 24- The Olympics is postponed. 457 cases, 5 deaths in this state.  
    • In the US we are at around 50,000 cases.
    •   Around the world we just passed 415,000 and are rapidly approaching 20,000 deaths.
  • Governor elaborates on his Safer at Home order, saying that schools will be closed until at least April 24th. By the way, this order is also punishable by a fine of $250 AND prison of up to 30 days. 
However, I still think there are lots of reasons to be more reticent of even such large numbers in the big picture of mortality causes and numbers. The good verses bad of all of these restrictions remains to be seen. 

Here, already this week people have lost their jobs, restaurants are falling apart, people are furloughed, my students can not go home to their own countries, and I join the world in collectively feeling so tired. Every security moved in an instant. Even here, without even a nod to democratic process. 

But yesterday I took my kids to fly kites at a beachside park we hadn't been to before. It was a most welcome reprieve. We were the only ones there. And THESE are the moments I'm trying to savor and cling to throughout this whole thing. 

Keep trying to grin and bear it; all of us. 

Resistance, that semblance of control, seems, after all, futile. 

...but democracy shouldn't have to be.