Heartland Listening — 1.21.17 — Chicago, Illinois
Great grandma marched for the right to vote — 100 years later we are still marching for women's rights. “Hatred darkens life. Love illumines it.” (MLK) Protect Your Sisters: Trans, Latina, Disabled, Queer, Survivor, Black, Immigrant, Gay, Muslim, LGBTQIA+, Native. The children are listening. My mommy marches for my future. Hate has no home here. ERA — Remember that? I'm with her (multicolored arrows pointing everywhere). No human being is illegal. We can and we will. Human rights for all. We stand together so our voices are heard! Solidarity trumps hate. Stop gun violence.
Respect: Find out what it means to me (with Time cover picture of Aretha Franklin). Vigilance not fear. Roll back our rights? You're fired. We read the constitution. “But still, like air, I'll rise.” (Maya Angelou) Get up – Stand Up – Don't give up the fight (held by Rosie the Riveter) 653 days until mid-terms. Girls just want to have fundamental rights. Radical Justice. Nurse Veteran – Grandaughter of Immigrants – I fight for gender equality, health care for all, reproductive rights, respect and compassion for each other. What Meryl said. Seneca Falls-Selma-Stonewall.
#WhyIMarch – #BlackLivesMatter — #WomensEquality — #DisabilityAwareness — #ProRefugee — #LGBTQRights — #LoveTrumpsHate — #ReligiousEquality — #HealthcareForAll — #EducationForAll — #ClimateChangeIsReal — #ScienceIsReal — The rest didn't fit on this sign. We love public schools. One World — One Environment — One Dream — One Future — America Does Not Stand Alone. Women's, People of Color's, LGBTQ's rights are human rights! Dismantle Racism — Black Lives Matter — We are the Future. (held by three white women) Connect-Protect-Activate. #WhyIMarch: Our Children. “When they go low, we go high.” (Michelle Obama) Women will keep the torch burning for immigrants, social justice, equality opportunity, human rights. Now.
Last fall the Old Farmer's Almanac and other weather sources predicted a harsh winter for northern Illinois and Chicago based on temperature and precipitation. December was cold, snowy, and windy with drifts. January, by contrast, has been a messy, diverse mix of weather. There's been no snow, a combination of frigid and mild temperatures, less winter wind than we often have, freezing rain, rain accompanied by thunder, and tons of fog. Both rain and fog quickly consume accumulated snow. Looking across this broad landscape in every direction, I only see remaining snow in two places. There are shrinking, dirty mounds where December plows piled up the snow, and there's still snow caught in the swirl of our monarch waystation. As more days of rain and fog come and go, stubborn snow in the waystation visualizes sturdy resistance.
We began to claim a swirl of land for the intentional planting of milkweed and a blend of other prairie native plants and shrubs in 2014. This spiral of cultivated land wraps around a beautiful fire pit behind my home. Our waystation is part of a multi-state effort in the middle of the US to restore sufficient habitat to nurture the annual monarch migration from Mexico to Canada and back again and to support a variety of pollinators who are essential to our food chain. The waystation is our commitment to share the journey with other creatures, acknowledging our critical connections. It requires us to resist the impulse to only look at the earth and its wellbeing from a human perspective. Between growing seasons, its snowy beauty lies in reminding us to resist whatever whittles away widening circles of life around us. Dried stalks and bare branches clearly cry out now: “Decide for life. Act for life. Be the most embracing life possible.”
A friend of mine on a high desert mesa in New Mexico who reads this blog commented to me a few weeks ago that she finds fewer and fewer people who relish winter. The picture above does not come from northern Illinois in the winter. I knelt down beside this strong-willed green while visiting a friend in the Tampa area last weekend. It was a different earth encounter from those I usually have in January. I've spent relatively little time in warm places during the dark, chilly months of the year. When I returned home after four days in Florida, even with snowy roads, followed by strong prairie winds gusting to 60 mph, and the expectation of freezing rain to come, I was glad to re-enter my realm of “real winter.” I'm one of the relishers. I understand that makes no sense to many.
From the time I was a small child in upstate New York, I looked forward to the growing darkness of late November and December. I imagine I tasted mystery there. During many years of inner city life and work in Saint Louis, where snow is periodic and then a pain for many, I tended to be quiet regarding my winter love. I was joyful though on the occasional nights when ragged city neighborhoods took on such magical beauty under a blanket of snow. Back north now, I've come face to face with winter's powerful invitations to dormancy, waiting, uncertainty, challenge, and recognition of limitations. For a terminally responsible person like me, those prairie winter realities are a good balance, especially when I'm not on the road. Winter's palette is narrow in color but often rich in surprise when we slow to attention and explore the subtle. It isn't for everyone, but indeed I do relish winter.
My mother was an excellent soup maker. I've followed in her footsteps. Where I live, winter is the premier soup season. With snowy roads, a bottomless drop in the temperature, the threat of ice, and prairie winds making buildings mown, soup is a welcome addition. Soup's never the same twice, making good use of planned ingredients and random ones on hand. Simmering soup flavors permeate any space in which we dwell. This hearty and filling nourishment warms one long beyond the spoon's final scrape across the bottom of the bowl.
Soon after a promised winter wind with 60 mph gusts arrived yesterday, I was hunkered around the writing table with one of the groups I facilitate. We were playing with two word combinations that began with the letters “o” and “s.” Whimsical, expected, surprising, and serious options were shouted out. One woman came up with oxygen soup. We loved it. I imagined a mixed-media open studio space by that name. We fantasized about a cafe with additional new menu items to complement oxygen soup.
The concept of oxygen soup remained with me well into the evening as fierce winds tore at my home with their frigid drafts of air. I considered the literal mix of what we bring together and throw into the metaphoric pot so that all might breathe with deep freedom. This is about fundamentals. It invites the active partnership of us all. I will probably never be a part of a studio space or cafe by the name of Oxygen Soup, but that won't keep me from exploring the optimal ingredients already among us for our oxygen soup efforts. Soup isn't necessarily in a stock pot. It emerges in the sustenance of what we do, say, intend, and lean toward with hope. Calling all oxygen soup makers!
Just minutes ago it became winter. For months weather forecasts have predicted a demanding winter in northern Ilinois this year with more snow and cold temperatures than usual. December has aligned with what those forecasts promised in days darkening early. The major player in winter's drama on the prairie is the wind. With the smallest of resources other than itself, the wind can keep things dicey for hours or days. Where the land is open, it shapes light snow into slithering snakes of white drifting quickly and blurring the road beneath vehicles by day and night. If they were rattlesnakes instead of snow snakes, they would be called a rhumba. Snaking snow doesn't wait long to become a dangerous, swirling dance. Wisdom lies in slowing down, even reconsidering optional travel. When winter is feeling it's fury and sheltering in place is recommended, isolation hovers over the land alongside the chilling wind.
Recently I made the acquaintance of David Whyte's poem, “Everything is Waiting for You.” The poet bursts bounds of loneliness celebrating the voices and presence of ordinary objects and the sweep of nature all around. For him there is the invitation of intimate conversation with the stairs, the doors, the singing kettle, and the world's birds and creatures. As I learn to breathe with winter again, I am mindful of the traffic jam of rabbit prints on a fresh drawn sheet of morning snow, the delicate bird feather dropped gently by my rural mailbox, and the hunting hawk on a near-full-moon night almost grazing the top of my car. In that remembrance, I resist what Whyte calls the great mistake of acting as if I'm alone. I embrace alertness that he characterizes as “the hidden discipline of familiarity.” I say, “Hello winter, brimming with friends, both old and unmet.”
Temperatures are frigid today, thirty degrees less than they were a year ago. The temperature has kept falling through late morning. By 9 am it was -6 but it felt like -33. The world is frozen and still, only interrupted by the very cold scrap of an occasional snow plow or the whirring of the wind drifting snow into artistic mounds. When I was a child in upstate New York and winter froze nearby Hoopes Pond, I threw my ice skates over my shoulder and walked night or day the few blocks to the park where we skated until our legs began to wooble and our cheecks could take in no more cold. As my friends and I reached junior high age, we could go on Friday night to a small, old fashioned boathouse in someone's family. It sat right on Owasco Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. Often we had to shovel off a large enough space on the icy lake for skating. An outdoor bonfire provided light and warmth. When my older daughter reached an age where she could learn to skate, we stopped regularly at one of the 366 frozen ponds Plymouth County, Massachusetts claims to have, night or day, and skated for a few minutes. The cold was exhilarating and exciting.
On Northern Illinois prairie lands the cold is more ferocious. A typical wind, cold temperatures, and moisture on the road combine into dangerous, hard-as-glass surfaces. The weather commands one's respect. On a weekend morning like this, we burrow in like hibernating animals or wait like seeds in the dormant ground. We're also aware there are some not far away for whom lack of shelter is a perennial issue. Events are cancelled. Winter's limitations shock our flow into stillness. Winter's an unavoidable teacher with challenging lessons.
Just a few weeks back, these dried milkweed pods were splitting open to set loose on the wind hundreds and hundreds of seeds, each suspended from white fluff. The seeds are gone now. Once again the pods are covered with what is light, white, and prone to be airborne. This white is the white of snow, almost mimicking the previous seed fluff. Milkweed seeds like many other perennial seeds have to stratify in the cold moisture of winter. In a time when winter temperatures seem to put all growing things to sleep, that same cold, hopefully accompanied by moisture, is necessary for the seeds to stratify before awakening to germinate. After autumn seeds disperse, the snow piled atop and inside the empty pod reminds us that the accumulating snow on the ground is essential for the scattered seeds to bring forth another summer's plants. Many of a pod's hundreds of seeds will fail to stratify. Seeds get eaten, rot on the ground, or fall on an inhospitable surface, such as a driveway, where they cannot grow.
Looking at those snow-weighted pods I consider the Monarchs who will lay their eggs on next year's leggy milkweed, followed in turn by caterpillars who will only feast on milkweed leaves in anticipation of the chrysalis stage preceding their wings. That whole cycle begins in what might be misunderstood to be simply life-defying, harsh, winter weather. With the milkweed, we recall that everything we seed and start will not survive to flourish. The milkweed faces us with the wisdom of what awakens us for growth. Tough situations, unfriendly conditions, and all that might defeat us can draw us out into the tentative birth of new life. Milkweed is a good winter mentor through the chilly wait for the not yet, coming seasons of growth.