Category Archives: listening

That Moment

Elaine dancing in a rainstorm, McConnell Lake, 1974. Image by Lise Sorensen (used with permission)

It is that moment just before a crashing thunderstorm, clouds on the move, thunder in the distance, electricity in the air…and we are out dancing in our nighties. Exhilarated, ecstatic, free, full of joy and and wonder and spontaneity and dancing! We are 17 years old, having the summer of our lives… for many of us the first summer away from family. A summer in the bush full of swimming, hard physical work, blueberry pies, blueberry pancakes, loons… together with 17 year old girls from all across Ontario. 

This is Elaine, dancing. As one of her friends now writes, Elaine radiated childlike curiosity and wonder for life,  natural beauty and the love she so graciously extends to the world.* Standing somewhere off to the side is Lise, with her camera in hand, an observer amongst the dancing girls, ready to receive this moment of beauty and record it. I took no pictures that summer, but must have begged Lise for this one, because for 42 years, it has resided in my book of treasures, simply called “the Spirit of McConnell”, which was the name of lake we lived beside for those two months.

Forty two years later, to my amazement and joy, I have reconnected with both Elaine and Lise.

This is the image I want to share while thousands of women all over the world are walking to Washington (Women’s March on Washington)… women coming together to speak out against oppression and discrimination, women coming together to claim their voice, to claim their rightful place and in some cases to wear “pussyhats” created by another woman somewhere; women celebrating being women together. Women rising up!

I am moved by the words of Richard Rohr, who writes, ”You learn to positively ignore and withdraw your energy from evil or stupid things rather than fight them directly. You fight things only when you are directly called and equipped to do so. We all become well-disguised mirror images of anything that we fight too long or too directly. That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions after a while.”

We can resist in a myriad of creative, sometimes cheeky and always life-giving ways. We can march. We can knit. We can come together in silence, as thousands of Turkish protesters did recently (baffling the police). We can listen. What would happen, for example, if we truly listened to those who have a different world view than our own?  We can still our hearts and listen to the whispers of the trees or prairie grasses. We can take time to listen to those who live on the edges, and who have so very much to teach us. If invited, we can take part in a pipe ceremony on the shores of a lake, and honour the sacred water as it laps gently on the shore. We can install colourful crocheted flowers on chain link fences in the middle of the night. We can laugh from the belly. We can buy less. We can barter more. We can ponder inconvenience. We can sing with others. We can study issues more deeply. We can take part in parades we were not invited to join. We can learn the true history of our country and wrestle with the deep shadows of our collective past, and the continuing implications  for our fractured present. We can dare to get outside our own comfort zones. We can examine our own privilege. We can be “chroniclers of wonder”. We can acknowledge the great grief and sadness that we often feel in these cataclysmic times. We can taking our breaking hearts, and create art. We can find small ways to support those on the front lines. We can thank a tree. We can learn to speak up when we see injustice, whether it be in the line up at the grocery store or a violation to our precious earth. We can fly kites. We can rise up, rise up! We can pray. If you have read this far, I know that you can add to the list. Please do!

We can dance in the rain with joy and abandon. We can record and celebrate beauty, wherever we find it. We can deeply treasure something that touches our spirit. We can search out and reconnect with old friends. We can celebrate new friends. We can take time to be with those who cannot dance in the rain, or who cannot find it in their heart to celebrate beauty. Each and every small action matters.

Today, while women all over the world are marching, I will be skating on our outdoor ice rink. I will be skating this prayer; that girls and boys everywhere will know the beautiful spirit embodied in the image above, might even for a moment know  the joy and freedom of dancing in the rain, and of feeling at one with all creation. I will be praying that sometimes someone notices and celebrates these moments with the rest of us in song or art or dance or words. I will be praying that we pay attention. I will be giving thanks. Today, while women all over the world are marching, I will be marching with them as I skate my prayers. I will be wearing my purple hat, knit by a woman I do not know.

You are invited. Of course!

  • paraphrased from Gail Wilen who sees these same qualities in Elaine now. Thanks Gail!

Don’t Fence Me In

My friend Carol introduced me to the term “manure meditation”. It is Carol who mucks out the pens at Ravenheart Farms*,  a wonderful equine assisted learning retreat centre and ranch she runs near Kamsack. For Carol, mucking out is a meditative activity. I agree. Farm chores settle me – in part because of the physical work and in part because I love working close to animals. On a day like yesterday, when spring arrives full force and horse manure is in evidence everywhere, “mucking out” is the perfect morning activity.

My late mum, Sylvia, taught us that the smell of horse manure is as wonderful as the tang of salt air or green growing things. When we went birdwatching as a family, Mum would roll down the window, wrinkle her nose like a bunny and go “mmmmm, the beautiful smell of horse manure”. What great early conditioning!! There is no question in my mind that horse manure smells better than most other any other manure I can think of.

There is another reason I am drawn to the horses this morning. Our daughter’s horse, Gatty, has Sweeney Shoulder and has been confined for a few months in a small pen, while her companion Missy can go wherever she likes. Shane and I take turns walking Gatty as well as massaging her, offering her healing touch or brushing her. This daily contact has been a gift to both of us.

I am learning to “listen with” Gatty, to hear the sounds of our farm in a whole new way. As a prey animal, Gatty is alert to each and every sound on the farm – the swish of pigeon’s wings as they fly out of the barn, the cry of the merlin or the moo of neighbour cows, every move of our dogs, the opening and closing of doors, the sounds of vehicles, the croak of a raven, the gurgle of water in the bowl. She does not like the sound of the sleigh full of manure as I move it from her pen across snow and ice. On the other hand, Gatty and Missy seem to love it when I sing, unlike every other member of our family!

I am learning to “listen to” Gatty. To pay attention. To pick up the signals when she indicates “enough already.” Or the lowered head, sleepy eyes and relaxed stance which tells me that she is soaking up the way I am touching or massaging her. The way she yawns and makes goofy horse faces and stretches her gums and sticks out her teeth means that she is releasing endorphins. She is my teacher, an exceedingly patient one.  I like to watch her graze, to observe how her beautiful soft nose guides her to the most succulent (dead) grass found in the pasture. Grazing on a lead is about as free as she gets these days. Sometimes I think she would give all her treats for a good roll in the pasture to get rid of some of her winter hair. It must be itchy!!

I have been thinking of the word “tethered” recently. In light of Gatty, who is “tethered” but also in light of animals tethering us to the farm. Throughout my twenties, my theme song was “don’t fence me in”. Untethered was my modus operandi. Free as the wind. Recently, with our children off on their own, we decided to stop keeping chickens and selling eggs which we had enjoyed for over a dozen years. We did this because we wanted more freedom. We hoped to be less tethered to the farm. As they say, “animals tie you down.” It’s true. They do. My experience this winter with Gatty has helped me understand that I also value being tethered – the company of she and Missy, of our two dogs and of our old barn cat (recently retired to the inside) adds depth and comfort and joy and companionship that I cannot imagine my life without. We are not entirely tethered because we do hope to go away this summer, have someone care for our creatures and return home to see them all again.

With Gatty, these days, there has been another kind of tethering – a different kind. One which most of us are familiar with. It is more like the invisible tie that binds, the gossamer thread of heart to heart connection.  Sometimes I think of her and it is like she is right there. I wait for the day when she can have a larger area to roam in. In my dreams, she is galloping, full steam ahead, moving with no restraint whatsoever.

Gatty - fenced in

Gatty – fenced in

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the manure sled

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Oh give me the land, lots of land
Under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open
Country that I love
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in

Just turn me loose let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my cayuse let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountain rise
I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
Gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
I can’t look at the hobels and I can’t stand the fences
Don’t fence me in

lyrics by Cole Porter

*Read about an art and horses retreat at Ravenheart farm