Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I am blessed beyond sense in so many ways. Though I often trudge through my days, dragging my feet (and other body parts), there are moments in which the whole of my being is flooded with gratitude for the abundance of love and amazing people in my life.

"How will you use your leisure and fortune today?" This is written on a card that sits on my dining room table, again on my kitchen cabinet, and, in a slightly different formulation, on the mirror in my bedroom. I was asked the other day what it means, and was reminded that, what can seem so obvious to one is not clear at all to others.

If you are reading this, you are blessed by leisure and fortune. If you did not go to bed hungry for lack of food, you are blessed by leisure and fortune. If, indeed, you went to bed in a bed in a house, you are blessed by leisure and fortune. If you had a break from work today, you are blessed by leisure and fortune. If you own a TV, a radio, a phone, a car, more clothes than you need, have heat, indoor plumbing, and electricity, you are blessed with leisure and fortune.

So often, however, we take all this for granted. We don't think about the fact that the water that comes out of our faucet is a small miracle unavailable to a sixth of the world's population. We hate our jobs. We bemoan our bills. We complain about the cost of holiday presents. We complain about gas mileage, mortgage payments, and our schedules busy with engagements, meetings, errands, parties, and concerts. We pay money for the gym, and whine about having to go take our flaccid, overfed, underworked bodies to "work out."

Please understand that I'm not in anyway saying these things to stir up guilt. I don't feel guilty to have any of these things. That they are in my life is an act of grace and the result of karma. The question is not whether I should feel bad about my blessings (how ridiculous), but  how I will use them. Whether I will cherish them and employ them in the service of others, or if I will twist them into burdens to be grudgingly borne? Think about it--a billion people in the world would probably die of gratitude if they could walk from their heated, comfortable bedroom into a bathroom where they could relieve themselves in a sanitary toilet, wash their hands with soap and clean water, brush their teeth and swallow water that would not give them dysentery. Yet we drag ourselves from bed, complaining that the room isn't warm enough and that the gas bills are so high, thoughtlessly go through the motions of our morning rituals, complaining that it takes the water too long to get hot, thinking about all the rest of the crap we have to do today, dreading donning our multiple layers of clothes, shoveling our sidewalks, and getting ourselves to work.

I'm not saying that I like paying my bills or coming to work. I most certainly do not. I'm not saying that I don't have real problems and that addressing them isn't a struggle. But relative to many, many people, I am rich beyond belief. My modest American standard of living far surpasses that of billions of people. Billions. So what will I do with it? Is my life really so hard? Really?? Beyond the physical comforts I enjoy, I have had access to an education, to spiritual teachers, and to an abundance of undeserved love. I am a woman who can read, who can work, who has never backed down to a man, never been raped, never been hit, never been degraded for my sex, never been told that I could not ________ because "women can't do those things." To write those words breaks my heart because I know there are billions of women around the world for whom ignorance, domination, abuse, and humiliation are just the way of their lives. So how will I use my knowledge, my freedom, my voice?

Gratitude is the greatest antidote to feeling small, useless, angry, exhausted, put-out, deprived. Gratitude, when it floods the heart and soul, begets generosity, and it is generosity that gets us everything else. Abundance comes from a lack of attachment, so if you want to be full--give of yourself. Give it away. Unclench your fist--it can only hold but a tablespoon of water.  Hands open in praise receive the entire river in its passing. 

So how will you use your leisure and fortune today? How can you use your blessings to bless the world?

...all that has come to us
has come as the river comes,
given in passing away...

Monday, December 13, 2010


For ANH.
The tight ball of newborn leaf
unfolds in its time,
fleshing out to become
what it has always been,
needing only time to complete
the revelation.

The ancient oak contained
complete in the acorn,
but needing every moment
to find its true self
each dawn.

All that will be
is here at inception,
but the acorn
cannot be rushed.

It is the journey
that is needed.


Journal Entry, 29 July 2009.

I want to be an old woman shelling peas with you next to our garden, it's bounty spilling over the fence, the harvest of years of our love, patience, and attention.

I want to bring in cut flowers to sit on the table where we dine together in thanksgiving for the benevolent abundance with which we are blessed.

I want to walk hand in hand through the forest, our fingers interlocking, meeting each other in custom grooves made over the course of many years.

I want to be understood, so that saying who I am isn't a constant battle of words ever missing the mark. I want to know your thoughts before you think them, but ever be delighted by welcome surprises from your engaging intellect.

I want what I have to offer to be enough, because you understand the full import of what I give.

I do not want to live out my days a solitary stranger, never to meet you, love.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hello love.

Hello, love--
Why am I crying
when in you I find
happiness & joy?
Hello, love--
Why am I fearing
when with you I find
safety & peace?
I have no new walls
to build, love,
just old ones
to keep tearing down.
I love slow…
It is so hard to trust,
to believe,
to accept,
to allow...
The scars run deep,
the fear known to well.
Panic, in a moment,
replaces safety,
for no apparent reason
but deep…
Be patient, love,
keep a hold on me,
I will give in to you

3/6/94, redux 12/12/2010


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Return, 1997

I left to escape the walls that bound me.  I left broken-hearted.  I left broken in spirit.  I had forgotten who I am.  I had forgotten from where I come.

I returned to remember.  I returned to grieve.  I returned because self-preservation is basic human instinct. 

I live with the premise that life will provide what is needed.  Everything happens for a reason.  No experience is coincidental.  No encounter is by chance.  Based on this premise I go where the Universe takes me and know that my path will await me -- I only need to keep my eyes wide open.

It is the nature of the world to heal.  It is the nature of the world to seek balance and harmony. In death there is rebirth.  In destruction creation.  All excesses are tempered.  All famines end.  Saplings spring forth from scorched earth.

I did not know why I came here.  I only knew without fail that I would find it.  I came with faith in the Universe, despair in my soul, and my heart in my hands.  Nature has begun to heal me.  She has brought me my memories.  She has placed passion in my soul to bring me to life.  She has gently begun to stitch the pieces of my heart together with thread made of my own iron will, which she knew I had forgotten was my rightful possession.


Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.