Monday, December 30, 2013

Things That Are Beautiful

The year is waning and as I prepare for the new year, Iv'e packed most of my library in boxes (labeled this time by categories literary journals, Calvin and Hobbes, Do-it-Yourself, fiction) in preparation for our next move, which is an intention more than a reality at this moment. If I want to read more, I'll need to write more. We have also disconnected our cable TV, but with so many other ways to deliver programming, I doubt I'll notice.

Anyway, I'll be too engrossed to find out how to watch Top Chef online. For the next nine days I am hosting my soul sister Tarah, a painter (her painting Black Over Fire will grace the cover of my new book) and campus interfaith director in Florida. Together we will visit the local art museum, and the Olympic Mountains, and drink tea and have long conversations. I will read her my poetry, and we will welcome in 2014, riding the ferry at midnight and watching fireworks explode above Seattle's Space Needle.

In the hour she's been here we've already been celebrating the many ways life is good and the growth that comes from the hard work of letting go of expectations, of embracing the unknown, of living out of the gifts we have been given to share with the world, and of noticing the beauty that is poured out upon us if we turn from our busy-ness and look with love on our surroundings.

In that spirit, I share with you another poem in my Metaphor Monday series written in the tradition of Sei Shonagan, an eleventh century Japanese writer whose Pillow Book contained many lists. Here is mine: "Things That Are Beautiful."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Becoming Blackfish

As I am becoming acquainted with this region I now call home, I'm learning about unique communities of mammals other than humans, in particular Orcas, also known as killer whales.

I had seen them twice whale watching off the San Juan Islands, once in the late 1990s with my young daughters, and again in 2007 on a weekend cruise with my husband aboard the David B (see his photos on YouTube), and those experiences were breathtaking, even though I knew little to nothing about the orcas. Watching these majestic creatures swim and hearing them breathe moves something in me––and thousands of others who venture to the seas and shores to look for whales––connecting us to our animal nature, instilling wonder and awe, gratitude and recognition.

Three orcas came to me in a dream just weeks after we moved to our new home with it's peek-a-boo view of the water. In my dream, they swam in the bay near my house (too shallow for them to come in waking life), they breached and waved their pectoral fins, welcoming me to their home, and beckoned me to join them.

A year ago my husband and I saw them on a ferry crossing from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, and I recalled the dream and began to learn about the whales in earnest. This is some of what I now know:

The Salish Sea extends from the Puget Sound into Canada and is home to two distinct communities of Orcas. The Northern whales' home is in Canada, while Puget Sound is home to the Southern Resident killer whales. The Northern whales are threatened, the Southern whales are endangered, due to pollution and overfishing and other human created troubles. There are fewer than 200 total resident orcas in the Salish Sea. Both communities of whales leave their residence and swim great distances to locate chinook salmon, their sole food source.

Within the larger communities, there are smaller families called pods, and even smaller family groups, with unique dialects that have been studied and recorded using underwater hydrophones. The families live together their entire lives. "Granny," the matriarch of the Southern Residents is believed to be 102 years old. Many whales live into their 80s, but no babies were born into the pods this year.

The area is also regularly visited by Transient killer whales also known as Bigg's whales, that eat mammals like seals and sea lions. My dear friend had the privilege of watching them two days ago for hours just yards from shore. Here is her photo:

Male transient orca off President Point, Kingston WA Dec. 13.

I learned all of this from The Orca Network  a nonprofit based on Whidbey Island that is devoted to education about and preservation of the whales. The Orca Network posts whale sightings from people all over the region, who spot them from parks, ferries, public roads, and private boats. I've been able to drop what I was doing and head to viewing spots on Bainbridge island, once to watch dozens of resident whales swim by at a fast pace and a great distance, the other to watch transients feed and play within half a mile of shore.

Through the Orca Network I also discovered the nonfiction book Death at Seaworld by David Kirby published last summer and the documentary Blackfish which came out this summer and has also aired on CNN. To borrow a biblical cliche, the scales have fallen from my eyes. Like millions of people, I have seen whales perform at MarineWorld (in Palos Verdes, Redwood City, and Vallejo) and SeaWorld (in San Diego and Orlando). I believed what I was told: that "fin flop" was normal, that the whales were happy and healthy, like trained dogs.

Even with well-intentioned trainers, they truly are prisoners, ripped from their families in the wild (in sad fact, the Russians have just captured wild whales to put on display for the winter Olympics), or bred and raised in unnatural and unhealthy circumstances in captivity. No wild whale spends most of its life at the surface of a tiny concrete pool. No wild whale mother refuses to nurse her baby, or attacks her offspring. No wild whale's fin rests on it's back, it slices out of the water erect.

It is heartbreaking to read and watch what humans have done physically and spiritually to these intelligent, social, apex animals.

I feel called to repent: I will not patronize any marine facility that keeps captive orcas. And I also must help, somehow.

Right now, I'm short on cash, but long on good will. What I can give are my words and my intentions: this blog post, a poem–Becoming Blackfish–that you can read here and download and listen to on my website.  I also pledge 10% of my author royalties from my forthcoming book Burnt Offerings to the Orca Network.

Perhaps this is what the whales meant when they invited me to join them.

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Only Time. It's Only Money.

Greetings from an Arctic air mass.

It has been below freezing in Puget Sound this week, in the teens and twenties, so I have been inside culling books, videos, clothes, vases, and coffee mugs, because we're swinging back into remodeling mode at our house after an unanticipated delay of six to eight weeks on our project house.

My mantra as each delay and additional expense has come: It's only time. It's only money.

Which is completely expected with remodeling.

This setback however is different, and disappointing. We were given bad advice by an architect we hired early on in the process that has lost us months and cost us thousands of dollars. It's not insurmountable, and we're certainly learning just about everything we'll need to know for future projects. Waterfront homes are highly regulated, and the regulations for remodels on existing waterfront properties keep changing. We were caught in the changes.

My husband was bummed and a little angry for a few minutes. I felt like crying for half an hour, but I started downsizing instead. We simply had to let go of our timeline and our plans, while still holding to our intentions and vision, our good will and each other.

I think there's wisdom in the Wicked Witch of the West's sky-scrawled message Surrender Dorothy.
At least for me and my expectations.

I know our project house will be beautiful. And more than the result, the process is already a blessing. Each landscaper, laborer, electrician, excavator, and estimator who sets foot on the property comments on its beauty and unique features, and these are folks who've lived and worked in the area for years. On their lunch breaks they sit in plastic chairs overlooking the Sound, eating sandwiches while seagulls and cormorants and the occasional eagle circle overhead.

The gift encircles all of us who give our time and skills to improving the land and the house, regardless of delays. It's a privilege to offer this stunning and peaceful work environment to others, a rare  opportunity appreciated by my husband and me and so many others contributing to our welfare.

But, in more ways than we'd like, time is money, so you won't find us hibernating this winter, knitting (well I am doing some knitting) and watching Breaking Bad (which we've never seen) and counting our many blessings. We'll be busy with those blessings: we'll finish remodeling the home we live in while we're waiting for our building permits on our project house. And then we will leave it.

Love it and/or leave it isn't such bad advice either.

My days of hosting writers on retreat are numbered. I have four more guests between now and the beginning of March, and I've stopped taking  reservations. We will put our house on the market before Spring arrives. Then we will find another place to live in the West Sound region. We will finish our project house, sell it, find and renovate and sell another after it and...

I'm looking forward to all of it. It took me nearly fifty years to stop avoiding change and shed my fear of the unknown, and I like the freedom and happiness that's taken root in its place. Why not continue to stay open to new experience after new experience after new experience? Why not lean into the unknown and see if we stand or fall?

So this Advent I embrace abundance where I find it: in giving away my possessions to appreciative Islanders, in clicking through Redfin listings and picturing myself in tiny waterfront cabins or manufactured homes on acreage, wondering if there will be eagles or whales in my next view.

I know I've gone overboard posting on the online giveaway site Buy Nothing Bainbridge and clicking through real estate listings marking favorites. But it sure beats worrying.

There are times when the past is best left unexhumed. In that vein, I invite you to my website to listen to "Zeke and the Dry Bones" the second poem from my upcoming book Burnt Offerings that I've recorded for my Metaphor Monday series.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Metaphor Monday

I enjoyed the timing of Thanksgiving this year, late enough that when the collective we waddled into church yesterday stuffed with turkey leftovers it felt right and good that Advent, the season of waiting and expectation for Christ's birth, began in December instead of November, which is often the case.

Two years ago my Advent was not quiet or contemplative, packing up our household and moving 900 miles, perhaps a modern day version of Mary and Joseph's census trip. Last Advent I had surgery, so I wasn't in worship that season at all. I was stiller, but drowsy with pain meds, rather than thoughtful.

This Advent I am joyfully anticipating one aspect of God being revealed in my life: the release of my first book, a poetry collection titled Burnt Offerings. It won't arrive until after Christmas, but I am waiting expectantly for this labor of love to push it's way into the world on January 14 thanks to eLectio Publishing (in case you click through and don't see my book, it won't be listed on their website until then).
"Black Over Fire" the cover art for "Burnt Offerings" painted by Tarah Trueblood of Trueblood Art Studio.
Most of the poems in the book were born over ten years in the cradle-crucible of my experiences with the United Methodist Church, particularly the Academy for Spiritual Formation, Companions in Ministry, and Boulder Creek UMC, which I pastored. A few of the poems are new, one dates back to 1999.

My "discipline" this season is to record and share (which did involve me learning new software) one poem a week until the book's publication. In the Facebook spirit of "Wordless Wednesday" and "Throwback Thursday" I chose Monday. So here is my first Metaphor Monday post, the first poem in my book, titled "I Want a Voice Like Billy Collins."

You can listen on my website.