Break out the honey cakes and raise a glass of mead—it's National Pollinator Week! You probably won't find the observance pre-printed on your wall calendar, but it's worth penciling in as a reminder to honor those buzzing, fluttering, hovering creatures whose efforts are essential to so many plants we prize.
I learned about this celebration of pollination from an item in the summer issue of Michigan Nature, the magazine of Michigan Nature Association. From there I went on to find out more from Pollinator Partnership, a group devoted to promoting the health of pollinators through conservation, education and research.
Bees and butterflies usually come to mind when we think of critters that flit from flower to flower, sipping nectar and distributing pollen in the process. Those are important pollinators, for sure, but birds, bats, beetles and other animals also do the job.
And a vital job it is. Globally, some 1,000 plants grown for food and drink, fiber and pharmaceuticals depend on animal pollination for successful fruit and seed production. If you fancy chocolate, coffee or blueberries, if you have a passion for pumpkins, potatoes or peaches, if you're an apple or almond aficionado, if you treasure the tequila in your Margarita, praise pollinators!
But pollinators need more than praise. They need protection. In many parts of the world, including this country, pollinating animals are suffering the effects of diseases, parasites, harmful chemicals, habitat loss and invasive plant and animal species.
How can you help?
One of the biggest ways is by making your piece of the Earth—whether pocket garden or multi-acre spread—pollinator-friendly. Reduce pesticide use, install bee and bat houses, and cultivate native plants that attract pollinators and provide nectar and larval food. (You can find a guide to appropriate plants for your area by entering your zip code here.)
For several years, I've been buying native plants from our local conservation district's annual sale and encouraging the native species already growing on our property by saving and scattering their seeds and clearing away invasives that would choke them out. The lupine, coneflowers, columbine, prairie smoke, bee balm and black-eyed susans have rewarded me with floral displays and the entertaining antics of their winged visitors. I'm hopeful the milkweeds and blazing stars are mature enough to bloom this year.
I'll be sure to share the results when they do. And once my broken foot is healed and I'm more mobile, I hope to take you on a tour of my friend Sandy's flourishing native plant garden—a delight for pollinators and people alike.
Learn more about pollinators by visiting Pollinator Partnership's Learning Center.
For more about native plants and native landscapes, connect with the national, not-for-profit organization Wild Ones.
Useful books on native plants and their role in sustaining wildlife:
Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press, 2007)
The Natural Habitat Garden, by Ken Druse, with Margaret Roach (Clarkson Potter, 1994; paperback Timber Press, 2004)
All photos by Nan Sanders Pokerwinski
It was the Friday before Memorial Day, that gateway to the good times of summer, and I was anticipating the weeks ahead. Sunny days for hiking, bicycling, kayaking, diving into household and outdoor projects, and just plain getting out and doing things without having to negotiate snow and ice.
My mind was so occupied with such leisurely thoughts, I hardly noticed the ache across the top of my foot that morning. Around the time I was ready to leave for that afternoon's trek with the Wander Women, the ache asserted itself more aggressively, and I considered skipping the hike. But it was such an ideal hiking day—blue-skyed, cloud-fluffed, warm but not hot—I couldn't resist. And anyway, my foot felt much better in my hiking shoe.
Until about three miles into the hike. Then it really started to hurt. I limped the last mile and a half, drove home, iced the foot and brushed aside Ray's suggestion to visit Urgent Care. It didn't hurt that much. Not enough to interfere with our weekend plans.
After hobbling through the weekend and holiday, I finally admitted the foot wasn't getting any better. An x-ray revealed the reason: a fracture of the third metatarsal. I was fitted with a clunky walker boot, given a referral to an orthopedic surgeon and sent home to contemplate this turn of events.
Clearly, summer would not be quite as I'd envisioned. I didn't waste time moping, though. No siree, I sat down and made a list of things I still could do: writing, reading those piles of accumulated books and magazines, answering email, calling friends, making phone calls and writing letters in support of causes, creating collages, meditating, planning our fall vacation, organizing and editing photos, even shooting new photos of critters from the back porch.
Good for me! Lemonade from lemons and all that, right?
Yeah, about that . . .
A few days after making that upbeat list, I got restless and pulled out the list for inspiration. All those housebound activities didn't seem nearly as appealing as when I'd written them down—especially when another sunny day taunted me just outside the windows. Plus, I'd realized that the list of things I still could do also included things I'd just as soon not: paying bills, cleaning out files, and performing a surprising number of household and chores. B-o-r-i-n-g.
Then I moped. But moping got boring pretty quickly, too, so I figured it was time to give myself a pep talk on adaptability and making the best of a disappointing situation. Fortunately, My Self is something of an authority on the subject, having had ample experience with subverted summers: three previous foot fractures and a spinal fracture over the past 24 years, each one occurring sometime between Memorial Day and mid-July.
I'd even written a magazine article about the summer I broke my back—the summer we'd planned a month-long motorcycle trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as weekends of Rollerblading and bicycling in the park. The summer with a few definite plans and plenty of room for following whims.
As I wrote in the article:
When I thought about happenstance, of course, I was envisioning the merry kind that brings opportunities and delights. But when serendipity stepped in and made choices for me, it knocked me flat . . . What I didn't realize was that fate, in fact, had intervened to give me the break I had longed for—not exactly the way I had imagined it, but a break all the same. With my choices suddenly so limited, life had to get simpler. Time had to slow down.
Then, as now, I occupied myself catching up on articles I'd clipped and saved to read when I found the time. One, on the unlikely topic of the benefits of poor health, made the point that having to step off the treadmill of everyday life and let things go on without your participation can be a chance to reflect and make needed changes.
That I did. I reflected on the work I was doing and how I'd like it to be different—a train of thought that led to a new, more creative way of working. I also used the time to experiment with various kinds of writing and explore visual arts in ways I'd not had time—or nerve—to try before. In the process, I learned to care more about satisfaction than accomplishment, to let interests drive me more than ambition—lessons that set the stage for the kind of life I'm living now (or trying to).
Back then, I was stepping away from a hectic, deadline-driven life. This time, the treadmill I'm stepping off moves at a significantly slower rate. Still, the shift in activities and expectations should offer a chance to reflect and consider new directions. I wonder what I'll discover this time and where those discoveries will lead.
Meanwhile, my change of summer plans also means changes of plans for HeartWood. I had envisioned gathering blog material in trips to festivals, friends' gardens, local labyrinths and other points of interest. Some of that still may happen, but for a while at least, I won't be venturing out as much as I'd imagined I would.
That's where you come in. I hereby deputize all HeartWood readers to be official correspondents. If, in your summer ramblings, you have experiences you'd like to share in words, pictures or both, I'll be happy to give you space to do that here at HeartWood. Just get in touch and we'll work out the details. I hope you'll take me up on the offer!
Around mid-summer last year, I wrote about the energizing way a group of friends and I started most weeks: Monday morning yoga class with our teacher Ellie Randazzo at her Woodland Yoga studio and after-class breakfast at Hit the Road Joe Coffee Café.
"No matter how I feel when I wake up on a Monday morning," I wrote, "I'm always uplifted and ready to take on the world (or at least my small part of it) after that session of physical, spiritual and social activity."
My yoga-mates were all just as appreciative. "Her classes helped change my body from pain to gain," says Sue Schneider, who knew our teacher through Ellie's work with animal communication and essential oils before joining Ellie's yoga class.
"Ellie's yoga was holistic like no other yoga I've experienced," adds class member Marsha Reeves, who's going on four years with the group. "She connected with our minds, bodies and spirits with loving kindness and helped us grow and learn in all those dimensions."
Our Monday routine was such an essential part of our lives, we couldn't imagine it ever changing.
Then it did.
Just a few weeks after I wrote that blog post, Ellie's unexpected death left us all numb. Yet we knew the only way to honor Ellie's memory was to find a way to go on. She had always taught us that growth is all about adapting to the changes life inevitably brings. So we continued meeting and practicing yoga together on Monday mornings, with any class members who had enough space in their homes for ten or fifteen yoga mats taking turns hosting us.
"It was an important time of sharing and healing, as we practiced in each other's homes, each contributing to the practice," says Brenda Huckins Bonter, a longtime member of the group. "I believe we became even stronger and more committed to our practice."
That arrangement worked fine, but when Ellie's husband Mike offered to let us practice in Ellie's studio, we knew that was where belonged.
Those first sessions back at Woodland Yoga were tearful, yet joyful. Even as Ellie's absence tore at our hearts, her presence was palpable—in her photo on the altar table at the front of the room, as well as in the memories of her words and guidance that flooded back whenever we entered the space.
"It felt so good to be—and practice—in Ellie's space, with her gardens in viewing distance," says Valerie Deur, who's been practicing with the group since it began, around 15 years ago. "Being there helped me heal."
After a few months, another change came—one so wished-for we pinched ourselves to be sure we could believe it. Ellie's sister-in-law, Behnje Masson of From the Heart Yoga & Tai Chi Center in Grand Rapids, agreed to drive up twice a month to teach us at Woodland Yoga—a round trip of about 80 miles.
We couldn't have asked for a more perfect fit. Behnje's training and teaching style are much the same as Ellie's, and most of us already knew Behnje—through Ellie, through taking classes at From the Heart, or from the healing class she had led for us after Ellie's death. Though we'd enjoyed our self-directed weekly sessions, having a teacher to guide us again inspired new dedication to yoga practice and principles.
Behnje agrees the fit is good. "I am grateful and honored to be welcomed into such a heartfelt and dedicated community," she says.
After a couple of months of classes with Behnje, another change. Mike needed to convert the studio space into living quarters for a relative who was moving to the area. Sad as we were to leave that place, we could practically see Ellie smiling as a solution seamlessly appeared. Ellie's sister Kathy Powell Reider, who lives just down the road, was converting her basement into a studio for her yoga nidra and meditation classes. We were welcome to use that space for our classes with Behnje and our practice sessions on alternate weeks.
More glad news: Behnje would resume the men's yoga class that Ellie had taught for a small group that includes Ray and the husbands of several other class members.
Just before the move, a group of us pitched in to paint the studio and an adjacent meditation room a serene shade of blue.
"Helping to prepare that space was an opportunity that helped us get ready for yet another change," reflects Sue. And working together on the rooms "helped us to bond even more," adds Brenda.
Announcing the new studio in an email, Kathy wrote, "Though Ellie has passed, this place continues Ellie's work as well as mine." The photo she included with the announcement showed a shimmery presence that inspired the studio's name. "Both the land and the studio are special and have a close connection with all of nature," Kathy wrote. "The fairy folk were here before me . . . Hence, the beautiful space within my home where I will teach and host a variety of uplifting opportunities has been named Fae Wood Studio."
To begin our first yoga class at Fae Wood, Behnje, Kathy, and Behnje's husband Rick Powell (brother of Kathy and Ellie) performed a puja (dedication ceremony), chanting before a figure of Ganesh, one of Ellie's favorite Hindu archetypes. Earlier, Rick had wafted incense through the room and around the perimeter of the house.
At the front of the room, on a low table brought from Ellie's studio, sat a candle, crystals, flowers, a photo of Ellie and a statue of Lakshmi, an archetype who represents abundance.
Before we began practicing, Behnje talked about bodha—awareness—not as a state of superior enlightenment to be attained, but as an everyday practice, becoming more aware of ourselves and the world around us.
What a fitting sentiment as we move from these months of transition into a new phase in our practice and our lives as a deeply connected community.
Some of the Monday morning yoginis. Front row: Nan Pokerwinski, Sally Kane, Brenda Huckins Bonter, Kendra McKimmy, Behnje Masson. Back row: Karen Kuck, Kathy Misak, Eileen Kent, Valerie Deur, Linda Cudworth, Kathy Powell Reider. Not pictured here: Marsha Reeves, Sue Schneider, Nancy Waits, Ruth Hetherington, Sandy Vandenberg, Tanis Rhodea and former class members Diane Sack, Peggy Straathof.
"I like to think that the universe aligns us, but I'm not always a believer," says Kathy Misak, who has been practicing yoga with the group for more than a decade. "In this case however, I pause and think, this looks good . . . Perhaps we are a swarming group of honey bees moving together. I do feel that energy, including Ellie's, is helping us move forward. First Mike letting us continue to use the studio and now Kathy providing us with a brand new space to practice at a crucial time. And then, voila, Behnje, teacher extraordinaire, agrees to teach us in our own north woods. We take a deep breath and move forward in our practice, ever grateful."
Eileen Kent, who is in her fifth year with the group, echoes the thought. "So grateful to be sharing this yoga journey with these lovely women! We are now in our new sacred space at Kathy’s that already feels so much like home. . . And that energy that touches our lives every day continues to carry us forward with Behnje’s guidance and instruction. Is there a 'Thank You' big enough for Ellie, Behnje and Kathy?"
For more information on classes, workshops and special events at From the Heart Yoga & Tai Chi Center, please visit http://www.fromtheheartyoga.com/
Fae Wood Studio's debut public event, the Creative Imagination Workshop will offer a combination of meditation, creative imaging and intuitive exercises. The workshop is Saturday, June 24, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost of $125 includes a light, gluten-free, vegetarian lunch. Register by June 19th, as space is limited.
Kathy Powell Reider also offers intuitive readings and individual sessions in animal communication.
More information at IntuitiveSVS.com, or call 616-635-6029.
On the last Wednesday of every month, I serve up a potpourri of advice, inspiration and other tidbits I've come across in recent weeks. In the spirit of an earlier post on a silent hike (and having been forced into near silence by losing my voice over the weekend), this month's offerings are on the subject of silence. It's okay to read them aloud, though.
Silence gives us the impetus for awareness and creativity. Sometimes our minds need to be emptied before our spirits can be filled.
-- Ardath Rodale
Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?
-- Marcel Marceau
Silence is not a thing we make; it is something into which we enter. It is always there . . . All we can make is noise.
-- Mother Maribel of Wantage
Silence is more musical than any song.
-- Christina Rossetti
Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.
-- George Eliot
In wilderness people can find the silence and the solitude and the noncivilized surroundings that can connect them once again to their evolutionary heritage, and through an experience of the eternal mystery, can give them a sense of the sacredness of all creation.
-- Sigurd Olson, author and environmentalist
Try to pay more attention to the silence than to the sounds . . . Every sound is born out of silence, dies back into silence, and during its life span is surrounded by silence . . . It is an intrinsic but unmanifested part of every sound, every musical note, every song, and every word.
-- Eckhart Tolle, author and spiritual teacher
Not merely an absence of noise, Real Silence begins when a reasonable being withdraws from the noise in order to find peace and order in his inner sanctuary.
-- Peter Minard, Benedictine monk
There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough to pay attention to the story.
-- Linda Hogan, poet, author and environmentalist
Silence is our deepest nature, our home, our common ground, our peace. Silence reveals. Silence heals.
-- Gunilla Norris, poet and author
Gladden in silence.
As one progresses on the path, one seeks silence more and more.
It will be a great comfort, a tremendous source of solace and peace.
Once you find deep solitude and calm, there will be a great gladness in your heart.
Here finally is the place where you need neither defense nor offense -- the place where you can truly be open.
There will be bliss, wonder, the awe of attaining something pure and sacred.
After that, you will feel adoration of silence.
This is the peace that seems to elude so many.
This is the beauty of Tao.
-- Deng Ming-Dao, author and artist, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations
Book lovers in our community felt disappointed—and frankly, guilty—when word went around last winter that Bay Leaf Books was closing. The store, filled with an assortment of carefully selected, meticulously organized, high-quality used books, had graced Newaygo's main street for more than three years, after moving from nearby Sand Lake.
We all loved having a bookstore in town. Maybe we just didn't love it enough. That's where the guilt came in. If only we'd visited more often, bought more books, might that have made a difference?
As the initial shock wore off, our conversations turned from what we should have done to what we still could do. Was it too late to rescue the shop? If not, how could we do it? Most of us were still thinking in terms of buying more books—maybe even pledging to purchase a certain number a month.
John Reeves had a bigger idea: buy the whole, honkin' store.
He paid a visit to owner Gabe Konrad, who told him recent life changes had prompted the decision to close the brick-and-mortar store and concentrate on his mail-order book business. The two men kicked around some numbers, and John left, excited with the idea of recruiting friends to go in together on the store.
"It turned out only one was interested," John says. So John, his wife Marsha and the friend pooled their money, and Flying Bear Books was born.
It took some doing for Flying Bear to achieve liftoff, however.
"In my mind, I was going to buy a bookstore, turn the lights on, open the doors and sell books," John recalls, laughing now at the thought.
"We were thinking, we'll move a little furniture, create a comfortable place where people can hang out," adds Marsha. "As we got into it, it was clear there was more and more that we wanted to do. That's when it struck us that, oh, this is a big project!" The biggest "to-do" was entering all the books into a database, to keep tabs on what kinds of books are selling best.
Previous owner Gabe, who's been selling books through catalogs and specialty shows for more than 20 years, knew the store's inventory inside and out. John and Marsha, on the other hand, were not only getting acquainted with the store's contents, they were brand new to the book business. Unlike "book guy" Gabe, "we're just readers," says Marsha.
John researched software packages, decided on one, and started entering books, with the goal of having 10,000 cataloged by the store's March 1 opening. The process turned out to be so time-consuming, only 2,000 had been entered by then.
While John focused on the inventory, Marsha coordinated painting, cleaning, rearranging and signing up artists to sell their work in the shop. Neither labored alone, though.
"We put out the word that we could use any help we could get, and people showed up weekend after weekend," says Marsha. "It was so heartwarming. I just felt embraced by the community."
Two helpers, Rod Geers and MaryAnn Tazelaar, stayed on to work part time. Other friends have volunteered to pitch in when John and Marsha go on vacation.
The new bookstore owners are committed to maintaining the same high standards that Bay Leaf Books was known for, and the store's organization is the largely the same. "Gabe's thinking was, if he had three books on a topic, he would create a section for it with a shelf card. That was his criterion," says John. "So we don't throw cards away, we keep them even if we might run out of the three books in that area, because I might go to a sale and find three more books on that subject."
The strategy pays off in sales, he adds. For example, "one young lady in her twenties came in looking for books on how to survey land. It turned out we had four books on surveying. She bought three."
The Reeveses did move the military section from the front of the store to the center "to soften the entry," says John. They also hope to increase the indigenous section, with a special sub-section for Anishinaabe literature.
As for other directions, time will tell.
"For me, it's a learn-as-you-go process," says John. "Every day I'm learning something new about books or how they're categorized." Or, he says, popping up and rushing to the front window, "learning to turn over the OPEN sign." The biggest surprise so far: "It's a business, and I have to start thinking of it like a business." He's brainstorming ideas to draw in customers—perhaps a book club or a more informal monthly get-together where people just talk about whatever they're reading. He'd also like to find ways of supporting local authors and working with schools and community groups.
All of which makes it clear this undertaking is not just a business proposition to its new owners.
For Marsha, holistic nurse with an interest in all aspects of healing, changing the store's layout and getting it working in a different way was "a form of healing." And, she adds, "I know that there's healing that goes along with learning, and there are a lot of opportunities for people to learn here."
What's more, owning the bookstore is just plain fun—way more than John and Marsha expected. "Every day, John comes home with a story about something funny or about helping a kid who came in with a cool question," says Marsha. "It's really a delight."
Flying Bear Books is located at 79 State Road in Newaygo. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Phone: 231-414-4056.
Bay Leaf Books still operates as an online bookseller. Visit here.
I confess: Last week got a little not-busy-but-full (see my riff on that linguistic distinction from a few weeks ago), and my writing time got compressed to the point of near disappearance.
I did somehow find time to get out and play with my cameras, though. So instead of inundating you with more words this week, I thought we'd take a break and look at pictures together. Less verbiage, more visuals.
Here are some shots from my springtime rambles. I hope you enjoy them.
WARNING: If you're not a fan of legless things that slither, skip photo #21 (right after the yellow lady slipper orchid)
What are your favorite signs of spring?
Phobic alert: If you don't appreciate certain slithery reptiles, you may want to skip photo #7 below.
One recent Friday afternoon, as the Wander Women hiking club set out on a segment of the North Country Trail, our leader Mary made a suggestion.
"What would you think about doing part of our hike in silence, just listening to the birds and other sounds around us?"
Now, we're a chatty bunch of women—so chatty that one name we considered for our group was the Walkie Talkies. But when Mary clarified that we could converse on the outbound part of the hike and be quiet on the return, we all thought we could manage that.
So we hit the trail and found ourselves talking about—not talking. Gina mentioned a silent meditation retreat she'd attended. Being quiet during meditation wasn't a problem, she said, but it was a real challenge at mealtimes. A zealous foodie, Gina likes to ask questions about what she's being served, especially when the food is as interesting as it was at the retreat. She held her tongue, though, and just let it savor the tastes instead of wagging to analyze them.
As we traveled on, passing by a lake and meandering along a stream, our topics of conversation covered varied terrain as well. We talked about books and movies, summer travel plans, the upcoming Enchanted Forest event, anything and everything that came to mind. When we reached the turn-around point, we paused to take a breather and tie up any loose conversation threads before starting the silent trek back.
Soon, the shuffle of leaves beneath our feet, the gurgle of the creek and the rustle of wind through the pines engaged us as fully as our trail talk had. We did find ways to communicate, though, silently pointing out trail blazes, tree roots to avoid stumbling over and a daring hognose snake that had stretched out across the path.
We did break our silence at one point, when we passed through a campground, and a camper made friendly overtures. But after exchanging pleasantries, we continued on in quietude.
At the end of the hike, we took a few minutes to share our impressions. We'd all heard sounds we might otherwise have missed—from the creaks and groans of a swaying tree to the gravelly call of some unidentified creature near the lakeshore. We speculated about what sort of animal might have made that sound. My guess was a rail—a secretive, ground-dwelling bird that lives in marshy areas. Mary, unfamiliar with that type of bird, thought I said "whale." The look she gave me suggested she thought the silence had unhinged me.
In fact, the silence had made me saner. Our weekly hikes always leave me feeling calmer and steadier, but this one gave me an even greater sense of peace.
There's a reason for that, I learned by looking into the science of silence. Researchers who set out to study the effects of various kinds of music on breathing rate, blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain found that two minutes of silence between musical tracks was more calming than even the most relaxing music. (Read the study here.)
In another study, scientists looking the effects of baby mouse calls and white noise on the brains of adult mice expected to find that the baby sounds spurred development of new brain cells in the adults. As a control, they also exposed some mice to two hours of silence a day. Guess what: the mice that got the silent treatment showed increased growth in the hippocampus, the brain area involved with formation of memories. The mice exposed to sounds, on the other hand, showed only short-term neurological effects, no long-term changes.
I can't say for sure that my memory was any better after our silent walk in the woods. Then again, I can't say it was any worse. Maybe with a few more wordless walks, I'll remember where I left my camera case.
Sunshine smiled on the Enchanted Forest, AKA Camp Newaygo, for at least part of last Saturday, but Sunday's downpours had fairy-folk scrambling to take shelter under toadstools. No worries, though. Quick-thinking Camp Newaygo staffers whisked gnome homes and pixie palaces out of the wet woods and into drier hiding places, where twinkly lights made fairy-house hunting just as enchanting.
The occasion was the two-day Enchanted Forest walk, a fundraiser for the independent not-for-profit camp located on 104 acres along a chain of lakes in the Manistee National Forest region of mid-western Michigan.
Last year's Enchanted Forest event was a great success, and this year's appeal to artists and craftspeople to create and donate fairy houses again yielded a fanciful assortment of tiny abodes—forty-seven in all.
It's always fun to see what imaginative people use to craft these dwellings: tree stumps, gourds, clay, copper wire, twigs, feathers, tin cans. One of this year's creations was made from a cowgirl's boot. Another had a hornet's nest worked into the design.
Ray and I got a close look at many of them when we helped hide the homes in the woods and along the Wetland Trail early Saturday morning. Then, as visitors began arriving and heading out with trail maps, we made the rounds again to watch them discover the little houses.
We had fun watching visitors' reactions to our own creations, too, both the fairy house and the story that went along with it.
"We were so excited to see families outside and enjoying the houses that were hidden on the trails," said Christa Smalligan, the camp's Events and Facilities Director. "Camp Newaygo is a great place for families to enjoy activities together. I heard many kids found some fairies in the woods."
If you missed out on the enchantment—or if you'd like a chance to relive it--here's a look at more of the fairy houses and the weekend's fun. And if you'd like a fairy house for your very own, all the houses pictured here--and more--are available for purchase on ebay through May 8. Proceeds help fund the camp's youth and family programs as well as renovations to facilities such as the Foster Arts and Crafts Lodge.
On the last Wednesday of every month, I serve up a potpourri of advice, inspiration and other tidbits I've come across in recent weeks. In honor of National Poetry Month, celebrated every April, I'm sharing thoughts on poetry and language. And with this, a salute to my friend Cristina Trapani-Scott, whose poetry chapbook, The Persistence of a Bathing Suit is due out from Finishing Line Press next month.
Plus this month's bonus: a preview of the fairy house Ray and I built for the second annual Enchanted Forest event at Camp Newaygo, coming up this weekend (April 29-30), and the story we co-wrote to go along with the house.
Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.
The poet lights the light and fades away. But the light goes on and on.
-- Emily Dickinson
A poem is not simply words on a page but a way of touching the stars and having the stars that have fallen into the sea touch us. Our lives are poems. Everything arrives and passes away as it should, and we don't know the ending--which is the moment the entire poem, its meaning and music, is revealed--until the last line is written, even though it has perhaps existed in the eternal now all along.
-- Sawnie Morris, in Poets & Writers magazine, November/December 2016
Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
-- Leonard Cohen
Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.
-- Roland Barthes
As a poet and writer, I deeply love and I deeply hate words. I love the infinite evidence and change and requirements and possibilities of language; every human use of words that is joyful, or honest, or new because experience is new . . . But, as a black poet and writer, I hate words that cancel my name and my history and the freedom of my future: I hate the words that condemn and refuse the language of my people in America.
-- June Jordan
Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.
-- Dylan Thomas
But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew, upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
-- Lord Byron
Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement . . . says heaven and earth in one word . . . speaks of himself and his predicament as though for the first time. It has the virtue of being able to say twice as much as prose in half the time, and the drawback, if you do not give it your full attention, of seeming to say half as much in twice the time.
-- Christopher Fry
Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.
-- Adrian Mitchell
All the fun's in how you say a thing.
-- Robert Frost
And now for something completely different . . . it's time to unveil our creation for this year's Enchanted Forest event at Camp Newaygo. Once again, the design is based on a story featuring Fairy Archie and his sidekick Hughie the Humongous Butterfly. It'll probably make more sense if you read the story first. (And if you missed last year's installment, you can read it here.)
Be sure to come back next week for more fairy house pictures and a full report on the Enchanted Forest event.
Are you having a busy week?
Oh, my calendar and to-do-list are plenty full, as usual: appointments, meetings, writing projects, household projects, pitching-in projects, activist activities, email and phone calls to catch up on, matters to check on (Where's my refund for those down mittens I returned last month? What's happened to the guy who's supposed to be re-staining our house? Why isn't insurance covering my upcoming dental work?).
But I'm not going to say I'm busy. You know why? Because I have purged that word from my vocabulary, at least as it pertains to my own doings. The inspiration for this linguistic vanishing act came from an editorial I read in Mother Earth Living in early 2015.
"For many of us today, 'busy' isn't something we are from time to time when we're working on a big project. It's the state of our lives. It's our default setting," wrote the magazine's editor-in-chief, Jessica Kellner. "Being busy. . . validates our existence in an unsure world—if we're constantly busy, our lives must be important."
But all that busy-busy-busyness can feel awfully frenzied and stressful, can't it? Don't you wish you could still do all the things you need and want to do, without feeling frantic?
Maybe you can. Maybe you just need to trick your brain, Kellner suggests. She cited a number of studies showing that simply changing one's mindset can have profound physical effects. For example, septuagenarians instructed in an experimental setting to live as if they were 22 years old sat taller, performed better on manual dexterity tasks and even looked more youthful after only five days of thinking young.
Could a similar mental ploy help alleviate our sense of overload? Kellner thinks so.
"Perhaps if we stop saying we're so busy, we'll stop feeling so busy," she concluded. "By aiming our thoughts toward serenity and calm, we might actually achieve serenity and calm—without changing anything about our daily schedules."
Intrigued, I started my own experiment, simply substituting the word "full" for "busy" when thinking and talking about my everyday activities. The change was subtle, but almost immediately I noticed a difference. "Busy" had felt like a burden. "Full" felt like a blessing.
How fortunate I was to have so many interesting things to fill my days. And if they weren't all so interesting or rewarding, well, that's where another mind-shift could come in handy.
This one I came across more recently in a blog post by Bella Mahaya Carter on She Writes, a website for women writers.
Carter shared her own to-do list from a recent day—a familiar-looking litany of pleasant enough activities (yoga class, edit memoir, write thank-you notes), along with a fair share of less-appealing tasks (clean kitchen, unpack from trip, grocery shop).
Admitting she probably wouldn't get to everything on the list in one day, Carter wrote, "It helps to remind myself that it doesn't matter if it takes me two or three days to complete these items. What does matter is that everything on my list I'm doing for love."
That's pretty much how Carter reacted when she first heard the love-centric notion, put forth by spiritual psychology pioneer H. Ronald Hulnick. When Hulnick told Carter's class at the University of Santa Monica, "The only reason to do anything is for love," Carter was skeptical, and immediately started thinking up exceptions.
But then she stopped herself and decided, as an experiment, to act as if it were true.
Her to-do list didn't change much, but her approach to doing the things on that list did, and life felt lighter as a result.
"For example, instead of complaining about cleaning my house, I focused on how much I loved my family and my home, and how great it was that I was able to clean my home," Carter wrote. "It also occurred to me that I was lucky to have a home."
The love filter also helps her choose new activities. When asked to do something she's not sure she wants to do, she asks herself: Where is the love here?
"I root around and sniff out the love. If I don't catch its scent, I say no and move on."
Though I'm having a little trouble finding the love in toilet cleaning (don't ask me to sniff that one out!), I'm trying to keep Carter's words in mind as I decide how to allocate my time each week.
Now, let me ask you again: Are you having a busy week?
Photo of Bella Mahaya Carter: http://www.bellamahayacarter.com/
All other images are free-use stock images.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.