Lessons From a River

“A good river is nature’s life work in song.”
― Mark Helprin

River doodle by the author

If there is one place that will give me a sense of peace, it is in the presence of a river.  Besides being beautiful, rivers have an uncanny way of calming the spirit no matter what kind of dither you are in.  In the infinite haiku of moving water, we can let go.

Clear Lake, Oregon

My favorite river in Oregon is the McKenzie.  It is born from an underwater spring in Clear Lake high in the Cascade Mountains out of Eugene. From Clear Lake, it tumbles down a fantasy of waterfalls, disappears for a bit into the lava bedrock, and reappears in Blue Pool, a deep touramaline pool that gathers all kinds of visitors to admire its beauty. Eventually, the McKenzie becomes a big river. It tumbles down from the mountains in a sparkle of rapids, calming as it flows into farmland before it flows into the Willamette..

Upper McKenzie R. waterfall

Every year we take a trip on the fourth of July to camp by the McKenzie.  Part of that trip includes one or two runs down the river in our inflatable whitewater kayaks.  We skipped last year as my spousal equivalent had a series of knee surgeries.  We were both nervous about this year’s run down the river as our skills were rusty.  In the end, we both agreed that if we didn’t buck up and get out on the water we would never forgive ourselves.  There is the feeling of being by a river but being ON a river is the ultimate experience.

Off we went and in 50 yards hit a class 2.5 rapids, a rough way to warm up.  We paddled through the waves as they roiled up around us.  My adrenaline was buzzing until my mind and muscle memory kicked in and I thought to myself “oh yeah, I can do this!”  The following rapids were pure fun. We had lunch on a gravel beach with wildflowers around us.  It was a memorable run and probably will be the high spot of our summer.  I’m so glad we got over our fears. 

Rivers are great teachers, so full of metaphors.  Here are a few lessons I have learned from my numerous rides on their liquid paths…

Pick a run that matches your ability but is still challenging.

Have at least one buddy that will watch your back.

Go with the flow- watch where the main current is.  It takes less effort.

Keep your sights to where you want to go.  If you fixate on a rock, you will hit it.  Aim to the side.

Stay committed in tough water and paddle with intention.

Find a peaceful eddy and take a break now and again.

Enjoy the scenery.

You will fall out of your boat occasionally.  It’s okay.  Get back in and keep on going.

The river is always changing.

The white water is what you’ll remember most.

The author

Alanna also blogs about sustainable living at One Sweet Earth

In Defense of Doing Nothing

Take note…none of the great sages, prophets, and saviors ever became enlightened by being busy. They renounced their worldly possessions, headed out into the desert, sat under trees, and retreated to caves high up in the mountains. They fasted, prayed, and meditated- basically doing nothing for extended periods. In this solitary, inward experience they became one with themselves, nature, God, and ultimately fulfilled.

In contrast, our culture encourages productivity. The more we achieve, the more we are valued even to ourselves. We are always heading towards something -graduation, career, children, children leaving home, retirement, and acquiring more stuff. We were never encouraged to just BE and Be with our be-ness. Therefore a great deal of our society thinks happiness is always beyond the next bend. For example- “When I______________(fill in the blank), I will be happy.

Being a victim of this frame of mind, I started my sheltering in place journey with a “Super- think of all the things I can get DONE!- writing art, gardening, fitness, etc.”.  Then I started to go crazy with all these added expectations.

I concluded that productivity is overrated. You get something accomplished and then 3 more things go in the queue. The carrot remains out of reach. What I needed to do was slow down and find a nice cave to curl up in with no paper to write a to do list on. Savoring the moment is where it’s at. It’s likely we won’t get this type of “opportunity” again.

Now I have granted myself a time to go “fallow.” I haven’t gone off the rails, nor am I enlightened, but I have lowered my expectations.  Oddly, this takes a bit of mindfulness.  Old habits die hard, but overall, I am happier and enjoying the ride alot more…

and it is such a relief!

Small Acts of Rebellion

Not flossing before bed

Saying no to the news

Watching a movie first thing in the morning

Staring off into space

Going braless

Making bad art

Writing bad poetry

Using BAD two times in a row

Being happy

Refusing to give up

Find Balance

Alanna also blogs at One Sweet Earth

Doodle by the author

How Watching Birds Can Help the Earth and You

One Sweet Earth

Once upon a time, everyone knew the names of the local birds. Then as humans migrated from rural areas to cities, that knowledge was lost in time. Now for most in modernized countries, nature is foreign territory. The birds are nameless, with the exceptions of crows, robins, sparrows, and a few others.

I was in that camp until my second year of college when I took Glenn Moffat’s “Natural History of California.” At the beginning of the birding unit, the binoculars in hand, our class headed up to the rolling green hills behind Foothill College for our first field trip. I was astonished that those little brown birds I had seen all my life now through binoculars were so distinctive in color, patterns (and song). By the time we spotted a lazuli bunting, shimmering iridescent blue in the sun, I was hooked. All those gulls on the coast- there were…

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The Zen of Doodling

Exploring “Creation Meditation”

Start with a shape, a circle perhaps?  Or maybe begin with a line, straight, zigzag, or a series of turns, twists and loop de loops?  Add onto what you started with maybe a pattern…Circle, line, circle, line, dots.  Punctuate with a triangle- just for fun.  Take those lines for a walk and see where they take you, putting off any specific destination in mind.   Work with in a small area like 2”x 2.”A calendar block, the back of a business card, or a post-it note is perfect.  A small space provides comfort lest you prefer journeying in a vast wilderness of white space. 

Work in pen so you won’t be tempted to erase.  Fill in some shapes if desired. Put letters, numbers, keyboard symbols, and words in your tool box.  Keep working until you feel an end point.  Then leave it.  Come back later and look at it with fresh eyes.  Often you will be charmed by a doodle that you didn’t like initially.

The rules are simple- no erasing, no judgment, no starting over. Let your hand go where it wants to go.  This is merely a creative exploration to see what comes up.  As you progress with this practice, maybe add recognizable objects.  I seem to be fond of birds, teapots and tea cups. Sometime my random shapes become objects without intention.  Odd cars and animals have been known to appear and I delight in building on to them.

 If you are a writer you can doodle with words and letters.  Start with one word and through a stream of consciousness; add more words that might relate.  Feel free to put them upside down, sideways, smaller, bigger, thick or thinner than the original word.

This exercise functions in some ways like Julie Cameron’s morning pages.  Allow your pen to express what it needs to express. Doodling has freed me to examine myself, my fears and my willingness to explore.  It allows me to have a little fun without worrying about outcome.

I started this practice because I no longer had time to do my visual art daily due to all my writing and home improvement projects I had undertaken.  Inspired by the book, If You can Doodle, You Can Paint, by Diane Culhane; I knew I had the time to do at least a daily doodle!  My day planner had an unused square.  First thing in the morning after I planned my day, I started doodling in that square before I got out of bed.

After several months of this, I have fallen in love with these quirky expressions to the point doodling has become a favorite art form.  As with any practice it has evolved.  I have developed more of a style with reoccurring themes.  Some of these have wound up as part of larger art pieces, and some I am going to expand into pieces in their own right.  Some have inspired stories, but the vast majority remains “creation meditations.”  This detachment from outcome can lead me to places I never would have gone.  As a result, I am less inhibited in my creative process. My doodles have gone wild inhabiting my journal, notes, or wherever there is a fallow piece of white space.

I doodled all through high school and university courses to help keep me focused.  Remembering this, when I taught a middle school, I allowed students my doodle during lectures when they did not have to take notes.  For many people like me, lines provide an anchor.  Now much later in life, I have again allowed myself the pleasure. 

Try it!  Buy yourself some special pens.  I am especially fond of the fine line pens from Jet Pens if you don’t have a local art supply store you can visit. 

Happy doodling!

PS- see more doodles on my new instagram feed @almostdailydoodle. I’m also blogging at One Sweet Earth.

Celebrating Summer Solstice 2020

It is the longest day of the year, the first official day of summer on the modern calendar. In a couple of hours, my three friends will join me in a summer solstice celebration. We will have a bonfire behind my house, share some readings, reminisce, and enjoy each other’s company as we have for many summer solstices. We all agree that the most memorable summer solstice was during our trip to Ireland in 2017 when visited Ballyvaughan small town in county Claire on the W. coast of Ireland. There we gathered with the locals in their church with a rousing celebration of songs and readings, a memory that still resounds within me to this day.

The Summer Solstice is when the earth is tilted closest to the sun during its orbit, Midsummer, as it is referred to in the northern climes, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream when magical things can happen..

This song was sung at the 2017 Ballyvaugh Summer Soltice Celebration by this Choir.

I was looking for a reading for tonight when I wrote this poem.

Continue reading “Celebrating Summer Solstice 2020”

The Mundane That Keeps Me Sane…

A recent entry from my sometimes rather crazy journal/sketchbook.

Hanging Laundry

Bend, lift, snap, pin

repeat

the basket empties

the lines fill

the mind stills

banners of clothing

undulate with the breath

of a June morning.

images by the author

Also blogging at One Sweet Earth

The Darkest Time is Before the Dawn

Courtesy Getty images

November 2016 when our current “Toddler in Chief” was elected president was a dark time for the United States. We have continued our plunge into more darkness since then. The only good thing that came out of it for me was that I started writing- copiusly. This blog was born soon after in January of 2017. I knew nothing about blogging but just started to blog because I had to. Some 412 followers later I went back to some of those original posts when I had no readers, let alone any followers.

These two poems still apply now, when George Floyd, a black citizen was brutally murdered by a police officer for no reason this last week. The resulting protests and violence is a symbol of our country having enough- of racism, inequality, Covid 19, and the policies of our 45th president. Out of the ashes comes new beginnings. Let’s hope it’s soon.

hands-220163_1280
Continue reading “The Darkest Time is Before the Dawn”

$16 Coffee

Today I bought myself a 12 oz package of coffee from our local coffee roaster in town, Caravan coffee. They have hands down the most delicious coffee I have ever tasted but I rarely indulge as I need to stick on a budget. But today after my weekly Tuesday grocery trip bedecked in mask and gloves, instead of going home I turned my car around and headed toward the coffee roasters. I needed a psychological boost, if even a small one, during this craziness that Covid 19 has brought upon us.


I parked the car, headed into the tiny lobby, and selected my blend suggested by the barista. She asked me if I wanted the courtesy cup of coffee that goes with any coffee purchase and I accepted, of course. My purchase total was $16 for the 12 oz. package of coffee, roughly double what I usually spend in the grocery store, but today no matter. There was no inner gasp or eye blink. This was an “I am so worth this and you have been doing such a great job you go girl” moment.


Seated back in my car I sipped my organic, single-origin, recently roasted & fresh from the grinder cup of coffee. I paused, closed my eyes as the rich steaming, liquid infused my tongue with a complexity of flavors that did cartwheels in my head all the way home. If I were a dog I’d have been in a full tail wag..


There is 12 oz. more of this black magic now stored in my cupboard. It’s not a cure for the coronavirus but for $16 it’s a fabulous cure for the Covid blues. Sometimes you just need to reward yourself during tough times. Go do it. You’re worth it.

Also blogging at One Sweet Earth

The Art of The Earthworm

This is a departure from my usual content.  I just posted this on my other blog, One Sweet Earth but I thought it might be of interest to my readers here with an added poem… 

I have always been fascinated with the unseen world of nature that exists beneath our feet or is too small for our eyes to see. Some years back on a forest field trip for my 6th-grade science students, the guide pointed out small mounds covered with small bits of debris on the muddy parts of the forest floor.  I’d seen these before, never giving them much thought.  “Those are earthworm middens,” she said.  HUH?  How did in all my years of natural science and ecology did I miss this one?

The guide informed us that earthworm middens are the entrances of earthworm burrows.  The reason they are built up like little volcanos is they pile their casings (poo) outside and alternately store bits of organic material at the entrance to later come up and feed upon.  In January I came upon in one in the yard with a magnolia leaf sticking straight up from the entrance like a rock from Stonehenge. It appeared that this leaf was too large, tough for this worm to manage.

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The Art of Getting Out of Bed- COVID 19 Version

This is a rehash of a post from 2018 with some new modifications for the times…

monalisa-4893660_1920It shouldn’t be that difficult.  Most people open their eyes, pop out of bed, and voila!- on with their day.  For me, making the transition from Dreamtime to wakefulness is a sacred ritual.  This can sometimes take up to an hour. Even when I was working full-time I always allowed some time for this. Now with COVID 19 &  sheltering in place, there seem to be no people to be held accountable to, nor yoga or pool schedule to meet and no medical appointments.  Now I am left up to my own motivation.  It’s gotten to be more difficult not to be tempted to sleep in.

First step- avoid reading or listening to the news.  I fail to see the point of starting the day feeling depressed.  It’s curated to produce nightmares. (Plus, there is a dearth of good news to be had even though I know it exists.) My phone is in silent mode or better yet turned off.

Place my 15-year-old dog, Bandit on the bed.  He makes me smile.  Then have to free the  “wild img_2131hamsters” that populate my head and if I don’t get rid of them my day seems chaotic.  Essential to that process is to brew a cup of tea, heat up my “hottie” for my tight back, and do a quick meditation.

I spend a few minutes in my planner thinking about my goals for the day or week. I have been finding that scheduling joy into my day can really help to keep the lonely demons away.  Anything from reading a good book, walking the dog, gardening, phoning a friend, or watching a movie IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY.  Then onto my journal where I may write anything that’s been lurking in my mind, a poem. Finally, I add a funny daily doodle in my planner for fun.

Now I am ready to transition from human being to more of a human doing with a foundation of centeredness that I hope to carry with me throughout my day.

Next step- remove body from bed and get to living in this simplified yet complicated world.

Continue reading “The Art of Getting Out of Bed- COVID 19 Version”