As my nephew David is making his way back to Kansas, stuck in traffic and snow, I am reminded of a similar trip in 1983 from Chicago to LaJunta, CO, where my parents lived. I was visiting my professor Mike Stienel, who had moved to Northwestern to teach. It was a great visit with a teacher I loved and a generous person. I got to go to a rehearsal with the Spinners (for a debutant ball-holy cow…that’s another story…). He was playing in the band, so I got to see high society first hand.
I left Chicago two days before Christmas. He tried to talk me out of it. The temperatures were in the -30’s. But the thought of crashing Christmas with someone other than family didn’t settle with me. As an adult, I never resonated with Christmas…it was always an uncomfortable and awkward time, and being with non-family wasn’t an option…So, I hit the (recently) open road.
It was windy…really windy all the way out of Illinois and through Iowa. And cold…Just stopping to take a pee was a bone chilling experience. I remember stopping often to look under the hood. My car could barely make 65 in the wind, and the heater was on high all day. It couldn’t keep up. I those days, I usually drove straight through, no matter how far. I was young and invincible. But it became clear to me that driving all the way in this cold was not a good situation…I called my college friend Scott Erb to see if I could stay the night in Henderson, Nebraska with he and his family.
When I arrived, they welcomed me in to their warm house, and the warm hearts. I remember the sense of relief after being so alone in a barren place all day. I was overwhelmed and the reclusive me was glad to be with others. I remember some tears. They were so welcoming. I was hypothermic. It was only then I realized what danger I had been in for I don’t know how long on this lonely highway. After a good hot meal and some conversation, they gave me a comfortable place to sleep, and I was out. I felt protected. By them…and by higher powers.
The next morning I think the temps had approached -40 if I remember right, although I can’t seem to find a record online. I’ve camped once in temps like that, at 11,000 ft. in Colorado on the last day of January…but I had gear that time (barely adequate…but at least I had gear!). It was frigid that morning back in Nebraska. My car wouldn’t start of course, and they tried to convince me to stay. The thought of crashing their Christmas Day was also not something I could bear. I know they would have been totally fine with it, and welcoming, and generous, but I just couldn’t do it. So, Scott, his dad Virgil, and I spent 2 1/2 hours getting my car started. Vergil was a plumber, and had a heater, like a jet engine! that we blew under the care for a couple of hours to warm the block. And finally I was off.
As I headed through Western Kansas, feeling closer to home by the minute, I heard a noise from the engine. It was still sub-zero, but not as cold as the previous day. I stopped, and checked under the hood only to find the last of three alternator bolts in my red Ford Pinto station wagon nearly ready to work its way off (they were long 4 or 5 inch bolts and the last one was hanging on by an inch or two. I screwed it back in enough to get going, and kept checking it all the way home. One of my memories from this trip was frozen fingers. Each time I checked the oil…the radiator…the alternator, my fingers froze. It took forever to warm them, but each time I was on the road. Homeward bound for Christmas to the place where at least I could be comfortable in my discomfort around Christmas. Mom and Dad were glad to see me. I was glad to see them, and I ate lots of cookies!
What I learned was that listening can save my life, and that all along the journey home, there are people with generous helpful hearts and homes! I was lucky! Except I don’t believe in luck. I believe in Good Samaritans and Guardian Angels…like the one when I was a kid who pushed me back into the car and slammed the door shut after I accidentally opened it as we were speeding down the highway. That angelic experience has shaped my whole life…but alas, is another story.
To all those out there helping people and animals in this cold weather, I thank you from the bottom of my traveler’s heart. And to all those travelers out there, I off you up one of my favorite songs.
So, in the lee of having to cut down living trees to extract my tractor…yesterday, I planted 8 hedge balls (Osage Orange) in the Harmony Medicine Wheel. My friend Christopher Spiritheart gave me the idea of using Osage Orange for building open air lodges, and even planting them intentionally to cultivate a growing lodge. They grow in such natural curvaceous half circles, so are perfectly suited for such a thing. I’ve been thinking of planting some living fences with the gnarly rose bushes that grow here (careful not to get caught…it can be as hard to get extracted as a tractor wedged around a tree…), and this idea fits right in! So, I planted these hedge balls, given from a tree that faces my upper “Medicine Bow” (a new ceremonial space i’m working on up on the open prairie…but more on that later), amongst the circle of living trees that already mark the current Medicine Wheel. This lodge will come to fruition in a few generations, and is intended to be around for at least 7. Someone else will have to see it to fruition. I plan to live 177, but that still won’t see this to its full blossoming around the open air Sipapu that’s already there. It’s time for making more of these 7 Generation decisions, and I’m all in.
The forest is very forgiving. She knows that I am learning, and sometimes make mistakes. Yesterday, I wrapped my tractor around a tree. With the mud…and trying to get out of a jam, I got the tractor in a position, against a beautiful 18′ sycamore tree, and I literally couldn’t budge an inch forward or backwards. So…I had to cut three trees down to get Johnny out. I blessed the trees, thanked them for all they have brought to the forest, and assured them that the ending of their lives was not in vain. They will heat my house next winter and keep me, and all those who come here warm. Their upper branches will go back to the beginning of the circle of life, and give to the young trees that are just making their starts. So, the circle of life continues here as every day, something lives on Harmony Farm, and something dies. And forest begins to go to sleep for winter.
I our giving to each other, the Forest and I are learning to live together in peace and harmony, even when things do not go as planned.
After our four day Solstice Ceremony, a mysterious circle appeared in the middle of the Harmony Medicine Wheel. We did a wonderful ceremony there on the day after the Solstice, but did not scrape or move this snow, or even walk in this area. It just melted this way, in a perfect circle. I had been feeling for some time that this Medicine Wheel wanted a small fire pit. Independently, Andy Claypool (of Elevate Mind Body Peace), one of the spiritual caretakers of the property, said that during that meditation, he also got the notion (received the message?) that the Medicine Wheel wanted a small fire pit.
And so, the Hoop of Life appears in the center of the wheel, directing us where to put it. The stones are gathering themselves, with a little help from us, and soon, perhaps by the next full moon on Jan. 26, we will have a small fire there, to honor the Grandmother and Divine Feminine.
There is no way to adequately describe the sensation of purification by internal wild-fire with cool quenching rain.
Yesterday, my brother and I built the ceremonial fire pit at Harmony Farm. We collected stones of all sizes and shapes, and they all found their own place around the opening dug in Mother Earth. It was good work for two brothers. Love, compassion, sweat, imagination, and play went into its making and we both asked for the blessings of the 7 directions: Jon in the inner circle and me in the outer circle. We met in the middle and felt the giddy inner spirit strongly.
After building it, I put tobacco into the center in the shape of a spiral: the symbol that is growingly ever more present here at Harmony Farm. Within a few minutes, the mischievous wind had rolled through and shifted the tobacco, and the symbol that emerged was a closed circle, with an open circle swirling into it. We both realized the significance of this symbol immediately. The circle of life is complete, but always interweaving with other circles in an expression of ever changing community and life. We also realized that the open circle was the map of the path that is to leading from the house to the fire circle, and that the shape had become a heart.
The mischievous wind that had been blowing for days, calmed down enough for us to actually light the first ceremonial fire in the pit. Wind, Fire and Earth were all present as we passed the talking stick around for sharing. There was much spoken from the heart and gratitude prevailed. Towards the end, the thunder and lightening beings came. As soon as we were all inside, the skies opened up and Sister Water made her grand entrance, filling all the cracks in the dried up earth. Cooling everything, giving her life, and flowing freely and abundantly. I harvested 150 gallons of her sustenance off of the garage roof for use on the garden, and my inner fire felt satiated and quenched this morning. There are no words for these sensations: sensations that come from purification by fire cleansed by cooling water from the sky.
Today, it is time to plant seeds in my new garden and watch life persist and thrive!
The wild flowers are in full swing at Harmony Farm. They come with a single message to me: life persists. Maybe even: life insists! It occurs to me that each and every one of these little beauties grows with effortless ease, without thought and without morality. I can walk carefully around them, but the horse following me may trample them down without a thought or care. There is wisdom here, but not the kind bourn of thought. In fact, it is the wisdom of action WITHOUT thought. But it all strikes me as very playful…dancelike…with endless counterpoint: line upon line of choreographed improvisation.
Some with frilly dresses…
others like a cabbage patch kid…
And what would the prairie be without jumping jacks!
There is joy in watching this play for me. There is a story-less narrative that goes back thousands of years here, till once upon a time this was an ancient sea floor, and then back further. The snails seem to be a reminder of that, as they truck through the mud and wet branches during the rain. Life persists, but it always shape-shifts into something new, something more adapted…more poetic than what came before. Persistence can be graceful. The evidence is everywhere in this place where there is room for everyone.