You climb the ridge at dawn

You climb the ridge at dawn
dig small shallow holes with bare hands, the sun already hot on your shoulders
and on the top of your head

You make offerings
of dried herbs harvested near the river
animal bones and teeth

a lock of your own hair

to the soil
to the air
to the water
to the ancestors
to the gods
to the earth herself

to the universe

you scratch constellations into the dusty ground
so the stars can see
that you understand their language

so they can read

what it feels like
to be here now

on this changing planet

A spider scrawls tracks across the ground
and over your hands

reminding you of thread
and silk
of weaving
and of tying knots

Of cocoons
and sticky webs

of the hunt

you lay on your back and look at the sky and think the word “pray”

but you are the only one that understands that word here.

The rest? they speak in tongues
in winds carried across seas and deserts
to quietly slip through your hair

you make offerings

you weep

and your tears make a paste of water and earth
a concoction, a remedy
a spell

you climb the ridge

you dig small, shallow holes

under the hot summer sun

at dawn.

photo by Natasha


What a strange place this is,

To wake with birdsong at dawn and sleep with the sound of sirens alarming through the night.

Where whales fill their stomachs with plastic more often than food, and Polaris is drowned out by our own, more powerful lights.

How are we to know which way is North?

Things are changing and we have changed them. Roll up the maps and throw them away, burn them in fires that lick the sky. They are of no use to us here. This territory is unnavigated. We must find our own way now.

There are creatures here so large their voices will explode your lungs; so powerful they’d crush you with a single blow.

Seek their council, and bow in respect. Listen. Be humble, be still.

We were taught wrong, and the ones who taught us were too. This is not a competition,

but a dance.

Our bodies hum with coming storms and still we wait, unmoved, as the clouds gather round our heads.

Plant trees and water them. Fill the fields with wild plants, or none. It is not about us anymore.

Some of us are sorry. Some of us are not. In the end it matters very little. The earth does not ask for atonement.

That’s what people do.

And we?

We are lost.

Thank you for listening,

photo by wilson alvarez

photo by wilson alvarez

The place where new worlds are born

I dreamed an elephant spoke to me.

I climbed on her back and she carried me through the forest and over a clear blue stream. Her footprints were circles in the soft, cool soil.

We sat together under the trees. I begged, “Help me. Please, give me some wisdom. Tell me something, give me answers. What am I supposed to do?”

She stared at me and sat silent for a minute. She waved her ears lazily and blinked.

She told me, “Listen.”

So I sat for an eternity, or so it seemed, and grew still.

“OK.” I said after awhile, “I get that I’m supposed to be still. But I’m burning up inside. There’s so much violence, so much hate. The earth is all torn apart. It’s so painful to be alive right now, there’s just so much loss. I feel so much grief.”

“Be like the earth.” she said, drawing shapes on the ground with her trunk. “The earth too, is burning up inside. There is much that is wrong, many of her children are very sick, and others have become very broken. But still she creates. She wakes up each day and gives birth, floods the world with a dizzying outpouring of creation. She makes birds, and insects, and flowers, and trees. She makes rocks, and air, and water, and soil. She makes elephants, and rhinos, and tigers, and wolves. And even though it pains her, she makes humans, very many of them. It is what she does. It is what she has always done.
She creates. She spins, and weaves, and paints, and knits, and sculpts, and writes, and breathes it all into being.”

“To create is to live. To make is to be alive. It is the antidote to rampant consumption. When the hands are at work the mind can rest. When the mind is at rest, the spirit can listen. Creation is the language of the universe.”

“Whatever it is you create, pour it into the world. Open the floodgates and release what lives inside you. Let your hands do the talking. Not for money. Not for fame. Not for love. Not for anyone or anything else but yourself and the pure joy that is creating. Give gifts, paint the cities, flood the roadways and sidewalks and buildings with color. Sing. Write poetry, take pictures. Plant trees. Plant trees. Plant trees. Plant trees. Grow flowers. Make ponds. Listen. Watch. Listen some more. Breathe. Even your breath is a gift.”

“The burning you feel is the fire of creation. Let it consume everything it touches. Let it burn away the edges, the places that are broken, and the sharp parts like shards of glass glittering in the sun. You are a phoenix rising from the ashes. You are the daughter of earth, and moon, and sun.”

“You are a tidal wave, a hurricane, a monsoon, a force to be reckoned with, a tempest of flooding rains and howling winds. To create is to destroy, to wipe away that which is no longer working in order to make way for things that are new.”

“Find the place where destruction and creation meet. It is where planets are shaped, where galaxies make slow circles around stars in an endless dance. Go there. It is the place where new worlds are born.”

“Thank you.” I said grazing her soft skin with my fingertips as she turned to walk back along her path, tail swishing, feet leaving perfect circles in the rich, dark soil.

Thank you for listening,


photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

My favorite part is the wolves: part II

There by the water. Near the rocks, drinking. Shhh, be still, she sees you moving, she’s lifted her head. Her yellow eyes catch yours for a moment and then she’s…gone.

At first glance, a wolf. Or… maybe a coyote?

But yet not. She’s a bit smaller than a wolf, a bit larger than a coyote. Markings of a wolf yet more tawny in color, like the grasses still whispering in her wake. And her ears are rounded at the edges. Softer.

Wolves, coyotes, and domestic dogs all dance inside her DNA.

She numbers in the millions. Her range stretches from Southern Canada through the Eastern U.S. As far south as PA and Washington D.C.

She’s a coywolf, a secretive and cunning hybrid with a powerful mix of ancestors in her genes.

Comfortable hunting in forested, open and urban areas, the coywolf is capable of thriving where her wolf, coyote, and dog sisters cannot.

And her language? As blended as her genes. Her call begins as a deep howl like the wolf and ends in a playful yipping like the coyote.

She is a product of her environment. She can tolerate the noise of crowded cities, and can live off the refuse of human encampment. Yet she is also a fierce hunter who can take down a moose.

She is a shape shifter. A creature of the night so secretive that she is almost invisible. She is clever. She is adaptable. She is resilient. She is a perfect being for living in this changing world.

She is wild.

She is wolf. But she is more.

This is the world we live in. As much as I wish and work for change, I also must accept that this is the world I live in. It is dirty. It is paved. It is poisoned. It is pillaged. But it is also breathtakingly beautiful. It is wet. It is green. It is regenerative. It has a blue sky. It is alive.

It is both tame and savage. It is both broken and whole. It is all encompassing. To ignore the truth, to reject the present, to live in some ideal in our minds is a misstep.

How easily life can become just a story we tell ourselves.

We want the wild to be the way it was. We want the forests and the animals and the waters and the land to be restored to the way it all once was. Perfect and pure.

But that world is gone. The creatures that roamed that world are long dead. Their bones press up through the damp earth from time to time. Their bodies decorate our museums.

We’ve changed this planet. We’ve shifted the balance and now we must watch as the temperatures rise and the waters boil.

We’ve done this.

And now we can’t wish it away. We can’t positively think our way out of this. We can’t pray our way out. No one is going to save us.

But ourselves.

We must do the work.

We must reconnect to the natural world. We must plant trees. We must stop shopping. We must be kind. We must cooperate. We must change. We must listen. We must grow.

We must learn how to care for the land in a way that does not only benefit ourselves. We must raise the carrying capacity of the land base. We must hunt. We must gather. We must reuse. We must make. We must create. We must love.

We must adapt.

Just like the coywolf. We must figure out how to live between the worlds and how to blend them. She is wolf, and she is dog. She is coyote. And she is something else entirely.

This moment has never existed before and it never will again. We are people on the cusp, A foot on the brink, white knuckles desperately holding onto slowly eroding land.

Wolf and I are the same. We carry our babies the same way, beneath a cage of bone, in heavy and swollen bellies. We feed our children from our breasts. We hunt, we eat, we play, we live, we make love.

I understand wolf’s language.

But language is a transient thing. A creature that shifts in the night. Wolf’s language is changing. And so is mine.

Can you hear it?






Thank you for listening,

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

My favorite part is the wolves

Revel’s new favorite book is about animals and ecosystems and when you turn the page it makes the sounds of the animals. The quality of the sound is terrible of course but you can still make out the flapping of bat wings, the songs of the summertime insects, and tigers roaring. He asks us to read it almost every night.

His favorite part is the tiger with it’s orange stripes and sharp teeth. It’s a great page, the roar is really satisfying and loud and I can see why he likes it so much. But it’s not my favorite one.

My favorite part is the wolves.

On the wolf page the sky in the picture is purplish-blue and there is a huge silver moon painted low over some rocky, craggy looking hills. The wolves are gray and white and they are clustered in a small half circle with their faces turned towards the sky. The book has a tiny speaker and their voices come across tinny and too high pitched. But even under such conditions the sound is beautiful and melancholy. Haunting and holy and wild.

I’ve never heard a wolf howling in real life. Only in movies and on television, or on the occasional new age soundtrack kind of song. Coyotes yes, many times. But wolves never.

I’ve never seen a wolf except for a few sad souls in a rehabilitation center in Texas and maybe at the zoo when I was a kid but honestly I can’t remember if there were any wolves there or not.

Wolves were mostly extirpated from this area by the late 1800’s with one or 2 packs remaining through the turn of the century. But by the early 1900’s every last one had been wiped away along with most of the old growth forests and the indigenous people who once called this place home.

The closest wolves to me right now here where I sit typing this are in a refuge about 15 miles to the north. The population there is mostly wolf-dog hybrids abandoned by owners who gave them up for one reason or another. I imagine they must have longed for the companionship of man’s best friend but were surprised when they got the cunning mind of the wolf instead.

The nearest wild wolf population is at least several states away. In fact, the entire population of wolves in the lower 48 numbers fewer that 6,000 individuals and is restricted to only a handful of regions.

So why then, does the sound of the wolf howling, even through the shitty little speakers of my little son’s book, call to me so loudly that it is all I can do not to throw open the doors and wander barefoot under tonight’s just-past-full moon?

A few days ago I read online that the game commission had released 2 adult wolves into the 500 or so acres of a local park that runs along the nearby river. Later I was heartbroken to find that the article was a joke and that the game commission had no plans for any such thing. What kind of joke is that? I thought. Are we so far gone that the thought of an intact ecosystem elicits some kind of humorous response?

In this too-tame landscape of GMO corn fields, suburban sprawl and broken, patchwork forest, there is no room for wolves. The shopping malls and restaurants and manicured lawns and parking lots wouldn’t stand for it.

Ours is a world rendered wild-less.

There is no place in this domesticated ecosystem for wolf howls. There is no place for hunts that rage into the night, or wolf pups born into dark dens, or the blood stained teeth of the carnivore.

And yet, that wolf howl is a language I can recognize. It’s buried deep in the coils of my DNA. It’s written in my cells and in the marrow of my bones. Fingertips trailed over my soft skin can read the message just like braille.

There is still something sacred here it says. There is another world buried beneath the asphalt and the cement. It is hidden in the ancient memories of the GMO corn and the blades of the brilliant green, chemically fertilized, grass.

Barely bridled wildness, seething beneath the surface, visible in the brilliant blue of the chicory flower growing in the crack of the sidewalk and the hawk plucking squirrel from the edge of the yard.

We are just visitors here, remember?

My hands were made for more than just typing. They can also hold babies, and carry arrows, and weave baskets, and knit sweaters, and clothing, and rugs. They can pull the still warm skin from a fresh kill, and gather berries, and hunt fish with nearly invisible line. And they can chop trees, and carry water,and plant seeds, not as a farmer would exactly, but as something else entirely, as a person who wishes to see the world come back alive from the brink it is precariously balancing on.

I know the wolf. She is me and I am her. We carry our babies the same way, beneath a cage of bone, in heavy and swollen bellies. We feed our children from our breasts. We hunt, we eat, we play, we live, we make love.

Yet there is no place for her here at this table. She has been caged up, paved over, chopped down, and pushed out. She and her kin are clearly not welcome here in this neutered and diluted landscape.

But, if she and I are the same,

then where in the world do I belong?

Am I just a tinny and too-high-pitched version of the person I could have become?

There is still something sacred here.


Just listen.


photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

May the waves wash through you

This process continues to unfold. The year of mourning, the focus on grief. The idea behind this project. Only the process took much longer than a year. In fact, this is an experiment that will never end. I gave myself over to the sadness, to the pain. I faced a thousand horrors and refused to look away, I let all the destruction and suffering wash in. I did not turn away. And it very nearly washed me away.

I wanted to see what would happen if I stopped living in denial about the state of the world. I needed to know what would happen if I stopped stuffing the pain away and let it swell up to the surface.

I forced myself to look at all the terrible photos, to read the news articles, to see the destruction in my own town, in my own life. I felt the pain of the earth and all her creatures. I wrote about it, I sang about it, I talked about it. I cried, I sobbed, I screamed, I lay on the ground and stared up at the stars.

Honestly it broke me. I very nearly lost sight of what is beautiful and what is good. My life fell apart in a number of different ways. And I’m not just talking emotionally. Over the course of The Year experiment and since, I lost my home. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I very nearly lost my dear nephew due to a custody struggle. We dealt with crippling poverty. Wil and I struggled to deal with the stress. Our marriage suffered. I felt like a wasn’t able to be the kind of mother I wanted to be.

It also frightened me. I wondered if I had brought the disasters on myself. If I had invited them in by asking sorrow to come sit at my table. By opening myself to the grief of the world, had I welcomed in darkness itself?

I felt swallowed. I couldn’t deal with anything else. The earth was in collapse and now my personal life was too? I couldn’t take it.

I felt angry all the time. I had terrible anxiety and couldn’t sleep at night. I felt like I was burning up inside, on fire, yet chilled and shivering at the same time.

My soul was gripped by fever.

I cried and cried and cried. My heart hurt all the time.

I had finally collapsed.

But then slowly, something started to shift. Something in me started to move. I realized I had been holding on too tight.

To the way I wanted the world to be. To the life I thought I should have. To the dreams of my childhood. To the idea that I could change things. To the desire to change the world. Exhausted from trying to control a million things I could not, I gave up.

And guess what happened? Sweetness started to slowly creep back into my life. Who cared where we were living? At least I was surrounded by family, my nephew, my beautiful son, and Wil, my love. What difference did it make how I thought the world should be? The world is the way it is. What good were the dreams of my childhood if I had completely lost track of my inner child? What was the point of wanting to change the world if I had lost sight of all of the parts that were worth saving?

I started to love again, without anger, without sadness. I swam in the creeks, had mud fights with my boys, listened to the cicadas, walked barefoot through the forests.

But I am still raw. My heart is still broken. I have had to remember how to play, how to have fun. I am in recovery. From grief, from mourning. From sadness, and stress. From civilization itself. I try to do something each day that brings me pleasure. I create. I sculpt flowers. I crochet. I cook. I sweep the floor. I do the dishes. I cuddle my son. I eat chocolate. I drink coffee. I spend endless hours in the woods and meadows. I found a job working with children in the most lovely and nurturing setting I can imagine. It’s incredibly healing. Revel accompanies me there. It is beautiful. I am happy.

It’s autumn now and the sky is very blue. I can’t believe how blue it is. On the way to work we pass miles of soybean fields. They have turned a beautiful golden yellow. They are dazzling against the blue sky. They are also covered in poison. They are round-up ready soybeans drenched in glyphosate. They are terrible. But, they are also beautiful, and I can’t deny it.

Now that I have learned how to the feel the pain of the world I can never un-feel it. I hold the destruction and suffering in my heart all the time. I turn it over and over in the palm of my hand like a smooth rock, worn by years of touch. It is familiar. The rhinos are almost gone. There are children sold into slavery every single day. The elephant population continues to dwindle. The climate is changing. I am raising my son in a contaminated world. All of these things are true.

But the world is also beautiful. So beautiful it leaves me breathless. My child’s brown and silky curls. The blue of the sky. The yellow of the soybeans. The wind on my skin. The delight of bare feet on the ground. The fields, the forests, the animals, and the plants. The oceans.

How to hold it all?

You know what I’ve found?

The answer is not to try. Don’t hold it. Let each moment, each emotion wash through you like a wave.

The soybeans are terrible but also beautiful. Do not try to understand it, the world we have created does not make sense no matter how hard you try to examine it. Trying to do so will only break your mind, and your spirit.

Our civilization is broken. It is sick. Our culture is one of oppression. But it is also where and how we live.

We are the captives but also the captors. The prisoners, and the ones who hold the key.

We are the predators, and yet also the prey.

This kind of grief doesn’t end. It goes on and on and on. There are no easy answers or simple fixes. There is an endless list of things to be angry about. But we also have an endless capacity for love. One thing does not cancel out the other.

There is a culture of rebellion growing. It has been here all along and it is strong. This is a time of great awakening. But a very long road lies ahead.

This life is beautiful, terrible, powerful, and wonderful. We are only small, like children. Lost in a wild and stormy sea.

May the waves wash through you.

May the waves wash through you, my friend.

Thank you for listening,

photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

You are not alone

I want you to know it when you wake in the night and can’t sleep,

when you wander the halls like a fevered stranger

looking for the place you called home.

This is not normal. It is not normal to watch the world we know and love slip away bit by bit. You are not crazy. It is not wrong of you to feel lost and scared. It is not wrong of you to ache for more.

It is not wrong of you to pray to the Gods of your childhood, or seek solace in the stars, or lay your warm body next to another’s night after night in search of happiness.

You are not wrong. You are not broken, or ruined, or bad. You are not the problem.

This is.

This brittle and abused culture of sadness that pits victim against victim in an endless, bloody dog fight. This monstrous civilization with it’s endless appetite. This hell bent path of destruction and ruin.

This is wrong. This is broken. This is ugly, and tragic, and sick.

This stifled life.

You are beautiful. You were born expecting more. If you think hard you can remember a time when everything was magic, when you could still see the shimmer, however fleeting. You can have that again.

You deserve more. You are smart. You are brave. You are kind. You have an endless capacity for loving.

This civilization wants to break you down. It wants to bind your arms and muffle your screams. It wants to make you hurt. It wants you to be afraid. It wants you to be afraid of others. It wants you to be afraid of everything.

But if our hearts grow hardened it wins.

We must stay soft. Even in the face of growing calamity we must remain open.

Some days your heart will hurt so much, you’ll beg for a pill to ease the pain. You’ll drink, you’ll consume. You’ll distract. You’ll howl into the clear, blue sky. And still it will hurt.

And then you’ll break. Into a million pieces. You will cry an endless flood of tears. You will lay on the cool floor panting and breathless.You will cry out to the dark universe and ask for a miracle. You will beg for this to stop.

But YOU are the miracle. Because even as you reach your lowest point you are healing. Even as you melt into a puddle of grief and sorrow and mourning, you are living. You are ALIVE.

YOU are the greatest gift. YOU have the power to walk away. To sever the ties that break your heart. To end the cycle of damage, of violence. You have the gift of life.

This thing is dead. It is a zombie world that thirsts for blood. Our only hope is to out-run it. Our only hope is to out-fight it.

Our only hope is to let our hearts out-love it.

Let your love run wild. Love the plants, and the trees, and the animals. Love the people, the rocks, the ocean and sky. Love yourself.

Let your heart break. Let the pain rush in strong. Cry for help. Be a child in the world. Find others like yourself and hold on for dear life. Do not let the mind numbing tedium and petty disagreements tear you apart.

Make a small life. A simple life. Learn to live with less. Learn to live with nothing.

Create. Make things. Cook, knit, hunt, forage, plant, and harvest. Do good work in the world. Organize. Rebel. Refuse to conform, refuse to give in. Care for the ones who are too damaged or broken to go on.

Cut ties with those who wish to hurt you. You will find spirits so darkened by trauma that all the light is gone. It is not your job to fix them. It is not your job to heal everyone’s pain.

Be a ship in the night for other lost souls. Be a beacon of light so kindred ones can find you.

Be extremely gentle with yourself. As though you were a newborn baby. As though you are the smallest bird with a broken wing.

You are one of many. You are a diamond in a sea of broken glass.





Thank you.

Please forgive me.

I’m sorry.

I love you.

Thank you for listening,