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There’s the flock of birds over the field this morning
A hundred with dark wings, and then one with light,

And the three deer on the ridge over the river,
bellies soft and pale like the sky.

There’s the new moon approaching, stealthily blackening the night

And there’s the place in the river where the water rushes past, where the currents swirl and ice licks the edge of all the lichen covered rocks.

There’s the way the light comes through the big windows with the white curtains in the late afternoon

And there’s the wind through the boughs of the pine, moving, moving, always moving.

There’s the space where you used to live

And there’s the space where you live now.

There isn’t any difference really

In this great, big collection of things

What an amazing abundance of treasure
It has all turned out to be.

Thank you for listening,

Photo by Natasha Herr


Like cats

There is a kind of sound we make
to soothe our young
or ourselves in times of need and sleeplessness.

a purring,
a form of song,
a vibration without words,
a reverberation that fills our chests
and pulses to the beat of our own pumping hearts.

We hum the lullabies our mothers sang to us, and the ones their mothers’, mothers’, mothers’ sang as well.

We hum the songs we hear, the songs we create. The songs filled with poems, strings, keys, bass, treble, and the like.

We hum the songs composed by earth herself- the tone of the cricket chirp, the cadence of cicada call, the bird song, the solid whoosh of the wind, the cresting waves of the ocean.

We hum, quiet as a whisper, or loud, to drown out the sounds of the traffic outside,
the voices calling across streets below.

Our hum is powerful enough to ease fears
strong enough to fill the hollow of loneliness, of homesickness, of loss. Bright enough to light a dark night and chase bad dreams away.

Our hum means comfort. Our hum says “you are safe, here in this place, at this time, with me.”

You are safe. You are safe. You are safe. You are held.

And you are loved.

Come. Sister, Brother. Lay your head against my chest and I’ll lay mine against yours. We will hum, and we will be at peace. Simply.

Like cats.

Thank you for listening,

photo by Lynn Johnsen


“monarchs and milkweed”
photo and painting by Natasha

I finished the last brush stroke on this painting of monarch butterflies and milkweed yesterday and stepped outside a few minutes later to see my first actual monarch of the summer. She fluttered around the two milkweed plants we have planted in our city backyard and then flew up and over our small house to explore the blue sky beyond. It was like the painting had come alive. Like her beautiful wings were born of acrylic paint, brushstrokes, and patience and upon completion she was lifted from the canvas and set free.

The experience made me think. About how the art we create is like a spell, like a net we weave and then cast into the wider world, a net that brings our imaginings home to us, a net that breathes our wildest wonderings into being.

We are all great mothers and fathers of creation, storytellers, charged with the immense challenge of explaining all we see here, all we experience. The twin dogs of life and death are forever yipping at our heels, wanting our attention. Here, in this story we create. There, in that story, we destroy. They lick our hands with their slobbery tongues, begging for more than we are willing to give.

Which dog will we nourish and which will we starve? And how do we choose, when the truth is, the first breath and last breath look so much the same?

Everywhere, there is something to read, to see. The furrows in the tree bark, the raccoon track on the shore, the clouds making their way lazily across the sky. Everything sings. The birds, the cicadas, the whales, the sea itself, the mountains, the rocks, the deserts, the sand, even us.

Draw a circle in the earth and throw the old bones into it, see where they fall. What do you see there?

What mark will you leave on this cool, green earth?

Thank you for listening,


It must not be as complicated as they’d have us believe.

Or there couldn’t be so much pleasure found in such mundane things.

The sun and the wind.

The birds in their nests.

Each day new in a cycle as old as the earth herself.

Distraction is their game. Distraction pits neighbor against neighbor, mother against son, brother against sister. An endless news cycle meant to separate us from the hands we used to hold. There is so much distance here. It echoes.

We are lonely. Lonesome. Craving skies filled with stars and the curling tendrils of galaxies where instead streetlights blot out the sky.

There is so much here that we cannot see. No wonder we are wandering, lost. We’ve forgotten more than we’ve ever had the chance to believe.

Cover your ears when they tell you this is all you get in this life. That this is all you deserve. Close your eyes when they come to you peddling their wares. They are charlatans. Magicians. Their offerings glitter but they are empty inside, hollow, or worse even than that. Pinch yourself. Dig your toes into the cool earth beneath your feet and Resist.

There are mountains here. And valleys. Rivers as wide as they are long, underground caves dripping with minerals, ancient forests, endless oceans with land slowly drifting above.

There are currents here. Of wind, of water. Of fire.

Undercurrents. Of living, breathing, wild life.


What we are. What we must remember how to be.

Thank you for listening,

photo by natasha

We remembered: a poem for mom

The last time
We were together
In our regular way

I went to the store in the morning
And bought the foods of your childhood

I went to your house and fixed you lunch.
Boiled the new potatoes and buttered them.
Dressed them with salt, and pepper.

We both saw the ancestors
In the buttered bread
And in the dill, green and feathery.

We spoke of grandpa’s garden, the things he grew there
Ate tomatoes and cucumbers dripping with juice.

We remembered the pocket knife he carried, and the way he harvested things
Fresh from the vine

The last time we were together in the regular way

We remembered.

Love you mom. Always and forever.
Thank you for listening.

A photo taken a few minutes before my mom, Lucie Hellberg, passed away in hospice last week after suffering a stroke; a complication of her long, and valiant battle with cancer. She took her last breaths just as a rainbow appeared accross the sky following the first spring thunderstorm. Her nurse took this photo.

This morning the valley was heavy with fog

Dedicated to the Susquehanna River

This morning the valley surrounding the river was heavy with fog. From the highest point, the trees looked just like islands, jagged and strange, solid and stationary anchors in a stormy sea.

The river is wide. She is fairly shallow. Unnavigable she has been called disdainfully by those seeking profits, due to her lack of depth and her rocky bottom. How dare she refuse to be the way that people want her to be?

She is dammed. And damned. Her flow is altered. She is harnessed, hemmed in. She is captive, and controlled. Her waters are funnelled, restricted. She is owned.

Her children no longer have a home within her. They have been chased away, a process begun many years ago. The sturgeon, the eels, the fish. Some gone, some scarce, flesh tainted with chemicals. She is both poisoned and poisonous. She grieves.

But still she moves. She slithers and snakes. She is dangerous and calm. She has shaped the land she lives in and has been shaped by it. She is ancient. She is serpent. She is swift. She has seen much.

She waits for rain. For her blood, for life to fall from the sky,

She waits to flood. She waits to rise, to be unleashed.
To swell and flow over her banks
Washing away the dams that hold her back.

She is mighty. She is fierce. She is power itself.

She waits. She is patient. She is lovely.

She wants.

To be free.

Thank you for listening,

photo by Natasha

Chasing the Sundogs

I find the way I feel about the state of the world right now difficult to put into words most of the time. How could things be seemingly so bleak, but also so charged with beauty and meaning at the same time? How can I consistently feel hopeless and and also hopeful in the same moment? I start essays and other pieces of writing on a pretty consistent basis, only to leave them unfinished, languishing in the “draft” category halfway through, thoroughly tired of them and also unfulfilled by them. It’s the fiction and the poetry that hold my attention right now. The artwork, the songs, the photos, the works. I’m so hungry for stories, for telling them and soaking them in. I’m starving for them.

At a time when our culture is literally drowning in facts and figures, inundated by article after article and fact after fact, flowing with pieces of information presented as objective truths, I find myself wanting the opposite. I want subjective. I want stories from the heart, imagined and real. I want experiences. I want to know the inner workings, hear the gritty details, feel the mistakes, watch faces light up with the tellings, of secrets and adventures, of longings, of legends, even lies. Facts can feel so bland, so lifeless, so clinical; bled dry. What I crave is thumping, still-beating heart. Life.

So I find myself always turning to fiction and poetry in my own writing, and that feels like home. I’m sharing an excerpt from my new novel here, working title Chasing the Sundogs, but that’s apt to change. And it’s a draft, so beware! Any of it is apt to change. But I feel like sharing a bit of it now.

And our guest post tonight is from the loveliest soul Michelle, who just celebrated a birthday and actually, truly makes the world a better place by being in it. Her work is beautiful and inspiring and I love it so much. This whole project and blog never could happen without her.

We’d like to put out there again that this project is on-going and it feels like a good time to breathe some new life into it and enjoy some fresh perspective. So please, please, please, if you feel moved, send us some of your original work to share (email, writing, poetry, artwork etc. around the theme of mourning, solidarity, and/or rebellion. It would make our hearts very happy.

Below is the excerpt from my new novel, Sundogs, followed by Michelle’s poetry and incredible photo from her newest photo project.

(“Sun dog” (or sundog, or mock sun) refers to (from wikipedia) a parhelion (plural parhelia) an atmospheric optical phenomenon that consists of a bright spot to the left and/or right of the Sun. Two sun dogs often flank the Sun within a 22° halo.” It’s an amazing sight.)

This one’s a story about our beautiful planet, climate change, resistance, betrayal, and love.

Thank your for listening,

Chasing the Sundogs
by Natasha Alvarez

I can feel myself disappearing.

Here in this hall of ghosts the water climbs outside and still the wind howls and I am already gone.

This story will never be read. I can scrawl words onto this page all night here in the dark with no light. I can carve letters and shapes into the lined paper, collage sentences one on top of the other in a tangle and it won’t matter at all. This story is for me.

And you, of course.


I dream. We are at the beach. Your toes make depressions in the sand where you walk and you are laughing. We’re playing in the surf, rushing in to catch the waves and then turning to run when they get close. We’re digging for sand crabs; they tickle our cupped hands when we find and hold them. You kiss me; your lips are soft. Your eyes are the clearest blue. You smell like sun and wind. Suddenly, out of nowhere a monster wave appears. It blots out the sky as it rolls relentlessly towards us. We turn to run but it’s upon us, crashing down around us, pushing us this way and that, tossing us, like pebbles high, into the clear blue sky, and then pulling us down so my bones crunch against the sand and shells underneath the sea. Then I’m back on the beach, choking and sputtering and coughing up water. I get up and look around, comb the shore, searching for you. But you are gone and  the dream is over and I am awake and alive and alone.


There was a moment once when humans had the chance to live forever, you said to me that first night, under a dark moon sky, rubbing the back of my hand ever so slowly with your potter’s thumb. You told me a story about the sun creating the earth, sculpting land, and sea, and sky, and water out of a bit of mud scraped from the bottom of the deepest lake.

“They say the sun made the plants, and trees, and animals, and finally the humans, a woman and child.” you told me. The sun gave the humans the ability to speak, you explained.

They woman asked the sun, “will we live forever, or will we die?”

“I don’t know” the sun said. “I suppose we must decide. If I throw this rock into the water and it sinks, humans will have an end. If it floats, you will live forever.” The rock floated. “You will live forever.” the sun said.

“But wait, “ the woman said. “I want to be the one to decide.” She threw the rock in and it sank. “So it is decided.” The sun said.

Three days later the woman’s daughter grew sick and died. The woman wept. She wailed. She pulled her hair and tore her clothes. She lay down by the river and almost died herself.

“Let’s change the rule!” the woman cried. “Let’s change the rule and bring my daughter back!”

“It is decided.” The sun said sadly. “The rule cannot be changed.”

And so it is you said. The unbroken rule of life.

“That is so sad.” I murmured. “Imagine living with that kind of regret.” I spoke slowly, gazing at Orion’s far off belt, and his great weapon held high.

“The lesson of impermanence.” you said.

You were Buddhist then. You leaned in and we kissed, the sound of silence ringing in our ears.

But the grief. I thought, shuddering a bit. The awful grief.


It is important to use a very sharp point. Hardened steel is best, heated and hammered into a broadhead about an inch, inch and a half across. The point must be secured onto an arrow, at least 600 grains, maybe more, with fletching at the end and a nock that hugs the bow string easily. Or a prod will work too, shorter than an arrow but just as heavy, ready to be shot out of a crossbow made from the steel leaf spring of a truck.

You will carry the bow slung over your shoulder and move on silent feet. Darkness is best,  because only then is it possible to hide in plain sight.

From a few yards away that sharp point will tear a clean hole in the flank of barrel chested steel. While you will not be able to see your hit under the cover of darkness, you will hear the ringing clang of metal hitting metal and you will smell the unmistakable scent of mineral oil filling the air.

Then you have two options. You can retreat, to sit in the darkest shadows counting constellations and patiently waiting for the show to begin.

Or you can strike the match yourself.

To be continued…

And then this beautiful piece by Michelle:

when you see me again ask me how the ocean
brings the full moon to lap at my ankles
directly below where i’ve rolled my pants

or ask how the moon beckons me to the sand’s edge,
brightens an exact path to follow,
downward, downward

or how the sand shines like a moonlit candle
in the balmy seconds before the next wave breaks like an egg,
scatters into pieces
the full moon yolk, runny, spills across my feet

and i feel a tingle,
of course I feel it,
the electric moonlight-filled waters of this enormous great ocean, the moon herself,
me on my moon time, the waters and bloods of my body pulsing like waves, calling,


matching some ancient pulsing heartbeat that used to be felt among all living beings but now is only felt by the special ones, the ones who are listening, ears wide open, eyes and hearts wide open,


when you see me again
you don’t have to ask me how that feels,
you know how it feels,
of course you do.

Michelle Johnsen Photography