Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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