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,


In the desert of purple shadows

Last night I dreamed of walking miles through a brittle desert. Wil was there. And Revel. We walked and walked, following the shadows cast by a bright moon. Purple shadows, like bruises, painted over cool sand, and marking our skin.

I felt tired,

there was no end in sight.

We just kept walking and walking. Dry soil crunching softly under bare feet.

I’ve been thinking about surrender lately.

How it can be an act of giving up, or quitting,

backing down from the fight.

But also it can be a giving into,

a turning towards the unknown,

an opening up to new ideas, things, and worlds.

Surrender can be a kind of listening, I think.

A kind of seeking,

a sort of looking for answers

outside of ourselves.

Being alive right now requires constant work,

demands an endless ability to live and grieve at the same time.

The push and pull of this is painful. But not altogether unpleasant.

I’ve been lost for awhile. Awash in a sea of questions and demands. Awash in a sea of survival, small civilized worries. Yet again tricked into playing the game. Or at least making an attempt to.

But suddenly we’ve lost our home, my small family and I. Painfully, and traumatically, we lost the only security we had left.

Our little house sits, emptied of us, but still filled with the things that make up our lives. The books on their wooden shelves, the bins of toys, some drawers of food. Small things. And even smaller things. Beads. Little statues. Skulls, birds nests, art.

We’ll get all of our stuff back of course if we wish. But sitting here separated from the things that make up our home, I can’t help but wonder, are we better of without them? Already in my mind their purpose seems fuzzy, their importance seems…not so important after all.

And what now? Do we find a new home somewhere? A rental, more expensive really than we can pay, to house our small things and smaller things, a place to rest our heads at night after long days spent doing things we’d rather not do to pay for a home we’d rather not have to house the things we don’t really need when I all I really need is right here, sleeping in this borrowed bed, in the home of my mother who loves me?

And all in the name of what? Survival? Progress? Because it’s the right thing to do? Because there’s no other choice?

Questions, questions.

So we walk, onward and onward through the desert of purple shadows, forced into a cross examination of our lives.

And always in the distance there is the wild calling.


Thank you for listening,



photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen


Mostly, now, I feel an immovable writer’s block. What is there to say that hasn’t been said? We are living in a time of collapse. The world feels very chaotic. It’s hard to find peace, stillness, quiet. The wheels are spinning out of control, while at the same time, the gears are grinding to a halt.

We are being torn asunder.

And yet…

This morning I took my little son and my nephew for a walk in the woods. We wandered barefoot, and they found magic in everything. Blades of grass morphed into wands. Trees turned to dragons, and old rotting stumps transformed into knights. We delighted in miniature monarch butterfly caterpillars chewing at the underside of the Milkweed leaves, and marveled at the brilliant orange of the baltimore oriole flitting across the sky.

How can it be this way? That somehow even in death we are in life?

This planet is dying! I want to scream.

I want to grab the massive bouldered shoulders of the earth herself and shake until her teeth rattle; scream “wake up!” I want to gaze into her crystal clear eyes flecked with blue and yell, “Why don’t you do something!? Shake us off, murder us, throw us from the surface of your spinning, marbled world. Ruin us, destroy us, end us, put us out of our own fucking misery!!” I want to spit at her, claw her sun kissed skin and pull her wild hair, blame her for letting us do what we’ve done, blame her for all that we are doing.

And you know the worst part? I know she would listen. With her gentle mother ears she would hear me and understand.

But she would never ruin us. She wouldn’t and she couldn’t. Because she is us and we are her. We are held here at her breast to suck even though we don’t deserve to, even though we can never understand the love she has for us, even though most of us don’t even care that she’s alive.

We’ve forsaken our mother. But our mother?

She will never forsake us. She will only guide us through the rough spots with her abundant love and forgiveness. She will hold us tight with both her arms again and again, bandage our scraped knees and kiss our brush-burned elbows, whisper “there there” into our hair. She will feel our failures like the sharp blade of a knife but she will not intervene.

We are her children.

And even though we cannot yet understand it,

She is teaching us a lesson about faith.

Thank you for listening,



photo by Michelle Johnsen

photo by Michelle Johnsen

I need to say a huge, heartfelt thank you to my friend April, who sent me the beautiful poem below when I was at my lowest point. Thank you for giving me a lesson in faith. Thank you for allowing the earth to speak through you. Thank you for sharing your words.

Our Only Obligation
by April

In the middle of the night I am awoken by poetry –
words spoken like dear kin I had one lost or forgotten,
and it’s been so long that when they stumble from the dark
to pronounce their voices visible, I hardly recognize them

as the living, breathing beings
they have somehow come to be.

These words
they shake me –
softly at first, but then
with a lustful force
when I try to roll over
and simply go back to sleep.

They are fed-up with being rejected.
They arrive without warning or invitation,
and will not go away until I promise to entertain them.

So I pull my bare-skinned body up and out of bed,
leaving my love behind to safeguard our stockpile of dreaming.

I sit in the dark of our house,
quietly receiving. Curled up on the floor
like a crumpled piece of paper, carefully
ripped from an old and well-worn book of poems,
written in a language only the sacred can remember.
I pray these wasted lines, which now emerge from my wrinkles
and folds, will be in service to something greater.

My only obligation is to listen –
to the spaces between the silences
where we drape all the blessed things
we never quite know how to say

things hung in the open air to dry
like aging meat, fat unfastening from its bone.

I hear the snow curling over the mountains,
casting a storm that promises to be bitter
but not more than it longs to be beautiful.

I hear your heart beating, miles and miles away,
and I hear your life changing, well before you’ve learned
how to let the conviction of change, take your quivering hands
and guide you deeper into the night. I hear urgency

straddling our flailing limbs as we flee down the face of the mountain,
and I hear loneliness in the people who are constantly running
from each another, but since distance has become such a trustworthy aid
somehow those people have forgotten they are still running.

I hear the tremor of the imperfections
we’ve been hiding from all those
who threaten to step in too close –
flaws that favor the landscapes
where love can take root and grow
into acres and acres of fruit bearing trees.

And I hear horror in the hacking of our forests.

I hear misguided messages
blaring into our hardening hearts,
telling us it’s perfectly normal
to keep our grief private.
So much so, that we hide it

even from ourselves
and when we go to find it,
we discover it will always
be buried bellow boxes
of seemingly more serious
of things. I hear the heaviness

of our footsteps, weighed down by clay and
all the artistry we’ve been unable or unwilling to see,
like the traces of those who’ve walked before us
or the nearing wail of the ones who’ve not yet come
into being, begging that we listen
to what is beautifully hidden,
yet is too obvious not to be wholly seen.

You return again and again to the bones of your ancestors

You return again and again to the bones of your ancestors.

Smooth as silk and bleached by the sun

you caress the softness of them

and can feel the place where healing took place after a bad break.

Kneeling, body sinking heavy into hot sand

you gently lift each femur and rib-bone

nuzzle each knuckle and toe.

You need answers.

Your people are dying.

Murdered and hunted,

thirsty and ravaged

you cover miles of terrain each day, exhausted

but still cannot sleep at night.

There is an ache in your chest

that will not go away

even when you breath deeply

or splash cool water over your arching back.

The old stories don’t hold true anymore,

the old songlines are broken, like so many tattered maps blowing in the wind.

You lay with your family under the full moon and

remember the days when the water was sweet

and your belly was round with child

and how the food practically dripped from the trees.

You look up at the stars and wonder how it got to be this way,

so broken.

And so you return again and again to the bones of your ancestors

looking for answers in the curve of a vertebrae

or the jagged edge of a

sawed off tusk.


Elephants, keepers of the ancient memories. What can I say? What explanation can I give? That my people are touched by madness? That we are intoxicated with power and drunk on destruction? That we will not settle until this planet is dead and we choke on our own boiling rage?

I don’t have any answers. If I could I would sit at your feet and listen. I would travel many miles upon your broad backs to the place where the river meets the sea and play in the water with your young ones.

But I’m here. In my small house next to my own small, sleeping child.

My people are young compared to yours

and stupid.

We have so much to learn from you,

but I’m afraid it may already be too late.

Your numbers are dwindling,

your grief must be very great and difficult to carry.

I want you to know mine is too.

I wish there was more I could do.

Thank you.
I’m sorry.
Please forgive me.
I love you.

Thank you for listening,


The tipping point

There have been mothers who lived for so long underground in the dark that they could recognize their children’s faces with the lightest touch of hand. Yes, there’s his delicate nose, and her whisper soft eyelashes. The curl of soft hair tucked behind tiny ear.Yes, these little ones are mine.

There are mothers who have pressed palm of hand to tiny crying mouth praying for silence willing danger to go away. Waiting, waiting, waiting…minutes, hours, days. ok safe to come out now.

There are mothers who have walked 40 days through deserts colored with purple shadows searching for water only to press lips to springs long ago run dry. Always thirsting.

There are mothers who have willingly walked into gas chambers in a gruesome kind of trade. My life for theirs…please, please, please. Breasts still heavy with milk, grown cold.

And there are mothers who have held their children close as bombs dropped outside, or as soldiers cleared the streets, or as forest burned to the ground

praying, praying, praying
that there was someone there to listen.

And now?

The threat is very real. Sometimes it’s a soldier with a gun. Sometimes it’s a bomb. Sometimes it’s war, and terror, and violence.


But sometimes it’s the terrible knowledge

that your young son will most likely know elephants as legends

and Monarch butterflies as magic stories

told at night.

Sometimes it’s the understanding that he will most likely only know frogs from story books, and rhinos from movies.

That he will live in a world without fish, or most birds, or fresh water to drink.

And that it’s very likely that at least one of his parents will one day die from cancer.

This is a time of great threat. But many mothers have lived with that. The horrible knowing.

Only this threat we’ve brought upon ourselves. This threat could be stopped. Anytime we choose.
And yet

most everyone is doing nothing at all.

This is a genocide, an ecocide of such epic proportions

we may be wiping out our children’s, children’s, children’s, children’s, children’s, children’s lives. And their children beyond that.

We don’t need to go to mars.

We are alien enough here as it is.

We have reached the tipping point.

And it will take the greatest mother’s love

to forgive us for that.

I know the pain is blinding.

But sometimes it is the blind who can truly see.

Thank you to everyone who has chosen to fight the system in whatever way you have deemed fit. Here’s to the resistance, alive and well.

And hopefully,


Thank you for listening,

Revel as baby. Photo by Lynn Johnson

Revel as baby. Photo by Lynn Johnson