Category: Connecting with the world around us


As I prepare for my journey around the world, again, this time to Thailand to volunteer at an elephant rescue place, I reflect on why I am going.

Because it feels good to do so.

Is that such a foreign idea to most people? Is it just New Jerseyans?  I don’t think so. When I stopped at the bank yesterday to withdraw money, somehow I mentioned to the teller/manager at this tiny adjunct bank in a supermarket),that I was going to need this money because I’d had some hard knocks recently The look in her eyes changed immediately, and I suppose expecting I would sympathize, she began to tell me the long story of her life, a tale of struggles and past triumph, but always coming back to the present – now – the one where she hated her job and was completely miserable. I began to wonder why anyone would continue in a situation where they were so clearly miserable. So I asked her – “what are your choices here?” She stopped and looked at me in confusion. Why wasn’t I feeling sorry for her? Where were the pity phrases we utter automatically, condolences for her losing her vice presidential position that landed her here, in a job that paid her a quarter of what she had been making.  Didn’t I understand that she had no choice?

“We all have a choice” I found myself saying. She kept staring at me as if I was holding up the bank about to ask her to empty the safe. “If you are so miserable, why not make a change?” I said. This is particularly telling to me because I have been that woman at other times in my life, and I’m not going back. Not going to put energy into justifying my misery anymore. You can all hold me to this! As soon as I realize I’m doing it, I’m making a new choice – to what feels good now. This has been a lifelong endeavor, and so it’s particularly painful to see others still caught in the sticky grasp of  this demon.

Well, this woman was not going to give me my money until I commented on how awful her life was. I felt sorry for her, but mostly I felt repulsed about having to hear her insist she was a victim of life. Not because of her situation – I’ve been there myself too many times, but because of her disbelief in the idea that she had a choice, that she could make a new choice and create a better life- one where she loved it. In reality, the repulsion and how it bothered me after I finally left her window was from the recognition that I have made the choice to be like her at times, and how deeply painful – like self inflicted torture- it was. I reminded myself to let this serve as a cautionary tale for me, to send good wishes of change for the better her way, and to be grateful for once again returning from the dark side of pessimism to the joy of finding my bliss and leading it forward into a new life that feels good.

What really made me notice this dynamic was that this same scenario had been played out earlier at a swim class I had been a part of that morning. One of the students had monopolized the instructor’s ear with unrelated complaining chatter for most of the 45 minute class. It was my first class and I could have used more of the attention of the instructor, who granted, did an admirable job of throwing some instruction my way, in-between polite listening to this housewife brewing over storms in her teacup. Near the end of our time, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be attending soon because I would be away for awhile.

“Where? “ they inquired.

“Thailand, to volunteer at an elephant rescue facility.  I’ve always loved elephants and I’m really excited about this opportunity to be close to them and learn more about their life and their world”

The chatty woman who had spent the class intent on describing every problem in her life in detail, glared at me. “Boy I wish I could do that.” She seemed more angry with me, than happy for me.  I said “You could go.”  She did a double take and whirled on me, immediately listing all the reasons why she most certainly couldn’t go. I said, “Well, it is a choice. We all make choices and all these choices have effects on our lives. “

There’s nothing wrong with deciding to stay at home and be a mom and a wife in New Jersey, but it is such a downer when people start railing on how “lucky” you are when, in actuality, you made a choice and then another, and more choices,  because these choices are the most life giving, joy filled, exciting and eager-to-get-up-in-the-morning-for-things you could possibly create at this moment in time. I don’t want to be stuck justifying my choices to anyone, I want to be free to live, to enjoy, to find my passions and live them fully down to the very last day I have on this earth. There is a saying going around on the internet about rather than carefully creeping up to one’s old age, another choice is to come careening in, holding a spilled beer in one hand, and a winning hand of poker in the other, while cursing up a storm and laughing hysterically, with a bunch of friends at your side.  Somehow I like the latter image, returning to my Tomboy roots as I age, being like Idgie in Fried Green Tomatoes, aged in her 80’s selling honey at a warm southern hospitality roadside stand with her compatriots. And of course the honey is from the wildest of bees, which she still hand gathers on misty mornings, using her special bee-charming ways.  All in a place where wild bees still thrive and fulfill their place in Nature.  Although I did give up cursing on all except the worst of days quite awhile ago, I do like the image of a winning poker hand – implying that I am finally winning at this game we call life.

Yes, it really is all about choices. I am choosing to do what feels good and I’ve been doing it for awhile. I don’t always get it right, but that’s ok because as soon as you make one choice, if that was a mistake, there are 20 more choices waiting for your attentions. If I can only make the smallest increment that day toward feeling better, I take it. And if I can make a super leap into the trip of a lifetime, and it feels good to do so, then I do it. After that first decision, more choices come up at almost every moment to decide again to do what feels good.  I’ll keep making those decisions toward moving in the direction of my happinesses, making more real friends and finding freedom of spirit, for a start.

You can too.

lek with trunksThis is Lek Chailert, the founder of Elephant Nature Park. Make a choice to support her work at www.elephantnaturepark.org

Hello all you friendly followers!

If you want to keep up with what I’m writing currently, come to my new page at listentotheanimalsblog.wordpress.com

I will be focusing on posting actual communications from the wisdom of Nature, starting with the really neat ones from the whales of Panama in the last week.

Who knows what will be next?!
It’s all one big adventure now, isn’t it?

killer whale and girl

As I typed this title thinking of one idea, instead the movie by the same name came to mind. One of my old favorites. A vision of a life where old age becomes full of joy and contentment, with a new adventure to boot. That’s my vision for Old Age.

However, the reason I originally wrote this title was because of something I saw yesterday.

“What is this?”, you might ask. When I first saw it yesterday, it was  a mere net, a gossamer sheet of threads over a florescent green, bulbous and  huge caterpillar.  There were ants busily moving in, through and around the space being created as this net was spun, seemingly a happy part of the green worm’s creation.

I didn’t take a picture then because I wasn’t sure which way it was going. Somehow it appeared that perhaps this worm was on its way out. I remember thinking – how does a caterpillar come out of the cocoon, as a caterpillar? Am I missing something?

Yes, I was. When I approached the area I found it in this morning, I realized it was almost done building a very firm abode to rest in while it transformed into its next stage.

Wow.

Talk about creating your own safety. It seems like a perfect metaphor for the necessary times of introspection, meditation, rest, retreat and inner nourishment. Winter always seems like a natural time for this, but I realize that perhaps we need mini-cocoons – shorter periods of withdrawal, more frequently. Momentary retreats where we nourish and transform ourselves. Take an unkind word and change it in our heart into a more thoughtful one so that it doesn’t fester and burn. Keeping our inner Self clear and full of Light to support this vision of an old age filled with Joy and Contentment. I love that thought.

I looked again at the safety net and saw how common, ordinary bits of the surrounding environment had been utilized to form this shining gossamer fortress. A tiny piece of leather, a withering leaf, stems of leaves long gone. This is part of the way of thinking that permaculture comes out of.  To use whatever surrounds us naturally, is already present in our local surroundings, and utilize it to help create or reinforce the cycle of  life and make it better. Or in the case of this one, protect us from the environment while we sense and change and meld with our deepest desires.  There is a sense of completeness that comes from noticing local availability, and what is literally in our own back yard,  before having something shipped across the country or the world.

I am watching this Cocoon each day to see what miraculous creature will unfold from its time of introspection, or perhaps it’s just resting and nourishing its Self with beautiful thoughts and visions of radiant mirth. More to come.

I just returned last night from the International Herbal Symposium. It was incredible.

To be with 700 people who think like you do, care about the same kind  of things you do, who are connected and put together like you are,  who see the world through the same lens you do, well, it’s just nourishing. There were scientists, mycologists, veterinary herbalists, botanists, shamans, and healers of all kinds. If I wanted to feel connected, I got it there. It wasn’t a specific person, although the priceless feeling of connecting with old friends, teachers, cohorts and associates was part of it.
It was the even deeper reconnection with the plant world. I was going to say “green plants” but then I remembered our keynote speaker, Paul Stamets. He is a scientist who wrote “Mycelium Running” and by the end of his presentation he had convinced me that mushrooms really are going to save the world, get us out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

They are already curing cancer at a miraculous rate – talk to any oncologist, who apparently know all about it already. They can clean up toxic waste – although seriously, why do we keep having to find ways to clean up toxic “spills” ? I’d love to live in a world where people are smart enough to not have toxic waste that the plant world has to help us clean up – again.

But seriously the list of things that fungi do is too extensive to list here. (Don’t forget Penicillin.)That’s the thing about plants. They don’t yell,well, not with vocal cords, they don’t bite, unless you count Stinging Nettles and Multiflora Roses…well okay maybe they do have ways of communicating with us.

If only we’d listen.


Well, some people are listening and have been listening for a very long time.

And boy do I love spending time with others like me.

And my listening just got another shade deeper, more real, and more pertinent to my life, this weekend.

Nourishing and enrichening

Some of the most beneficial plants I know

Today I’d like to share a great way to nourish the plants growing in your yards.

Get to know them. Help others to get to know these plants.

17 years ago, I cultivated a plot of Stinging Nettles in my backyard. They are an incredibly nourishing perennial (weed?) and I felt lucky to be living near where they grew wild.  By cultivating a plot in my yard, I didn’t have to go all the way down to the river to get my nettles, and then I’d know for sure that they weren’t sprayed with anything. Well, that is until the one neighbor mistook them for monster Godzilla weeds taking over the town, and that was years ago now. Actually, I didn’t know how large and wide the Nettles would grow. They started out as a couple 6 or 8 inch high sprouts dug up from the waters edge one day when I realized that my perpetually wet back lawn had conditions that Nettle would like to grow in – wet soil, clay, rich from years of rainwater flowing through. I prepared the ground, went to the river and asked the plants if they would be okay with me moving them back to my yard. When I felt a “yes”, I carefully brought home a couple of plants. They grew into the huge patch you see in these pictures. I harvest them every year to brew fantastic tasting and the most nourishing tea/infusion you’ll ever find, as well as a great steamed herb. Cooking takes away the stinging part of Stinging Nettles.

At some point I want to share how to ask plants questions like is it okay to move you, but for now, how would I help passerbys to know that these fantastic plants are not weeds, and not to touch. They don’t call them “Stinging Nettles” for no reason.

I decided to make a sign.

A start!

Stinging Nettles Rock!

It’s a little bit rudimentary looking, but it gets the idea across. If people like it I’ll paint a really nice one. So how did Nettles end up here?

I’m delighted to think maybe others will start revisualizing their backyards in a new inherently beneficial way to utilize the natural beauty and richness in this good soil and air.

I've already harvested the 1st cutting

Here is the view from the little parking area next door. I do hope they like it and appreciate that while it may not win any signmaking awards, it’s an attempt to reach out and connect with the people in my neighborhood, and to spread more understanding and ideas to nourish ourselves as a community.

Now if only the loud vehicles would stop zooming by, I could get some peace and quiet here. Couldn’t the nice people with the loud trucks and motorcycles tone it down? I love the peaceful feeling of a summer’s evening, everything slowing down and a cool breeze blowing through the open windows…

Time to sit with the Nettles again.

Picture from early May - all much bigger now

A little Garden out back

Sustainable. Maybe this is an idea whose time has FINALLY truly come. Yes it’s something we all have heard batted around in the media, but how many of us were actually living it day-to-day? When I was young and idealistic in college, I remember thinking that everyone must know these principles – that you must give back to and nourish the system you are part of.

I have an idea. That even as good as or better than buying local and organic (two very important concepts I support wholeheartedly) that we each have mini-farms in our backyards. To me some of the most distressing things happening around me is watching people spray poisons on their perfectly fertile lawns, poisons which are going to end up somewhere else once it rains, poisons that interrupt the lives of wildlife or beneficial insects who happen to wander in from outside the perimeter, who might in fact be happily visiting my organic, sustainable happy little mini-farm before they decide to wander off without awareness of what property lines mean in terms of differing philosophies and different applications of those philosophies.

Why would you poison things to then encourage a uniform monoculture of a Kentucky grass that we can’t eat, utilize or benefit from? We even then have to mow it every week for half the year, sweating away in a mind numbing racket of motor and blades spinning. What if this same sterile lawn were transformed into a mini-farm, a garden, a cacophony of species and color and edible usable delights? What if there were plants that grew easily and naturally with very little effort and no need to poison everything in an effort to keep out undesirables? What if you simply cooked and ate the “weeds” or used them, dried and steeped for a nourishing tea or distributed dry throughout your cabinets, to repel ants from the kitchen? Lemon balm is great for that.

How about if you had liver tonics in the spring and fall from these weeds, as well as salad greens all spring summer and fall, and hair tonics to bring more shine to your mane? Dandelion is one of the most nutritious, packed with minerals and vitamins plant I know of. Plus, you can’t beat that yellow flower for cheerfulness after a long winter! Mood elevator! Who needs pills!

I’ve realized lately that maybe the average person doesn’t know as much about these things as I assumed so many years ago when I was learning and thought everyone around me must be learning about these things too, or they must already know them.
Cause no-one would want to miss out on how to live in harmony, connected, tuned in and utilizing everything around them, saving money and time and effort and oh yes, by the way its good for the ecosystem too. The one we live, eat and breathe in, play in and raise our children in. Sounds like a great idea to me.

Stinging Nettles are a great source of nourishment

Stinging Nettle garden - perennial and self seeding.

My girls' gifts to the world

Eggs are a miracle of creation

So, today my baby girl chicks gave me egg #2.

Talk about CONNECTION! What a feeling to pick up a warm egg, after hearing one of my girls gleefully crow with pride and delight – “I DID THIS! This is MY CREATION! Hear me roar!” I rushed out a few times after hearing this roar this morning to look in the dog house, the chosen “private place” where the girls are going when they feel the call of  wild egg creationism. I have fluffed the area with the soft yellowing dry stalks of plants that my neighbor was going to compost – like hay but thicker and softer. The hens love it.

When I went out the first two times and knelt down crawled in a bit and peered in the dark. Nothing.

But I realized that this dog house is like a sacred temple now, like a kiva or a sweat lodge or a tipi, which one can only enter by getting low and humble or bowing first. Cool.

Since there was no sign of anything oval inside the dog house, I went off to do chores.

Soon, the grandmother arrived. Human Grandmom, that is, my mom.  Who is also very proud. Eager to see the First Egg from yesterday, she oooed and ahhhed over it, then asked to see the creators themselves.

Whose egg was it? I’m still not sure. The great thing about a flock is that they all seem to share the good and the bad parts – they all seem both excited and interested in this new development – the egg.

So, out we went, and once more I knelt down humbly and crawled in.

Sacred space.

There it lay, like a diamond in the rough, like a golden orb of light, like an egg.

Edible, nutritious and delicious. What an amazing miracle.

I gently picked it up and took a breath, turning slowly and feeling glad to be alive.

Talk about connection. To our food. To our animal friends. To the world around us. To our neighborhood.
This is what I need to nurture, getting and staying connected to where my nourishment comes from.

How are you nourished? Are you connected to the source of your nourishment?