Where Do We Belong?

house with lights too

The wind died down at sunset, and it is a cloudy but very warm December night, at 40 degrees F. I still haven’t gotten used to the pitch-black darkness coming so early, at 4:30 pm, so I’m late getting off on my walk again tonight.

My dog Harper and I head east down our road, for a quarter of a mile, where there is a little neighborhood with some Christmas lights. There are very few lights of any kind on our road, and this will give us a bit of illumination to walk by.

I love looking at the Christmas lights. They evoke such a feeling of cheer for me, especially in December, when the days are so short. This instinct to bring more light into our world, at a time of relative darkness, feels very primal to me.

There are twelve houses in the neighborhood, more than there are on our whole three-mile road. Everyone recognizes us because we walk here frequently, and we know quite a few of people who live here. It feels good to have a sense of belonging in this place.

I often think about what it means to belong, and how important it is to feel like we belong.

I live in a sparse, rural area, by choice. I have a big independent streak in me, and I am also part hermit. Freedom and isolation support my inner life. I thrive here.

But it is also important for me to feel a sense of belonging where I live. In 1985, when I found the five acres on which I live, it felt like coming home. It is a rolling, wooded land, filled with old oaks, and I felt an immediate kinship with the land. I knew that is where I belonged.

I do belong here. I belong to the land, and I belong in the community. I have only a few neighbors, but I know they are here for me, and I for them. We support each other. We have a feeling camaraderie here.

Tonight I am filled up by the feeling of belonging here, as I walk in the darkness, and as I savor the lights.

Where do you belong?










Left Behind Things

rowboat side yard

On my walk this morning, my attention was drawn to an old rowboat resting upside down on its trailer. It was in the side yard of a house in the neighborhood.

It has been there for a long time, perhaps twenty years. My sense is that it has been resting idle for most of those years. On every one of my walks, it has been resting there. It has a forlorn look to it, and there is a lot of rust on it.

This made me think about all of the things once precious and exciting in our lives, things that have since been left behind.

We outgrow things. We grow and develop new interests, and other things get left behind.

They are perfectly useful, but they no longer hold our interest.

I know that I hang onto things that I have actually left behind. Sometimes this is a conscious choice, but more often it is my failure to acknowledge that I have moved on.

ac 5020

When I moved to the country thirty years ago, I acquired a 26 horsepower tractor to use for a large variety of tasks on my property. I loved everything about that tractor.

I loved that I lived where I needed a real tractor, and not just a small lawn-mowing tractor.

I loved the power of that tractor, and all the things I could do with it. I loved the sound of it, and I loved how it felt when I drove it.

I loved its orange color, and I loved caring for it: changing the oil, and lubing its joints.

Last year, I realized that my beloved tractor had been sitting forlorn and unused in my barn for a long time. I just didn’t do the kinds of things that it had once helped me with.

I had let most of my property go wild and native, so I wasn’t mowing big parts of the five acres like I used to do. The meadows had been overtaken by young woods, and I no longer had big clearing jobs.

I was no longer pulling up stumps of old oaks that had died; I just let them rot and eventually become homes for the wildlife. And, I no longer tilled a swath for a large vegetable garden every year.

My neighbor Brian now plows the snow off the driveway, so I don’t even need to do that anymore with the tractor.

I reluctantly acknowledged that the tractor that had faithfully served me for so many years was now a Left Behind Thing.

I gave the tractor to Brian. He has a half dozen farms, and I knew it was going to a good home.

It took me a long time to consciously acknowledge that I had moved on, not only from the tractor, but from the “me” who did those tractor things. I was really reluctant to let that part of myself go. I felt like I was letting go a part of the dream I had when I moved to the country, and that I had lived for so long.

But I was making different choices now, and the tractor wasn’t part of them. Just like the rowboat in the side yard is no longer a part of my neighbor’s dreams or life.

I like to think that these things are happier when they are freed to go and do what they were designed to do. My tractor wasn’t meant to sit in my barn; it was meant to go and be a tractor, and to be useful, just like any of us.

So, when I can’t or don’t love to use things anymore, I feel like it is time to release them, and to be happy for them that they can go and fulfill their purpose somewhere else.

But before I can do that, I need to acknowledge that I have moved on, that I am making different choices, and that I have left behind the thing that was once precious.

This isn’t always easy for me. It always takes consciousness about what matters. Sometimes it takes courage to let a prior version of ourselves go too.

What are your Left Behind Things?



Embracing the Darkness

low arc sun

The sun is cutting a low arc across the Southern horizon in this December time.

The days are short and the darkness is long.

For years, I have wished away November and December and January, longing for the longer days again.

I love the light. I love the wide, long days, with the sun high overhead.

I love the warmth and the color of the longer days.

I have wished away the darkness without ever exploring it, or welcoming it.

Today, as I watch the shallow arc of the sun as it cruises along the empty farm field south of us, I am asking myself: What is the gift of short days, and darkness?

It is an interior time, a time of the unknown, and of not being able to see.

It is a time of resting, waiting, anticipation, and incubation. This farm field is waiting, and resting.

We don’t tend to value resting very much in our Western culture. It is ok, and needed, to rest when you have pushed yourself too far, but to choose to rest, merely as part of the process of everyday living, or of the creative cycle? That is not valued so much, and perhaps even considered lazy.

I haven’t valued resting very much, myself. And I certainly haven’t valued darkness.

I haven’t even explored darkness, or embraced it. I’ve been too busy pushing it away, and wishing for the light.

So, today, as I watch the sun move towards an early sunset, I vow to myself to be open to what is available in the darkness. How is the darkness calling me?

What is the opportunity, in darkness?


In the Fog

in a fog

Fog enveloped us as we emerged from the house this morning for our walk.

Fog isn’t very common here in Northern Illinois, and when it is present, it isn’t usually very thick or long-lasting. For me, it’s a pleasant diversion from the other, more severe, winter weather that we experience.

I grew up in Northern California, where fog is so legendary that it merits at least two Wikipedia pages, “San Francisco fog”, and “Tule fog”.

My childhood summers in the San Francisco Bay Area were filled with fog. It rolled in during the late afternoon and stayed with us all night, until the morning sun burned it off.

My great aunt lived in the central valley of California, where there was a dreaded fog called tule fog. This thick and dense fog was so extreme that it was known to cause multi-car accidents of over one hundred cars. We used to say that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face in tule fog, and that wasn’t far from the truth.

Fog makes it hard to see, for any distance. It is difficult to know where you are, or where you are going, when you are in fog.

This morning, as I walked through the fog, I thought about the times in my life when I have felt like I was in a fog about where I was, or where I was going in my life.

This has happened a lot since I have had my own business. Both inner and outer factors are frequently shifting, and these affect the growth, vitality and direction of the business. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a fog about where I am and where I’m going with my business.

During these times in my life, I have typically expended a lot of time and energy trying to find my way out of the fog that I was feeling, or trying to see clearly in the fog. In California, fog was so common that we all had strategies that we used to find our way around and through it.

One day, recently, as I was struggling to find my way through the fog that I was feeling about my life, a question suddenly occurred to me: What if, instead of trying to find my way through the fog, I just waited until the fog lifted?

When I was growing up, if the fog was really bad, we just didn’t go anywhere until it lifted. It was too risky to venture out in it. If things needed doing, they just got to wait until the fog lifted, unless it was an emergency.

So, I have recently stopped trying to find my way when I feel like I am in a fog, trusting that the fog will lift in its own time, and I will then move forward with clarity and ease. Of course, this is going against the grain of everything that our culture teaches us about pushing through, at all costs, to get to the other side.

I don’t know how this will work, but I do feel like this is what the fog came to teach me today.

How do you “be”, when you are in the “fog times” of your life?

















The Gift of the Red-Tailed Hawk

rt hawk flight

The cry of the Red-Tailed Hawk rings out across the morning landscape, high and piercing.

I follow the sound and see the large, lone bird, soaring on the air currents. It is very visible against the crisp blue sky. I love seeing the hawks soar; I am in awe of their power and strength.

I also love them for their stillness. I often see a solitary hawk perched silently in the high branches of a hundred-year old oak tree that is in the middle of our neighbor’s corn field. I see it there in very early morning, or just as the sun is setting.

I am tuned to hear the Red-Tailed Hawk.

For years, a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks nested in the back of our five acres. It was a massive nest, at least 40 feet up in an old oak. I wanted to observe them, but they prefer seclusion, so I never went back there during nesting season.

All season long, I could hear the cry of the young hawks, and then when they fledged, I often saw them flying around and near our property. The young birds seemed to stick close to home when they first began to fly.

I am always grateful to see the hawks. Not only is their beauty mesmerizing for me, but they remind me of grace. They remind me of the grace in my life.

When I see the Red-Tailed Hawk, I wonder what I would be able to see, if I could fly high on the air currents.  I think about their excellent vision, and I remember to step back from the details of my life and take the long view.

What can you see, when you step back and take the long view of your life?




On the Threshold of Light into Darkness

dark farm

I am late getting out for my walk with Harper, and darkness is closing down on us. I watch the light come on at the farm that is a mile away.

The wind is fierce, and the air is damp, but I find the darkness strangely comforting. I love seeing the lights come on in each house as we walk by.  I feel contained by the space of our flashlight beam, just a few steps in front of us.

Off in the distance, the Great Horned Owl is calling into the growing darkness. This is unusual. I can’t remember ever hearing this owl at dusk. It lives on our property, and it is usually my comforting presence at four o’clock in the morning, when I have awoken and cannot get back to sleep.

Tonight the owl is calling me to greater presence, and I am very aware of standing on the threshold of light into darkness.  It feels like the owl is marking this transition for me.

I’m wondering what wisdom there is here, tonight, for me, in this threshold of light into darkness. Thresholds are luminous places where the quality of space and the rhythm of time are shifting.

Times of light, for me, tend to be filled with vitality and activity. I am often moving from one thing to the next, in a dance of commitment and achievement.

As the darkness comes on, it narrows my focus, slows my tempo down, and brings me inward, into a reflective space. I literally can’t see as much as I can in the light.  The darkness brings me into a time of incubation and stillness, before the activity of the day begins again tomorrow. Benedictine monks see darkness as The Great Silence.

The threshold between light an darkness is a pause, and it is a generous breathing space for me.

On this threshold, I am invited to let go of the staccato tempo of the day. It has been a busy day, with bursts of activity, followed by brief pauses, in an abrupt, disjointed dance of getting things done.

I am welcoming this cover of darkness tonight. It wraps itself around Harper and me. Like a comfortable blanket, it makes me feel warm and held in a welcome space of renewal.

What is it like for you, on the threshold of light into darkness?









The Crow Reminder

crow flock oak

We were walking across the abandoned school yard when I heard them. They are always the noisiest birds around, so they are easy to spot.

It was our neighborhood flock of crows. (A flock of crows is actually called a “murder” of crows, for some odd reason, but I digress.)

This morning they were congregated in a big oak next to the last house on the road, and they were causing quite a ruckus, for reasons known only to them.

The crows seem to me to be the bad boys (and girls) of the neighborhood. They always seem to be causing trouble and lording it over everyone else. They are noisy, confident, cocky, even.

Their only real competition is the blue jays, most of whom have gone south for the winter, so the crows are temporarily head of their fiefdom.

When I was growing up, I was such a good girl that I could never be a bad girl. I didn’t even have the guts to try out being a bad girl. Not that this is something that I am particularly proud of. Life was just simpler and very polarized back then. Between the two, good girl seemed to be the better option.

Now my life is more grey than black and white. I enjoy the crows. And, for the most part, I admire and appreciate them.

They are clever, resilient, and quite resourceful. They are also highly intelligent.

But what I like best about them is that they are rambunctious and playful. Every fall, they assemble in the black walnut tree in our back yard, and they pick off every walnut that still remains on the tree, for no good reason, except to see them drop, it seems.

They, along with their relatives, the ravens, are associated with trickster energy.

In mythology, tricksters challenge authority. They break all the rules. They are mischievious.

I need trickster energy. I need to challenge convention, and to step outside of the box. I need to be playful. Today, the crows came to remind me of that.

Where do you need trickster energy?

Lessons of an Early Morning Barn

early morn barn

The early morning sunlight was shining on my neighbor’s barn. It was just a few minutes after sunrise, and the light was especially full and bright.

The small upper windows on the barn caught my attention. I’ve seen them before, but I’d never really seen them.

Now that they were highlighted by the rising sun, I noticed them in detail. I noticed where they were in relationship to the other elements of the barn. I wondered what it would be like to be way up there, looking out.

I wonder how many things I walk by every day, without ever really noticing them, until something about them catches my attention.

How much of my world am I missing? I’m sure that there is so much richness and depth that I am not seeing.

This, to me, is the richness of presence. When I’m fully present, rather than moving through my life on auto-pilot, I do notice a lot more depth and breadth and color and form, because I am there for it. I take more of my life in.

This way of presence is a way of being that I aspire to. It isn’t automatic for me yet. I’ve spent too much of my life moving from one thing to the next, missing the in-betweens.

This has all been well-intended, of course. I’ve lived my life largely aiming for our Western standards of production, output, and achievement. I’ve spent so many years focused on the next thing; that’s what has become automatic.

And now the transition to living the way of presence is oddly uncomfortable. What if I lose my sense of focus? How can I trust that all will get done? How do I even know that enough will get done?

Paradoxically, I think I will gain a real sense of focus, a focus in the present moment.

What will be possible then?

The Last Clover

last clover too

This clover has survived a foot of snow, a deluge of rain, and a lot of brisk winds, all in the last few weeks.

Clover is very common in the ditches and fields here. My farmer neighbor planted a swath of it at the edge of his corn field two years ago, and he cut it a few times over the season, to feed it to his cows. It has now spread over to my side of the road, and this one has somehow escaped being cut by the road maintenance crews.

I was amazed to see this blossom, because I haven’t found anything else recently that is still blooming. This morning it is covered in frost.

Sometimes it is in the most ordinary things that we find beauty.

My soul needs these moments of beauty. When I saw this, it pulled my mind out of its trance. I loved the color and delicate-looking nature of it.

I think all of our souls need these moments of beauty, and I also think that they are all around us. It is just that I miss most of them because my mind is pulled in so many directions as I am walking.

Today I recommit to myself that I will pay more attention as I walk, and that I will really see the beauty that is around me. This clover has taught me this.

Where do your moments of beauty show up?

The Awakening of Sunlight in Snow

berries high relief

It is warm and sunny today. After many cold, cloudy days in succession, this is a welcome change.

At midday, I walk down the driveway for my walk, and I’m immediately aware of the warmth of the sun on my jacket. Even though it is only the beginning of winter, the sunlight makes me feel really good, like I do in the springtime, when everything is waking up.

I can feel myself waking up to everything around me: the bright blue sky, the glistening bits in the snow, and the big chunks of snow that are falling off tree limbs and roof lines, as things are just beginning to melt.

I turn onto the road, and there is a breeze blowing in my face. It’s chilly; it comes directly off the snow-covered farm field across the street, and it wakes me up too.

It is like I see more of the landscape when the sun is bright and the air is crisp. The birds that are feeding on the seeds at the side of the road are more visible than they are when it is dark and grey. The silhouettes of the trees are clearer against a clear sky.  Red berries stand out against the skeletons of the bushes.

I also interact more with my environment when it is clear and sunny and bright, than on those days when I’m hunkered down against the grey. Everything is in high relief, like a picture that has very sharp resolution.

All of this is an invitation to wake up, to my walk, but also to my life.

As I breathe in the crisp air, I just feel very grateful and alive, and I wonder where all of that vitality goes when it is darker, and more grey. I renew my commitment to feel awake, alive, and aware, when I’m out on my walks, especially during the long, grey winter ahead of me.

Aliveness and vitality are everywhere. It is just that sometimes I have to look a little deeper and wider to see them, and engage with them.

What wakes you up?


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