more dreams

My dreams are my own. My dreams are asking me to walk through places of possibility to get to them. They tell me to finally, after all of these years, to honor my own real self so I might touch them.

I mentioned on Facebook today that I’ve replaced the idea that “I’ll never learn,” with “I’m being more cautious,” and that this is a problem still. In some situations it’s still too fine a line.

There are people who just don’t care. They tell you they do and if you believe them, you’ll end up poorer, sadder, depleted, poisoned. A friend told me that. Poisoned. It’s true.

I must learn to maintain a serious No Contact rule. This time will be different. No. It won’t.

No matter how safe I feel, or am beginning to feel, there are some people who simply aren’t safe for me.

I was trained up to be too accommodating.

It’s caused a world of trouble for me.

Over the last several years I’ve made strides in the fuck-you areas of life but I still have a way to go.

So.

I need to repeat, Hey, fuck you. Have a nice life but fuck you. That’s all.

It’s that simple.

I’ve got to get back on that raft and wave bye bye.

There are no rivers in the desert except the places where the Mojave River flows above ground. There are rivers underground.

But tonight I feel like I could get onto a raft in Hermosa Beach and drift all the way to Japan, thinking about those dreams. Drawing closer to them.

hermosa pier dark

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a raft

This is a dream that has lived in my mind for a few years.

I wrote about it, but it disappeared, probably when I screwed up this blog and almost lost the whole thing.

When I don’t know what comes next and I worry, this dream carries me.

I need to have this image on here. Just for me, when I feel strange. When I feel weak and scared.

I was floating down a river, in a jungle.

Someone I needed to be freed from stood on the steamy riverbank. He had a new companion by his side.

This is what I saw: You stared, both of you. I floated on, hand trailing in the dark water. Perfect calm. You began to walk. I curved around the bend, the river taking me. No effort.

Where the river takes me, I just cannot know.

He’s no longer in sight. I am still floating. Perfect calm. There’s no going back. I wanted to wave. Everything was shifting by me in shadows and light too fast. I passed through the water, slowly. At peace.

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the disposable teacher or more griping

I’m older, a woman with kids still at home (who, incidentally, help out in all kinds of ways).

I have a terminal degree, as they say. I love how that sounds; it’s terminal alright. Still, there is life after the Ph.D. for me though it isn’t exactly as I had pictured.

As readers of my blog know, I have pretty much given up on finding any full time faculty position. I continue to apply for openings but there’s a limit. A limit to my patience, a limit to my fortitude, a limit to my ability to suspend disbelief (“the next one might be the one, right?”).

Maybe I’ve just about reached my personal limit.

Right now I’m applying for another part time position.

Why? Because it’s at a university that gives some benefits to its part timers. Also because they seem to want someone with my research interests. I’d been starting to think that my research interests were non-mainstream.

Since my doctoral research had to do with sustainable food systems and what might move people toward them, I don’t really see how that could be considered out of the mainstream. In fact, there’s plenty of writing and talking these days and even some action concerned with climate chaos and food systems. In California (where I live and teach) this goes many times over.

Universities are more conservative than many people think. I may have more freedom to teach in my regular community college. Less job security, more freedom in the classroom?

Universities claim they like interdisciplinary scholars but they don’t always want to hire them.

My story is fairly typical, here in the USA where 75% of college/university faculty are adjunct labor.

We’re paid by the hour, given a limit of classes that is small (I can only teach 3 per semester in any given community college district), and have no benefits. For instance, we are laid off and rehired (if rehired) each new semester. I’m reliant on Covered California for all of my health care – the school offers none to adjuncts. In California, some adjuncts are offered tiny pension plans commensurate with the hours they teach. I’m fortunate to have one of those. Well, maybe I’m fortunate. If I were to retire today and call in my pension, I’d be receiving about $250/month. Yeah, that will work.

At some of the Cal States things are somewhat better. Not altogether better, but they offer more benefits to their adjuncts than the CCs offer. Those adjunct jobs are hard to get because the teachers don’t want to leave them. I’m applying for one of those positions now.

If I were to move to, say, Sacramento, I could likely get some kind of adjunct position similar to mine here in the California CC system. A completely lateral move. If I could get into a Cal State part time, I’d have a few more benefits.

Adjuncts get the crumbs.

Many of us became life-long adjuncts by default. When I was married, it seemed a good thing. I could continue raising my large bunch of kids and pull in a supplemental income doing something I love. I could build my farm and write on the side and still have family time.

When the marriage ended, I had been an adjunct too long. At least that’s what I often hear.

People outside of academia ask, “How is that possible? You have all of this experience teaching? You’ve honed your skills in a difficult lower-income region? You’ve worked in cultural resource management at the same time! You’ve introduced many groups of students to the kind of education and research that happens at Rainshadow Farm, too! You’re a rock star!” I love my friends outside of the academic bubble. I love my friends inside the bubble who get this, too. I’m not a rock star, but I know I can research and write and teach. And I can grow food in a desert when it wants to be grown.

So.

Many universities don’t want to take me seriously now.

On the other hand, some adjunct teachers are teaching in retirement with good pensions and they are doing fine. Some are invited to teach while they have great jobs in industry. They’re happy too.

But those last two examples are not the majority. I’m one facet of the majority.

And the majority is disposable.

Not only downsizing here, but looking at a new kind of path, or new set of tracks, if you prefer. Not necessarily going north, but maybe.

All of my sitting quietly, facing west, in the wee hours, is allowing new and even hopeful ideas to drop very quietly into my mind.

These tracks are going north.

These tracks are going north.

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my interview

A friend told me she wanted to hear about my experience with a head-hunter.

So here goes.

I got an email from a reputable engineering firm (my son and his boss vouch for that, and they work at a regional engineering firm and clearinghouse for such matters).

I replied briefly because it was open-ended with not a lot of detail.

They found me on LinkedIn. I know some of you are laughing.

Truth be told, LinkedIn (the free version) has been reasonably good to me.  I’ve pulled in a few extra teaching jobs via the website. And it’s free.

I missed a call from someone at the firm when I was teaching one afternoon. Hey, I try to remember to turn my phone off too.

I called back and left a message.

The next day I got a call asking when I might be able to talk seriously.

Okay. I bit. I did an interview.

Here’s some back-story. My middle daughter, the brilliant Kaitlin, has been telling me for a few years to get into industry. By that she means everything from city planning to larger-scale environmental work to nonprofits.

All of those discussions emboldened me.

grading 5

Yep, industry.

Alas. I may be too old for a position in industry.

They liked my level of experience in matters environmental. I liked that they liked it.

But.

Yes, there’s always a big but (did Pee Wee Herman say that?).

The big but here is that this big engineering firm wanted a single person to do the work of an entire team.

They wanted me to do things that I knew I could do and they also wanted me to do things that I have no business doing. Not to contract it out (which I could easily do, I’ve done it before), but do it.  That would have involved signing off on it.

One person; seven or eight jobs. Hell, maybe ten jobs, the way the interviewer talked.

I’ve seen this kind of work out in the field and it’s not pretty. In some cases, it can even be risky down the road.  Lawsuits. Worse.

I could have lied and maybe even ended up with the job. The interviewer was almost urging me to lie.

If I’d have been younger, I might have decided, “Okay, I can learn this stuff. I’m a pretty quick study out there and I do have experience. I can do this. And if I can’t, I’ll learn.” It wouldn’t have been a lie, not really. It would have been the hopefulness of youth. And if I were younger, I might have ended up fired. And seen it as a door closing and now where is the next door?

As it is, I know that they were hoping to cut corners and get ten for the price of one. It was a salary like I’d never seen. And never will. It wasn’t as high as the presidents and VPs of the colleges/universities nearby, but it was high. I could have moved to the beach.

One thing about having experience in an industry and experience in life in general is that you can take a longer view. (Also time is shorter but I suppose that’s for another post).

It involved building schools. Can you imagine cutting corners on building schools full of people (and children!) in earthquake country?  Can you imagine?

When I pushed for the idea of teamwork and safety residing in good teamwork,  the interview drew to a close.

That’s my most recent failure in the Great Job Hunt.

failboat2

So it’s back to downsizing and downsizing and more downsizing. That’s the life of a single mom, head of household, adjunct professor.

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emergency…

I’ve been dealing with my own food issues lately, along with body/mind stuff. I seem to be heading into a perfect storm of autoimmune issues along with the usual health-related matters I sometimes discuss here. More on that another time. I want to take a look at a bigger picture than my tough and hard-working little body.

So.

Some food researchers say that we can feed the current population of earth right now, if we had the moral and political will. That’s nearly 7.2 billion people. We send food around the world (We who? We with the food to send.) and watch it disappear into a variety of political sinkholes. We watch corruption in the distribution of food meant for famine- and war-torn areas.

Let’s not be hasty to blame it all on political turbulence.

What about the way we bring food out of this earth?

Industrial technology thrives upon the natural world with its array of potential resource materials, in addition to human knowledge and monetary exchange.

Very early technologies – for instance, lithic technologies for hunting, basketry for gathering, and fishing equipment such as weirs and nets – were a part of the cultural commons. I make a basket, it’s for all of us. We gather honey or grow a crop, it’s for all of us.

However, once money is introduced, exchanges become unequal. Some ancient hunter-gatherer groups may have had systems of equal exchange, although colonialism and industrialism by modern Western powers have so changed the lifeways of those very few hunter-gatherer groups still remaining that we may never know for sure. These societies live so deeply embedded in the various nation states that have enclosed them that any cultural practices they may have had even a few hundred years ago have been virtually obliterated.

Monetized transactions are so deeply rooted in our economic, political, and social interactions that most of us think that the market system is inevitable and irreversible. If I collected fees from everyone who has told me to charge money for RSF farm days, I’d have something to take to the bank. I can’t do it. I need more income, sure, but most of the farm day folks have less than I do. They bring gifts and food and drink. That’s sufficient. Rather, that would be sufficient if I could bankroll the continuing farm days.

The modern world has decontextualized food production, personally and communally, keeping people with lower incomes always on the razor’s edge of hunger and starvation.

We’ve seen food riots worldwide in recent years. Hunger is increasing in the United States. Industrial food technologies, as they stand, are largely embedded in a context of social inequality.

Are all monetized exchanges inherently unequal? Polanyi said so. Thus, there really is no free market. Libertarians may say, say, say that the free market will cure all of this. Polanyi himself suspected that truly free markets have never existed. Moving beyond a barter system and into any kind of market system does make literal free markets unattainable since even under very modest circumstances people generally want to have standard weights and measures, at the least. They tend to introduce currency, means of protection from theft and raid, along with means of realizing various social and moral obligations.

A market will be structured according to the way that these processes and principles are conceived and structured. In the United States, including California, the agricultural system does not operate as any kind of free market. The system does not in any way resemble voluntary transport and trade of edible goods from an idealized family farmer to the tables of the nation. We say it does, but it doesn’t. Maybe some direct marketing situations come close to this ideal. In general, though, from seed to the farmer’s field to the table, sustenance is subsidized (most often in ways that do not benefit the smaller farmers or farmers of smaller, more specialized crops, such as organic produce) and crops are transported as massive commodities in a large industrialized system. I’d include roads and fleets of vehicles here. Also import and export crops, and crop research funding. How much of this reaches out to benefit grassroots growers or consumers, especially lower-income consumers? Smaller- and medium-scale organic producers in California, as pointed out by Guthman (2004), often engage in practices that while not as destructive of the land as large-scale, industrialized agriculture, continue to marginalize and underpay farm workers.

Let’s think about the idea of food sovereignty.

Increase in worldwide hunger and continuing environmental degradation have led to food movements that seek to do more than stabilize the global agribusiness food regime, to continually push this place or that back from the brink of complete starvation. One fairly radical analysis of food regimes is the movement for food sovereignty. Food sovereignty calls for redistributive reform of land and water use and deep transformation of the idea of markets. The movement toward food justice calls for access to safe, healthy, and culturally appropriate foods regardless of social or economic constraints. Food justice advocates tend to focus on localized production while those promoting food sovereignty concentrate on transformation of political systems to allow for more just and sustainable food systems. In most cases there are overlapping concentrations in the movements for food justice and food sovereignty (Holt-Giménez & Shattuck, 2011).

So let’s apply pressure in the center where they overlap.

Let’s call for access to good, clean, wholesome food for all people, regardless of social or economic constraints; putting control of food production into the hands of eaters and creating local jobs and small businesses centered on food production and sale; recognition and provision of culturally favored foods and making provision for people to obtain them easily and affordably; safe food production – for farm workers, food processors, and eaters; the ability for people to actively participate in the food system as citizens and local residents, not just consumers; the ability to participate in food policy-making; prioritization of both people and the environment; and finally, solidarity and community within sustainable food systems for all regions of the world. Let’s investigate deeper systemic problems that that cause the current food system to leave poor people under-served.

Come on. Food is elemental: it comprises social relationships, relationship with the land, traditional foodways , heritage crops and cuisines. People make a living embedded in their cultures, societies, and environments. Organisms + environment = networks. Networks like this are basically units of survival. Food networks (I’ll say it again) are also elemental.

CIMG1460

Research suggests a co-evolutionary relationship between what people have traditionally hunted, gathered, and grown as food, and what they may often prefer. Social and nutritional sciences indicate close relationship between traditional foodways and peoples’ ability to digest certain foods, metabolize them, and sometimes peoples’ general health. This is not to take a deterministic view of foodways as solely related to biology. We are not entirely and only our genetic heritage. Of course.

People are evolutionary omnivores, yet cultural preferences are significant. Food researchers and growers benefit from looking at the picture holistically – considering cultural preferences, appreciating cultural food diversities, learning from one another to appreciate a wide range of foods, particularly when such foods might be grown ecologically in any given region.

I’ve heard talk recently about the world population climbing to (optimistically) 9 billion by 2050. Not so optimistically, and maybe more realistically, 10 billion. Researchers who were hopeful a dozen years ago that we could, in fact, feed the world are less optimistic than ever. Part of this has to do with global climate chaos, part has to do with utter loss of arable land. Many say food production will drop off severely. Climate changes, watersheds being dried up, desertification, all kinds of environmental degradation, increasing urban sprawl, decreasing arable land, soil depletion, erosion ruining farmlands and polluting watersheds, chemical hazards endangering farmers, farm workers and consumers. If these aren’t enough we have decreasing water supplies, poor quality water where we still have supplies, and overdraft of underground aquifers. I suppose we could wait around for the next Ice Age and replenish out aquifers. And then there is the failure of GMO crops, relative to initial hopes for them. Weeds, insects, and plant diseases have become resistant to the genetically designed food organisms. That’s just the tip of that particular iceberg, but I don’t want to get into the rest of it right now.

California's Central Valley

California’s Central Valley

Oh, and in the last few years there have been reports of rock phosphate, a mineral that farmers use in food production, being depleted. Some say that natural supplies will run out in 100 years unless more is discovered. Sufficient soil phosphorus is needed for optimal crop yields, whether you are farming small acreage organically or 4,000 acres with industrial methods. For the micro- or smalller-scale farmer this doesn’t have to be devastating. After all, composted or vermicomposted manure can be used. In fact, it is a helpful addition to certain alkaline soils like some of the soil at RSF. Someone once gifted me with nearly a ton of horse manure. He drove it right into my back yard, next to the orchard and I went to work finding ways to compost it. It’s in my soil now.

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Large-scale industrialized agriculture, our current “food regime,” is currently associated with inequities in food distribution worldwide, food-related illnesses and deaths due to hunger and malnutrition. Or, if you prefer, over-consumption of foods that produce obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and any number of other serious health issues.
This is a tiny slice of our planetary food crisis mixed in with my usual rants about global climate crises. I wonder why I have to try to slip this into various college anthropology courses I teach. Why aren’t they teaching this and teaching it strongly to teens in high school and even children?

I guess we’re afraid we might make them afraid. It is scary. But children are resilient. And they are creative. They find solutions. Why not open the book for them and see how they react? Why not give them insight into the world we are leaving to them? The more time they have to work alongside us, the better. Best they comprehend that agribusiness as usual is profoundly sick and dysfunctional.

Almost everyone has heard the statement by Jiddu Krishnamurti :

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

How can we not despair? Of course our children will be concerned. It’s what we do once we look our despair in the face that might make a difference. More to the point: How can we do anything if we don’t understand our situation?

These planetary crises I can’t let go of; I chew over them like my son’s dog chews his rawhide bones. These are radical situations, these planetary emergencies; they call for radical solutions.

Radical cutbacks in consumption? Are we afraid we can’t do this reasonably?

Radical changes in the way we do government? Radical de-coupling of governments and the global food regime? You know, those vast, global industrial agrifood monopolies like Monsanto, Cargill, and ADM. And their partners in food crimes who want to monopolize, monetize, and privatize the earth’s water resources. It’s happening.

True story, if you haven’t heard it:

The Mojave Desert is not currently productive agriculturally, as it is not suited to California-style, large-scale agriculture. Still, the Mojave Desert contains groundwater greatly desired by private interests like the Cadiz Corporation, who purchased Sun World International, California’s second largest citrus producer next to Sunkist.
This persistent corporation has endeavored to gather rents and other profits from groundwater storage beneath properties it owns in California and in Egypt. The Cadiz Land Company has attempted to buy up tracts of land in the Mojave Desert to get at the underground reserves of fossil water, relict water supplies from the Pleistocene epoch. This is a clever business tactic since surface and groundwater reserves are rapidly disappearing everywhere in the world and privatizing then selling fossil water could yield unimaginable riches.

So.

Privatizing (enclosing and monetizing) any of the commons that are left, gross depletion of natural resources remains a given, global monopolies of food remain, while local food systems are plainly destroyed.

We need radical changes in the way we produce food. And radical changes in the way we perceive it.

mesquite in fall

CIMG2186

Can we think about cultivating, in small household environments, diverse and native food plants that would please anyone? Even foods that grow in similar climates and altitudes in other parts of the world. That’s a start. Mesquite flour breads and even cookies (yay cookies!). From Asian semi-arid highlands, jujubes. They take a while to produce here, but our jujube trees are finally beginning to produce fruit. Permaculture-based drylands growing systems. It may not sound radical until you try it. Then you realize the challenges. As the world climate system folds into chaos and natural resources continue to be depleted, radical food production may be simpler than you’d initially think. Tune in to the environment and give it a try.

Jujube tree in the fall.

Jujube tree in the fall.

One of my dear mentors, Eugene Anderson, once told me an old proverb: “While almost everyone is saying that something is impossible, someone is quietly doing it.” Maybe that’s all we can do. Maybe, in the end, it will be sufficient. I hope so. What do you think?

You might want to look at these:

Guthman, Julie. (2004). Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Holt-Giménez, Eric & Shattuck, Annie. (2011). Food crises, food regimes and food movements: Rumblings of reform or tides of transformation? Journal of Peasant Studies, 38: (1), 109 – 144.
Smil, Vaclav. (2001). Feeding the world: A challenge for the twenty-first century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Posted in agroecology, climate change, education, ethnobotany, Nature, resilience, socioecological intelligence, sustainability education, sustainable agriculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

three women

I know a woman whose heart was sick. She was being prepared to receive another heart. Maybe another small, gentle woman’s heart, tucked into her chest, ready to keep beating and give my friend new life.

I was up late the night she got word. Your heart is ready; it’s time. Later still, I sat in meditation. May she have joy, may her heart be healthy, may she heal and thrive, may she have peace and find freedom.

When I meditate, it’s not unusual for an image to flow across my interior field of view. In the quiet desert night, it’s not unusual for that image, dreamlike, to become more real than real.

I said a solid goodbye to the longest and strongest (I thought anyway) love of my life that way.

But my gentle friend, blonde-haired and younger than I am…at the word freedom, I swear I saw her floating over the mountains, so ethereal (she was ethereal, in truth), almost transparent, long blonde hair trailing in the dry wind.

It was wondrous, yet I felt sick. I knew, but I didn’t want to know.

I woke up in the morning to messages that she had died after the surgery. Just like that. Gone.

I didn’t know her face to face; I knew her face to face, virtually.

But I cried real tears on and off, on and off all that day. Longer.

That’s how so much of the online chronic illness community works. Some of us only ever know one another that way, virtually. Some of us cannot travel. Some of us have so very little money, so few resources. I am luckier than some. Others feel they are luckier than I am.

I know another woman whose heart was sick. She was energetic and positive and deeply compassionate. She rarely talked about her heart and how delicate her health was. She mostly cracked jokes and talked about her adventures with her beloved dog along with her plans for the future, and she never, ever gave up on anything that I know about. This young woman was vital, straightforward and she was sweet, too. She had just begun an new job. Everything looked to be a big “go” for her. I expected to hear about job escapades in the near future, adventures on her new job. She sure lived life to the fullest.

The other morning I awoke to messages that she had died. Just like that.

In the last post on this blog I was feeling reflective (or something like that) over how fragile life is. How unexpected it is.

This young woman was another virtual friend. Her memory is still as wrenching as it is sweet. I was told that over the last couple of weeks she was making an effort to tell all of her closest friends how much she loved them. She blows me away, she just does.

I know yet another woman whose heart was sick. She worked where I work. She also raised horses. Lots of horses. I knew her as a teacher and a colleague. I took her classes for fun. She loaned me hilarious books of dirty French.

When I was preparing for graduate school she had helpful advice. She found me a job on campus for a while before I was qualified to teach there.

She had a heart transplant and recovered, ready to take on the next phase of her life. She was surviving several really serious chronic illnesses; she had survived the transplant; she fell and broke her femur while traveling after the surgery. She survived that.

She was broadsided by cancer. She never gave up, as I saw it, but bit by bit, her body was overwhelmed. She held out until her last mare had foaled. That was her stated goal. That was what happened.

So there it is. Inspiration and fear. Beginnings and endings. Mystery.

Right now I’m burrowing deeper into the winter darkness hoping some kind of light will shine out of my dreams. I’m hoping that I can learn better to instill some kind of happiness into the deep and the mystery of all of this. To inspire and be inspired. Now. With whoever is standing next to me. Virtually or in the flesh, even.

Oct8PM_4

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letting go, again

It’s not that I believe nothing good will happen in my future. It’s more that I’m still letting go of all those dreams of the past.

It’s not that I’m unable to glimpse other possibilities. It’s more that I’ve spent so many years moving in a certain direction that inertia keeps me going.

This is the perfect time of year to find where exactly I want to go. Things in the natural world tend to go underground. What’s above the surface is watchful and purposeful.

I’ve spent too much time beating myself up for not being younger and more conventionally ambitious.

I’ve raised eight kids. I’ve built two micro-farms. I’ve established a land-based learning center. I’ve gone to grad school, worked as a desert archaeologist, and I teach in a college.

On this track, I developed some ideas about where all of this might take me. I watched it all blow up in my face a few years ago. “We wrecked it in our own backyard,” as the poet said.

I’ve been digging deep and it tends to take me deep into the past.

I’ve been looking at how earlier experiences connect to my current experiences.

It’s bittersweet, for sure.

I guess all of this shit is compost for composing this new life.

There are some things that I’d been an arrow aiming for that simply are not going to happen.

I have friends who say “don’t say that!” “Don’t say it won’t happen!”

Some of the same friends who don’t want to hear me say that I’m old.

But really, friends, some things are not going to take form right now, not at my age, not in the current economic and academic environment of my world. And I’m not young anymore.

All this really means is that other things will move more easily into this vacuum. And that I know where I am in the continuum of this life.

Things change. People come and go. Other people get sick. We get old. Depending on which day you catch me, I’ll tell you different things about how I feel about “getting old.”

Mostly it is what it is. I’m working against a deadline. I know a helluva lot about deadlines. I’ve got this one.

That part is good. Maybe I’m not as ambitious as some people might like me to be. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to work. I do. I’ve got one piece of work that I really enjoy and I’m paid a little to do it. I have another piece of work that I don’t get paid in money to do, but I’ll never stop doing it, as long as I’m able.

None of this is enough to support me, so I have to fill in the blanks. I have to find more “work worth doing,” as John Holt put it succinctly.

I miss doing art. I feel it tugging at me. In fact, I can feel my bones getting ready to turn in my grave if I don’t do something about that longing for art.

And, yes, I know gardening is art. I think that has sustained me over the long haul. But. Still. I know there is more.

So in these two weeks, while I recover from this god-awful virus or whatever the tests show it is, and before I go back to work, I am going to do a lot of sitting.

I’m going to just sit and let the waters clear. I’m going to see what I can see. There’s a future, out there somewhere in January, and I want to see clearly enough to walk into it.

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