emotional violence

Apparently we women aren’t talking about the devastation of being played as much as we could.

We would do well to share this kind of pain more, lest we think we’re alone when we are not.

To this day, I don’t know just how long I was deceived and used. I have a better idea than I did four years ago, but, really, I suppose I’ll never know for sure.

The article above is about as visceral a description of what it can feel like as any I’ve read. It certainly fits my own experience.

Here you go. What one woman said: “He created a fantasy persona for himself: the little boy lost. He uses it to trick women. And he targets the clever ones. He uses his looks to deceive women – not a good look but a hurt, vulnerable look. I used to think there was something more to it with him but now I think he’s just a piece of rubbish.”

I’ve experienced the little boy lost more than once. One man I lived with for some years and another I was married to for decades. I’ve seen this apparition in the workplace as well.

I’ve done my best to sidestep these individuals in the workplace and, honestly, I’m not seeing anyone these days, four years on from the moment my world was shattered into a million pieces. I suppose I’m forever going to hold a piece of my heart and myself close and away from any person I chose to see. I think that’s probably okay.

Think about it.

If someone made unilateral decisions that affected your health, financial security, and children’s well-being, if they deceived you (even in the presence of colleagues, therapists, children, grandchildren), if they physically and emotionally abused you over the course of a long relationship, if they exploited you sexually, if they left you and then began living with another lover, and then they proceeded to claim they were the victim of a divorce “they never wanted,” and they told a very mis-matched set of stories to some other people, including your own children, would you be content to say relationships are complicated and slather on the forgiveness for the gaslighting and other abuse?

I’m up to my eyeballs with people saying “forgive.”

Whatever I’m doing is helping me recover from a long term situation of abuse. If someone wants to call it forgiveness that’s fine. I call it living life. I’m quite done with people telling me that forgiveness is for me, not for him. I don’t need to forgive. I don’t even need to let go.

Fact is, I’m not all that angry anymore.

The water has gone under the bridge and it’s been flowing on downstream for quite a while.

20 Oct 04 013

It feels good to NOT define myself in terms of a partner. Through my entire life, I’ve rarely given myself the space to look at myself outside of some kind of primary relationship, aka “a partner.”

Life as a mother doesn’t define me completely either. Our relationships with our offspring are so dynamic that change in those relationships feels normal.

All of the “shoulds” encapsulated in my marriage became a trap. It may not be that way for you. I’m glad for you.

By the time I was able to end my marriage, I was living on a daily basis with disrespect, deception, and cruelty. I could see power being wielded over me by all kinds of expectations, including sexual expectations.

Coercive sex takes many forms in a woman’s life.

What’s life -affirming can get lost.

That water flowing downstream? I’m there. Plenty of debris has been left behind. I’m still here. I’m flowing on.

Posted in family, gray divorce, Life changes, resilience | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

drought, wildfire, and burning (freeway) bridges

The very dry summer of 2014 turned into the dry fall of 2014, just as the very dry summer of 2013 became the dry winter of 2013.

The very dry winter of 2014 became the dry spring of 2015 and now we’ve hit the very dry summer of 2015.

California’s in a severe drought. That’s news that isn’t news anymore.

Almost a decade ago, The UNIPCC predicted increasing and more severe wildfires for all of the western states. They also predicted unpredictability. What does that mean? The upshot is that climate forcing is going to bring extreme weather situations everywhere. Their most recent report talks about severe climatic events across every ocean and on every continent. Urban, rural, everywhere, all environments seem to be dealing with something horrific. Of course, poor people are going to feel the impact more and more suddenly than anyone. Deaths up; food security down. Coastal flooding is a fact of life in many parts of the world now, even creating “climate refugees” in some parts of the world.

We can already see differences in weather-disaster impacts upon rich and poor, young and old (and very young), healthy and sick, and men and women.

We have seen killer heat waves in Europe, terrible and widespread wildfires in Australia and the United States, severe droughts around the world, with associated drying up of Pleistocene aquifers, Earth’s precious groundwater.

We’ve seen flooding across the globe with parts of Asia and Africa extremely hard-hit. Record-breaking and often unexpected flooding has been occurring in the United States as well.

I think about this stuff a lot…maybe because I’ve studied it most of my adult life. I don’t particularly want to think about it. Maybe I’d rather think about beautiful fields of wildflowers or the sunset or the ocean with tides rolling in.

Even when I was doing lots of field archaeology, I had to consider it. As a paleoethnobotanist, I had to look at human subsistence patterns. How can you do that, write about it, and not extrapolate into what’s going on today? Or what the future may look like?

This weekend wildfire has been on my mind.

At the risk of exaggerating a bit, my town is on fire. The photo below was taken several miles from my place.

My son's friend's backyard, yesterday.

My son’s friend’s backyard, yesterday.

My town isn’t exactly a town, yet to anyone who lives here, well yes, it is. It’s the town we live in. It’s not incorporated; it’s a large tract of semi-rural county land in the southwestern Mojave Desert.

This happened on Interstate 15, less than 20 miles from my home.

Be sure to watch the video of the fire jumping Interstate 15, complete with exploding gas tanks and at least a score of burned out cars and two burned up semis. I couldn’t get it to embed in this post; it’s worth watching, it says a lot about the era of wildfires we’ve entered. Hollywood couldn’t improve on the imagery.

All of that action was less than 20 miles from my little farm. At one point, the fire looked like it was in our backyard. We could periodically see flames until the smoke covered everything. The fire line, I think, was maybe 10 miles away by yesterday evening.

View from Rainshadow Farm by Erin.

View from Rainshadow Farm by Erin.

My property was not in danger, but people near me were packing in case of evacuation. We were on the north side of the evacuation zone.

North fire sun

This was a very, very fast moving fire.

It was in chaparral which is a plant community that is specifically fire-adapted. Chaparral burns by nature. It needs to burn to keep growing. Some of the most beautiful places in southern California are covered with chaparral plants. People want to build houses there. We’re in a severe drought. Stands to reason that this might happen.

Still, it’s horribly fearful and tragic.

Another photo by Erin.

Another photo by Erin.

The UNIPCC continues to say increasing wildfires in the US West and other arid and semi-arid parts of the world are part of our new normal.

Continual wildfire.

I’ve been wondering since this current drought became apparent whether we might not enter a time of continual wildfire. Will fire season spread across the calendar and just become an ever-present risk in parts of California?

The place I’ve been calling home for over 30 years is seriously understudied. I’ve seen that as an archaeologist, as a drylands farmer, and in every way I could possibly see it.

Those of us who have been drawn, for our various reasons, to live here find one another and cluster. We may have nothing in common beyond living in this rather wild place, but we look at each other and already feel like we know something about the other person. It’s probably an illusion, but we entertain it.

We live in the midst of some huge presence. 25,000 square miles of endless sky, blowing dust, continual wind, wildfire in the hills, weird plants, and howling coyotes.

At night the stars spin over us.

The night sky can make me delirious, even after all of this time.

In the daylight sometimes it can feel as though there is nothing but us and that huge bowl of a sky. And the ravens.

Erin's raven.

Erin’s raven.

Sometimes the winds trouble me. I say it. Some of my older kids say it. Other old timers say it. (God, when did I become an old timer?)

The winds have increased. They blow more often and they are stronger. There is a new normal for the winds in the southwestern Mojave. New residents can’t see it. Meteorologists and climatologists don’t often talk about it.

What is this tiny piece of knowledge worth, really? The winds in the Mojave have increased in strength and duration? Not much, unless you deal with them in a hands-on way on a daily basis.

So that’s that.

I’ve spent nearly 35 years living here and I’ve gained nearly 35 years worth of local knowledge.

I continue to wonder whether I might want to leave.

I’ve said it before. A lot.

I tend to say it a lot during the hot months. During fire season.

It’s not an easy choice. So much of my life has been here. This indecision reminds me of my marriage. In this case, there’s a big difference. I doubt the desert will make the decision for me. I’m going to have to decide.

The desert is honest with me, that part is different, too.

I’m not very good at voluntary endings. I’m not inclined to be a bridge burner.

But the desert isn’t asking me to burn any bridges.

I finally know what a burned bridge looks like. I’m beginning to understand what it feels like. Well, more or less. And maybe I’m ready to leave.

I can’t really say right now.

Talk to me when the fire’s out. Better, talk to me when summer is finally over.

Posted in climate change, community, fire season, Nature, resilience | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

farming the desert?

No. Not really.

Yesterday I received a couple of messages on Facebook about “farming the desert.” I think it may have been because I have been posting internet links concerning California’s current and long-lasting drought. More than one inquiry that is suspicious of my activities out here in the wilds of the southern Mojave was enough to get me writing.

I am not any kind of typical farmer. I do not “plow up the desert.” I do not have an income stream from this place. I do not waste precious resources, knowingly or wantonly. Some nights I may be in the shower too long, but, hey, am I the only one? 😉

When it comes to the land I’m living on, I take as much care as I can. What I do is experimental agroecology.

We use the least amount of water that we can. We make changes regularly. I often think about leaving this land because it’s not easy. Maybe some day I will, but for now I’m here and this is what I do.

I’ve lived in this region for 34 years, in the high desert for 25 of those years. Before that I lived in a small southern California mountain town and before that the South Bay stretch of southern California. Before that, I was embedded in various landscapes east of the Mississippi. I’ve been a gardener nearly all of my life. I’ve been an extreme gardener for 25 years.

The Mojave Desert cannot sustain farming in any sense that most Americans think about it. In my part of the desert there is one operation that uses sound ecological approaches to grow organic meat commercially. Those folks do more with less than anyone I know and they produce a phenomenally healthy, ecologically friendly, and healthful product.

What I do is experiment, along with provide small amounts of food for myself and my family. I don’t raise any meat, but I do raise chickens for eggs. I have open-house farm days to discuss and sometimes experiment with ultra-small-scale food production. And we do other things at rainshadow Farm that are detailed on the Rainshadow Farm Facebook pages.

You could call what we do small-scale (or micro-scale) household gardening with some extras…in an arid place.

Like many of my friends, I have created and nurtured land spaces that do not invade the desert. In fact, we seek to maintain as much of the high desert ecology as we can. Here, at my place, I’m engaged with exploring the small scale use of desert native plant foods. I also do native plant restoration.

Vitis girdiana, desert wild grape: these used to grow along the Mojave River bed, probably do still in some places.

Vitis girdiana, desert wild grape: these used to grow along the Mojave River bed, probably do still in some places.

Elderberry:  grows wild all around us. Asian pear and apple in the background. In the far background, a cactus food garden.

Elderberry: grows wild all around us. Asian pear and apple in the background. In the far background, a cactus food garden.

Arctostaphylos glauca, Bigberry Manzanita:  a chaparral shrub we grow here.

Arctostaphylos glauca, Bigberry Manzanita: a chaparral shrub we grow here.

Honey Mesquite: part of our mesquite cluster. Planning a mesquite grove and hoping for a Vitamix blender to process the pods and seeds into flour.

Honey Mesquite: part of our mesquite cluster. Planning a mesquite grove and hoping for a Vitamix blender to process the pods and seeds into flour.

I have a few garden plots for seasonal vegetables, medicinal herbs, and flowers I love, including flowers that can also provide food (sunflowers of all kinds, nasturtiums, and in a microclimate woodland violets).





I keep a micro-scale orchard, experimenting with low-water fruit trees from arid parts of the world. I plan to do some tree grafting with native California fruit tree rootstocks. I use very little water in these endeavors. This is a problem for some plants and when it is I replace those plants with something else until I find varieties that thrive in the high desert with very little water.

Asian Pear: grows well in semi arid regions with some altitude in parts of Asia and happy here.  I've been growing Asian Pears for 25 years in this part of the high desert.

Asian Pear: grows well in semi arid regions with some altitude in parts of Asia and happy here. I’ve been growing Asian Pears for 25 years in this part of the high desert.

Mission Fig: best fig I've found for  our hot, dry summers and cold winters.

Mission Fig: best fig I’ve found for our hot, dry summers and cold winters.

Vitis californica "Roger's Red": not as study at our altitude as Vitis girdiana, but it still can do well.

Vitis californica “Roger’s Red”: not as study at our altitude as Vitis girdiana, but it still can do well.

Many of my friends do the same thing. We collaborate because it’s the best way to learn about growing a bit of food in a harsh landscape. I can understand why I might be suspect because I live in one of the most arid parts of drought-stricken California and some people want to find “who’s to blame.”

My friend Bonnie's high desert adapted cherry tomatoes.  Grow these using Bonnie's technique and you may have tiny, delicious cherry tomatoes that grow almost like perennials.

My friend Bonnie’s high desert adapted cherry tomatoes. Grow these using Bonnie’s technique and you may have tiny, delicious cherry tomatoes that grow almost like perennials.

So that’s our story.

Those of us who do this are searching for what works and what is the most ecologically sound way to do these things. Many of us began farming/gardening searching for ways to enhance our food budgets and to eat home-grown in ways that don’t damage our environment. If I lived in the Midwest or Mid-south for that matter, no one would bother to question me about my potentially wasteful water use. I’m not offended, really. It’s more like — if you trip my switch I’ll talk about this forever. So, please, trip my switch.

Posted in agroecology, climate change, dryland restoration, Nature, resilience, socioecological intelligence, sustainability education, sustainable agriculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

small losses

So I mourned the loss of my marriage. And maybe even more, I mourned the loss of my hopes for the marriage.

On and off, over the last couple of years I’ve thought about how much loss there has been in my life.

It’s hard to talk about it without feeling as if I might be inviting my friends and family to a pity party.

That’s not exactly what it is. It’s more a realization that, yes, my life has contained an awful lot of loss. I don’t know why. I’ve stopped trying to figure out if there is a why. It is what it is. And it was what it was. From childhood on into old age.

That’s where I live now, right? Old age? Even if 60 is the new 40.

Really. Come on. It’s best to call it what it is.

And loss. Grief. It’s universal. The Buddha told a grieving mother to bring him a handful of mustard seeds from homes where there had been no loss, no grief. We know how that ended.

Sorrows, fear, distress, they’re real. We all deal with them. We are all in this together.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a strange sense of emptiness wash over me. Emptiness with something warm and hopeful inside.

In fact, maybe it isn’t emptiness at all; maybe it’s that sense of wide-open freedom I keep talking about.

If I sit quietly with it, listening, I know it is certainly not going to drown me. I’m so certain of this.

At the beach yesterday, I felt as if I was being lifted up by all the elements around me. Floating above the wide and storm-washed Pacific.

Moments like this, I sense that there is something so delicious around the corner.


Posted in disability, gray divorce, Life changes, resilience, spiritual ecologies | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

running its course

I see that walking away from my marriage, although I didn’t want to do it initially, is completely in my best interest.

Really, it was my ex who walked away.  He wanted a new life, in a new place, with a new person.  And even with all of that, he didn’t want a divorce.  He was resolute in that, mainly for his own financial reasons.  My own act of  “walking away” turned out to be the act of filing for the divorce.  He was angry about it.It was scary for a while. And now it’s done.

During the last four years, I’ve spent plenty of time thinking I’d failed or we’d failed.  That is beside the point.  The relationship is gone and  I’m still here.  I have to apply strength and courage to my walk into the future. And at my age, in my circumstances, the future I’m talking about is close. It may be next year, next week, or it may be the next twelve hours.

Whatever the relationship was that formed my marriage – it’s run its course.

That trail has ended.

“Trail’s End,”  I saw a ranch high up in the Marianas with a big sign saying that.

That trail has ended.  Now, I feel like I’m standing in a meadow with an expanse of flowers all around me, after a long climb up a pretty steep trail. The sun is warm. The wind is fragrant. It’s a living dream. I’m ready to move out into that field.

field of yellow  flowers and yucca and rocks

field of yellow and purple flowers2

Posted in gray divorce, Life changes, resilience, spiritual ecologies | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

pain, reconsidered

Pain does some weird things to a person.

Over the last 48 hours I’ve moved from contentment to dread to deep discomfort with my discomfort. In the process, I hit a brick wall of fear and sadness.

Pretty typical.

Depression lights upon me. It goes. It comes back. I try to see it as the shadow of a raven passing overhead. A raven and a cloud. They will pass. There may be some havoc. Or maybe not, maybe not.

Raven by Erin Ward

Raven by Erin Ward

Will this ever stop? Most experts say no, get used to it.

They pat you on the head and send you home with a “make the best of it” and some meds that don’t work. They work for some, maybe 30% of the patients. Good for that, I suppose.

Change your diet this way, exercise that way. Think like this. Don’t think like that.

And those who want me to meditate more or in a different way — they remind me of the Christians I used to know who always said: read the Bible, pray more, turn it over (and over and over) to God more. Enough.

It was enough then. It’s enough now. Don’t please go there with me anymore.

I know about the alternative treatments. Of course I try them. I’ve been trying them. I’ll listen to you, but don’t tell me I’m going to get better if I use your one magical cure.

That’s the thing about intractable pain. It’s intractable.

When supplements that hold promise don’t work. When side effects are as bad as the pain situation. When there’s no cure. When people look at you oddly because they’ve never heard of it. Because you’ve never heard of it, maybe it’s not real.

Then. Then. Then if you care about me, sit with me, walk alongside me, but let me go slower than I have in the past. Then life gets pared down to its barest of necessities.

Maybe (since I really have no choice) that can be a good thing. It can be a good thing when you tend to be a person who complicates stuff unnecessarily. Maybe sometimes “no other choice” can be helpful.

I have my own commitment to move through the pain storms into a space of deeper equanimity.

I have a friend with the same kind of illness. He calls the daily pain “background noise”. And it is like that sometimes. Sometimes that’s what it is. So you look at it that way and save your bigger energy for the pain that bursts out to the forefront.

Pain saps varying amounts of your energy. I have to get used to that. This isn’t easy for a life-long high-energy person. It isn’t easy for people who know me and people who care about me. I’m not the same person. I am, but I’m not.

I’m having to learn to live in a new way and, honestly, at my age, I don’t exactly want to.

There have been just so many changes in the last four or five years.

For now, I still have the night sky and all of those stars, the wind, the distant mountains, the hint of a sea breeze.

Things change. I know that mantra.

When I was going through one of my eight labors, a midwife told me to surf the contractions. That was surprisingly good advice. I’m surfing this thing.

heart tube surf

Posted in disability, Life changes, resilience, spiritual ecologies | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

freeze frame

I wrote this yesterday evening and hesitated posing it. Not for any reason, just did.

Yesterday was the kind of day, had you come to the high desert, you’d want to linger for a bit.

Today I want to put it up as a reminder to self, if nothing else. Today is windy, very cloudy, and spitting icy rain.


Today, right now, I’ve hit a moment when the sun is shining, the desert spring is mild and sweet, my heart is dancing across the breadth of the Mojave, and I’m ready to settle into what is.

By tomorrow, the storm clouds may roll in. They probably will.

Still. There are moments in my life that I never forget. Visually, a freeze frame. The earliest I remember is a Midwest breeze making green leaves dance above me. Green and golden sun lights. Leaves sparkling like jewels. All I remember thinking is something like “this,” and a deep sense of well-being.

Freeze frame. What makes me feel free and joyous.

Years later, talking about this with my mother, I realized this must have been a very early memory. She used to put me in an old-fashioned baby buggy under the trees that lined our street in our Midwest river city. She’d sit on the porch and have a cigarette and keep watch over me.

People tell me that it’s impossible to have such early memories. My psychologist daughter tells me that. Well, okay. I also had a recurring dream in my childhood of my birth. Maybe I’ll talk about that some day.

People can tell me it’s impossible and all I can say is I know what I know. The memory is there.

Again, comparing notes with my mother, I know I have a strong memory of an occurrence from my second year. It’s just a memory, maybe not one of those freeze frames. Or maybe it was. It was joyous mischief. Joy often figures in to these beautiful, indelible moments.

I have a collection of them.

They guide my life.

So today. Sunlight, refreshing breezes, driving across the Mojave as I went from one end of the valley where I live, along the mountains to the Antelope Valley and back. Mountains crawling across the landscape on every horizon. And again, “this.”

All of the embracing landscape was beautiful. So much bliss, I even loved the Stater Bros. truck that moved past me on Highway 138.

Am I ready to face whatever the summer brings? The immediate change in my financial security? The loss of income? Probably not. Am I ready to face these medical challenges? The car about to break down? The lack of job security? Probably not. And yet, today is one more whisper and caress from the universe, telling me “this.”

spring high desert garden

spring high desert garden2

Posted in Life changes, Nature, resilience, spiritual ecologies | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments