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.


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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

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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

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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

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out of place

The other day on Facebook, I wrote about how I feel like I’m becoming invisible. That day the feeling was so intense, I felt as if I might just fade into the desert landscape and blow away.

I wondered what I might do. I can’t retrace my steps and have a re-do of the life I didn’t choose 20 or 30 years ago. I can’t say I’d even want to.

I don’t particularly like being invisible in this area of my life. What area? It’s not my relationships, my friendships. It’s not my family. It’s my work life. It’s not my students. It’s my colleagues and contemporaries. Of course, not all of them. But there are enough of them that I’m spending a big chunk of time writing about this (twice, in fact!) instead of doing something else.

And I don’t have any clever ideas for changing it.

All I know to do is to put one foot in front of the other, like always, and keep moving along.

Changing directions is always an option.

Back on Facebook, this was one of those posts that people responded to like crazy. Some of the responses were helpful.

They ranged from kind well-wishing to being told I need to stop ruminating and get on with it. Mostly, though, many women responded that this hit a nerve with them. What surprised me was that some of the responses were from young women.

The younger women said they felt the whole topic resonating with them. That’s not entirely encouraging. When I was their age (20s), I thought we’d be so far past this invisibility thing by 2015, by the time I hit the big 6-0. Good grief.

The young women talked about autonomy and getting a hearing. They are still young enough that when they are my daughter or granddaughter or student I can tell them, “Hang on, your day will come.” I can make reassuring sounds and hug them.

Will it? Will things be better for them?

I don’t know. I’ll continue to encourage and agitate, but I just don’t know.

The women at midlife and beyond are familiar with the way that we become physically invisible past a certain age. We talked about that.

That middle-aged invisibility of the average women, I understand that and began dealing with it at least 10 years ago. Longer ago.

What I’m feeling isn’t that. It’s feeling out of place, unseen and unheard (hold on, you’re never going to guess), in academia. I didn’t make the “right” choices to begin to get a hearing when I was younger. In fact, in recent days, I’ve been told not to call myself a professor, that my PhD is meaningless, that I’m a part-time instructor, not a professional. And…I lost one professional job when my heart was damaged. I have no idea how to gain that back, or even if I ought to try. Or even think about it. I miss it, but maybe it’s becoming ridiculous to even think about it. What do I expect now?

I’m tired.

I’m tired of busting my butt even though I like the work I do. I’m tired of worrying about the future. Tired of feeling a very quiet and subtle kind of failure for so many reasons.

A successful, retired man told me to knock off the self-flagellation. He’s been successful and has retired with plenty of money, reasonably good health, and an adoring wife. Okay, in “real life” I like this guy, I do, but he doesn’t have a clue.

It is what it is. I know I’m not alone. Whoever coined the term gray divorce knew what was up. I have to get over the hurdle that so many women, divorced at an older age, face. So many of us struggle to not only define ourselves – that’s the easier part for many of us.

But, knowing we can’t retire any time soon and being underemployed and often underestimated, finding how to tear through the veil of invisibility to get to some kind of work worth doing (that we’re entrusted to take on at an older age!) that will support us, that’s a big part of our dilemma.

For me, supporting myself by myself at my age is the big question mark.

Sometimes very successful women and sometimes most men don’t get this.

I feel like a woman out of place because so many of my former connections have imploded. I’ve been making new ones but some take and some don’t.

These days, I am fine with being husband-less because the alternative became so difficult that the change to single status brought me great peace. Not to mention, he walked out the door one day and never planned to come back.

What has happened with me is that I put my own work on the back burner for so long that when time came to dive in, I had a good decade but, alas, now things are different. Income streams are sparse. In the place I live, I became a pariah with a “bad heart” in my field. Apparently you can’t do this kind of work if you’ve got any kind of physical impairment. Yes, I’m being sarcastic because I know this isn’t necessarily true, but it seems to have become true in my little world.

Now I have to decide where and when I’m chasing my tail and where and when I might need to toss certain goals overboard.

Being invisible would be simpler and would less of a burden if I could eliminate my financial concerns.

I keep talking to myself about downsizing and seeing what kind of peace that brings me. I’m reasonably downsized as it is, but this is the USA and I know I can push it further. I mean, seriously, this is the land of “tiny houses” that cost more than my over-mortgaged home. And you have to borrow someone’s bathroom to take a shower in the tiny house world. Uh-uh.


Unlucky/unwise in love; unwise in work, but lucky to have even a part time job and lucky to like it. And fortunate in children. So fortunate.

Maybe I have to turn my life upside down again. I want to end this thing in contentment not dejection.

christmas buddha 2013_4_modified

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my blood

My blood comes from the mountains of West Virginia.

I came of age in the heart of a city in the Great Lakes Rust Belt. I grew up watching its traffic and its creeks and rivers, walking along the lakeshore. And I spent time in the forests of Connecticut, when my aunt fostered me for a time.

As a very young woman, I fled happily to California, to the coast. Golden sunsets and steel guitars. California held me and raised me to adulthood. Adulthood I and II, as Mary Catherine Bateson puts it. Now here I am walking into the next phase of life in this desert.

When I was a young woman the ocean captured me. I didn’t want to leave it. I don’t want to leave it, in fact. That, says the desert-dweller.

I can stand here, looking over fields of Joshua Trees and junipers, across railroad tracks, and far across the eastern edge of the San Gabriels and I can feel the sea breeze.

I can drive a few miles up the mountain and, on a very clear day, see a flash of sun on the Pacific Ocean.

I don’t hate the desert. I rather love it.

The desert has been speaking to me for over 30 years. If I can sit very still, I can hear it whisper a message.

The wind in the creosote is dreamlike, but very real. The underbrush rustles. The forthright calls of the ravens speak to me. Shadows shift with the wind. The dark mountains that surround; those pine trees standing up there on the ridge face me like sentinels. The night birds call all through the summer. Did you know you can hear the desert wind through a Joshua Tree’s tough, spiky leaves?

When I garden, with the sun on my back, I hear the voice of this land. Maybe it sounds crazy, but I don’t care. It’s not crazy. You come out here and stay a while and see what you hear.

owl tree 2

So where does my heart belong?

I can’t seem to get that clear.

When my marriage ended I thought I’d leave the desert as soon as the papers were signed and I did the paperwork that made me sole owner of this property. I was poised to do something with this land and this house and then move on.

I couldn’t. The younger kids needed to be here.

Almost four years have passed and I’m still not clear. The kids are older, even the youngest. I could begin making plans. At least one of those kids would relocate with me.

I’ve made a list. Reasons to stay; reasons to go. But those are not what’s in the heart of me. Those are simply some reasons in my head.

Here’s what overwhelms me, even more than the high desert night sky, which is pretty damn overwhelming. I turn to go and I don’t seem to be able to do it.

I think there are traces of a life I need to walk away from entirely that swirl around me in this desert.

I’m not sure I can do the walking on while I still live in this desert. I didn’t choose this desert; I followed my ex into this place and stayed after he left.

People have told me “embrace it and make it yours.” I’m not sure why, but that always makes me cringe a little. Maybe I don’t want to.


I think there may be too many ghosts of the kind I don’t want to embrace around here.

shack on fifth st baldy mesa_BW7_resize

I need a ghost-broom to chase them away so that I can think with a clear, uncluttered mind.

Meanwhile, I’ll make a break for it, up north, next week with one of my daughters. Let’s see how that feels.

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dry and more dry

Deserts are roughly a quarter of the land on this planet.

They tend to expand at the edges. Currently some of our earthly deserts are expanding.

Would it surprise you to know that roughly 40% of humanity lives in arid or semi-arid regions?

I’ve already talked too much about how, during the Middle Ages, California experienced two serious droughts, lasting 140 years and 220 years.

In the desert Southwest of North America we know that New Mexico experienced a drought that lasted a millennium.

We call these mega-droughts.

Over the last 200 years modern European-Americans who invaded this landscape have been talking like that. We tend to talk like we were the first and only people to inhabit this land. So we’ve carefully gathered scientific data about the medieval mega-droughts from northern California. They encompass a time scale unlike anything we have seen in this modern era. We’re accustomed to freaking out about washing our cars and watering our lawns and how long our showers take during droughts that last a decade, at most.

None of us really can imagine what a drought of 200 years would bring us in terms of lifestyle changes.

We’re living in LaLa Land. We’re drinking up the last of our underground waters. We’d need another Ice Age to replace all those vast aquifers of living Pleistocene water under our feet, under the desert dust.

And it’s not just California.

Several years ago, people who study this stuff saw depletion of surface and groundwater supplies in the north American Southeast. The city of Atlanta, Georgia had a fearfully diminished water supply due to a drought. And satellite photos using ground-penetrating radar has shown global groundwater depletion in Asia, North America, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. If you search it out online, you can see those burning red hotspots of depleting groundwater. Non-renewable groundwater, in most cases.

If there’s no snowmelt or runoff to replenish it, it’s gone. If we’ve built and paved over areas where runoff might pool and sink happily into the ground beneath, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to recharge the waters underground. Maybe it will flow into streams that flow into rivers? Maybe. Or maybe, at least in drylands, it will evaporate on its way across the landscape.

arrastre creek lower

Beneath the driest regions of the Sahara, pollen samples indicate that the land was once tropical savannah and woodlands.

What will those people who dig up past landscapes find beneath their feet in a few hundred years in California?


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poor, poor pitiful, privileged adjuncts

I got into a bit of a lather over this on Facebook. So why stop there?

I read an article by an adjunct about adjuncting from The New Yorker.
It irked me.

Here’s a tiny bit of it:

“The irony of this setup has not escaped me: the adjuncts who teach well despite the low pay and the lack of professional support may inspire in their students a similar passion—prompting them to be financially taken advantage of in turn.”


First let me say that it’s not that hard to talk to students who aspire to a position in academia about this issue. And we should. It’s mis-serving them not to do so.

And I am all for solidarity. I’m a union woman, always have been.

But this article and some others I’m seeing lately disturb me just a little.

It’s not as easy as you might think to stand shoulder to shoulder with colleagues who talk endlessly about how their partners make enough money for a comfortable life but oh the pity of being an adjunct. I don’t want pity; I would like some real job security and some benefits so I don’t have to twitch every time the Republicans start making noises about eliminating Obamacare, my life line, since adjuncts largely aren’t insured (or pensioned, for that matter).

Maybe it’s because I watched my own brilliant, eighth-grade-educated father lift his family out of poverty to a reasonably stable working class life in one generation. I knew who was privileged in my young world and who wasn’t…quite.

Maybe it’s like someone who isn’t in my life anymore told me once: “You’re trying to rise above where you belong, you need a “real” job, this is elitist bullshit you’re trying to imitate.” I didn’t believe him then. I don’t believe him now. Even so, there’s a bit of truth in what he said. There is. I see it in almost every encounter I have with certain tenured professors. Not all, thank goodness, but certain ones.

Maybe I have discovered I enjoy teaching. I enjoy the students. I enjoy research and I enjoy hard work outdoors and in a lab, too. Maybe I know I’m being taken advantage of financially compared to some. And, yes, I do warn students about this potential fate.

Still, maybe I don’t understand the academic world. I probably don’t. I do understand teaching and learning. I do understand that. And I’m one of those adjuncts who, in today’s academic climate looks around and says “at least I have a job doing something I enjoy.”

Is it enough? Financially, no, not really. Security-wise, no, not really. Do I hold out financial hope for myself in the near future in this particular world? No, not really. Yet here I am. There’s a certain contentment in where I am right at this moment. If I have to do something else soon, then I will.

Maybe I should write a damn book.

Maybe I will.


In case you were wondering, these lovely smiling faces are a few of the family, friends, and even former students who sometimes migrate out to Rainshadow Farm for a day of farm-based learning and fun.

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observe and interact

Nearly a year ago, I said I was going to write about permaculture design principles on the farm and in my life. It’s taken me a while because life can eat us up. I’ve been continuing to think about it, though.

Let’s start with permaculture design principle one. Or better, here are all twelve principles:

Observe and interact; catch and store energy; obtain a yield; apply self-regulation and accept feedback; use and value renewable resources and services; produce no wastes; design from patterns to details; integrate rather than segregate; use small and slow solutions; use and value diversity; use edges and value the marginal; creatively use and respond to change.

These principles seem particularly useful in a situation where conditions are normally thought of as unproductive, difficult, and marginal.

Hmm. That sounds like parts of my life as well as this arid farm.

Well, here we go. Observe and interact.

This principle is simple and I can see why practitioners begin with it.

We begin with a simple garden, an herb bed, or even just a tree. We nurture and observe it through the seasons. We see what creatures come and visit it, when, and why. Everything animal, vegetable, mineral is nested in a local ecosystem.

RSF is in a Joshua Tree Woodland/Juniper Woodland ecotone — a place where two ecological communities intersect (or three, if you want to count the Creosote Bush Scrubland).

_rsf venn

That’s our Rainshadow Farm Venn diagram.


Maybe you’re looking at a garden space in rural acreage; maybe it’s in the city; maybe it’s suburban. Wherever you want to plant and grow, it’s wise to get to know your land. Sit with it and listen to it. This is the way that sustainable food systems have been developed for millennia.

How do the elements affect it?

In fact, what are the elements affecting it?

Watch, listen, learn.

What’s a weed and what’s a useful plant? The two can be one. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Learning to walk relationally in an environment, human and other than human, can be liberating.

So. Relationships. With plants. With animals. Landscapes. People.

My marriage had become unsustainable. The sense of relationship was broken beyond repair.

For years, I was like one of the last farmers in the dead part of the central valley. I’d begun with something barely sustainable and I poured on everything in the book for years to try to make things flourish. The ex had checked out years before I realized I was tilling, fertilizing, and watering a dead, used-up, and burnt out landscape.

west cajon 2010

Uh oh. Fire on the tracks.

I spent plenty of time observing and interacting but when I observed I didn’t allow the reality to sink in.

I used heavy machinery (Sometimes therapy. Sometimes Klonopin. Or both.). Which simply eroded the situation even more.

I observed but I didn’t see. In fact, I refused to see.

western central valley saline flats

In the central valley, observation without seeing has produced an agroecological disaster.

In my marriage, observation without seeing…well, you get the point.

Why go down this road?

I’m not the first person to reflect on this: there’s a relationship between the way our world system has treated women and how it treats the environment. In many family systems, there’s a relationship between how wives/partners/mothers are viewed and how the environment is viewed.

It’s not a far stretch to see the similarities between a worn-out, abused landscape and an exhausted, depleted, abandoned partner or mother.

“I don’t love your mother anymore but I still want to see you.”

“You’ve always been the adult here, so you do it.”

“One thing she did well was to be a mother.”

Land as resource pool; woman as resource pool.

Getting back on track. Why go here at all?


I have a farm plan. It contains my heart and soul. A wonderful woman who mentored me helped me design it.

Maybe I should have a relationship plan.

Observe and interact.

Does this sound silly or simple or even funny? Maybe it is. But for me there’s a struggle.

Here’s the problem: I have to make sure I observe and interact with what really is. I bet I’m not the only one.

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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.


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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