hearth fires

I realized today that I haven’t written here in a few days.  Yes, there have been distractions — like my husband’s ankle surgery last Friday, and that addictive vocabulary-building (geek) game on the internet, and, well, Christmas IS coming  —  but mostly it is because I have felt something within me shift.  

I have continued picking up the “All Creation Waits” advent book, sometimes reading several essays in one day, but sometimes letting it go altogether in order to simply be. I suspect that the gift it was to me has already been received, as it repeatedly affirmed for me that my instinctual self knows what she needs, and that I can trust her. I haven’t always listened to that.

In the wake of all that this autumn stripped bare, the whole of my being needed rest, inwardness, loving attention, and solitude, and I took hold of that root, helping myself to its nurture. Yes, there was a moment, during the greatest intensity of my pain, when I was ready to scream out from that place for help, but instead for some reason, listening to my body, I continually, instinctively, returned to the intuition to simply be still. 

Perhaps it is something like the healing of my husband’s bones. Being still when it is time to be still. Moving when it is time to move.

Another realization that has been swirling up into my awareness — like the soft scent of wood smoke, reminding me of the warming fire that burns within my own hearth, even when the outside world is cold– is that I really am fine – all the time.  Yes, there are harsh elements that swirl, reminding me of days when I truly was alone in the cold, wounded, without shelter or nurture or warmth, and sometimes current experiences can make that one inside of me recall the pain of that time as if it is occurring here and now. 

But the truth is, though I will always carry those formative experiences within me, like a tree bears at its core the heartwood that grew strong in being battered by harsh winter winds, I have long since grown strong around , within, and because of those battered places in me. They are my gifts now. My beauty. I am not wounded, I am whole.

I am no longer the Stone Child in need of warming, I am the Dangerous Old Woman, Wild and Wise, knowing what she needs and where/how to find it. I know how to warm her, how to feed her, how to soothe her. How to re-mind her that the story did not end there, nor is it over, but is rich and full and vibrant and intricately layered and blessed. Perhaps I have grown into my “far-sighted” eyes.

Picking up my pen is one way I have learned to attend to her. It is also a way I have learned to listen to my wisdom. Writing is the place where these two in me meet, tend the fire, break bread, have tea. 

Still, today’s chapter in “All Creation Waits” spoke of honey bees, a sisterhood that keeps its members warm throughout the long cold winter by huddling and continually circulating bees from the outside edges of the hive, where they are near to freezing, toward the center, where the beating of wings brings the temperature near the queen to a lusty 92 degrees. 

I have sisters like that too. Sisters whose warmth helps me remember the”strong, delicate, and fierce queen’ that I am. Sisters who remind me of my own inner fire, and who trust that I am capable of tending it. Sisters who also come bearing the tinder they’ve found while tending their own. 

One of them shared this scrap of birchbark today.

which felt like just the warming validation I needed on a day such as this.

So, no, this is not a fierce self-sufficiency or stubborn individuality into which i have retreated and buried my head, but a much softer place than that, one that welcomes not only myself but others who share this terrible-beautiful place we call life, with all of it’s pain and wonder. Many years ago, I dreamt such a place in the woods, next to a stream, my babushka wearing self tending the fire, recieving the weary and sharing tea from my garden.

And now, for you, here is a bundle of tinder, for which I left the hearth, where I sat writing, a minute ago.  See how that works, recirculating this warmth to each other?

One Day When I Was Old
by CP Estés

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years or so old,
I woke up an old woman that morning.
Not quite in body all the way, but close.
And also in mind.

And I thought, “This is good.”
For also, in the face I was changed,
a little bark-chipped and creased,
like a tree long-lived enough
after having been planted so long ago
by some winged bird
accidentally letting fall a semi-sacred seed
into some almost impossible place,
precisely the way most of us came to earth–
unplanned, and yet sticking to the place
where we were dropped,
growing, growing flowers and fruits
set into our DNA–
and this too was good.

I leaned through the window
of my bathroom mirror,
and touched her old, cracked face…
I soothed back her black hair
with fire opals
in its strands of white.

And I saw as I leaned in,
There were permanent diamonds
in her tear ducts,
those gotten from years of use
and pressure in dark places.

And I gazed at the body
she and I share,
and I saw that rubies
had grown into all my cuts
and that tiny mirrors shone
in all my widders and spalls…

and I saw that I was old
and strong
and delicate
and fierce, like a queen
who has ruled the lands within her reach,
not perfectly, but despite brutal winters,
she was still alive,
the heartwood hardened off just enough,
the tender capillaries still able to carry
the juice and the warmth.

And then, twenty-some years later,
I crossed the crone line,
wearing the tissue-paper crown
with the sacred words “Still here,
still standing…”
engraved upon it.

These words of triumph for all of us elders,
these words “Still here… Still standing,”
they’re the ultimate royal “Ha!”,
the ultimate para la vida “Ha!”,
to life, with life, all of life, filled with life.
Us, crossed now, the crone line,
para la vida, filled with life.

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years old or so,
I woke up an old woman that morning.
Not in body quite all the way, but close.
Also in mind, and this was good.
And also in the face I was changed
with all the marks of rings like a tree,
and this too was good.

I looked at my body
and saw that rubies had grown
in all my cuts,
and mirrors shone in all the widders and spalls.
And I saw I was old and strong,
like a queen who had ruled herself
not perfectly, but well.

And I leaned in and touched her old, cracked face,
and I saw the permanent diamonds in her tear ducts
that were gotten from years of hard use
and pressure in dark places.

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years old or so,
I woke up an old woman.
And I have been more and more free
ever since.

And so may it be for you.
And so may it be for me.
And so may it be for all of us.


And as my grandmother used to say,
“Amen… and a little woman.”

“One Day When I Was Old,” a blessing-poem by CP Estés, Copyright ©1990, 2010, All Rights Reserved, including but not limited to electronic, performance, theatrical, musical, graphic, film, commercial, derivitive. Uses: You are welcome to use this blessing poem in non-commercial ways without adding to nor deleting any part, just using the work in its entirety along with author’s name and this copyright notice attached. Thank you. Other permissions: Ngandelman@aol.com

deep calls to deep

The aquariums broke, the waters gushing out over the floor. The emotionless, frozen faces of my mother’s porcelain dolls, propped upright in their high chairs, stared, unflinching, at the inundating overflow.

It was a dream within a dream. In it, I was searching for 2 aquariums to purchase as gifts for 2 young girls, but new aquariums were far too expensive and so I was looking for second hand ones. Finally, throwing my proverbial arms in the air, I said, “What does it matter! They’ll just break anyway” It was then that I ‘saw’, in my dream’s eye, the water pouring from the tanks like water over a dam before unseeing eyes. 

Upon awakening, it occurred to me that I have had the ocean on my mind a lot recently. Or rather, that the ocean has been asserting itself into my mind- a Christmas gift trip to the National Aquarium, along with a few ocean themed books, purchased for my granddaughters, a small salt-water aquarium appearing surprisingly upon my own ‘wishlist’, an impromptu trip to the seashore with my husband before his upcoming surgery. Yesterday, while browsing the shops in this seaside town, it was a puzzle of fishes that drew my eye, and this morning, the chapter in the book I brought with me here told a story of a Selkie, one of those mythical beings who lives as a seal in the ocean, but who, once a month, on full moon, can rise from the waters, take off her sealskin, and dance. 

Similar to mermaids, these beings come onto land at great cost, for if a Selkie’s skin is misplaced or stolen when she has removed it, she cannot return to her life in the sea. Unlike the tale of the Little Mermaid, however, the Selkie of the tale told in this book never longed to be fully human; she was truly at home in her skin. She did not fall in love with the handsome human male and ask to undergo the painful transformation/severing of herself, but instead was tricked into marrying him when he stole her sealskin from the rocks while she was out swimming with her sisters. She had no choice then but to go with him, as he promised only to return her skin to her after she lived with him for 7 years, if she was not happy.  Of course, as these things go, at first the man was kind, and soon she bore him a child, whom she loved dearly.

Still, before long she found herself stealing away to the sea, longing to find her way back to herself.  And as the years went by, she grew increasingly sadder and weaker. Finally, one day her daughter, seeing how frail and empty her mother was becoming, sought the wisdom of the old woman at the edge of the woods, who told the daughter that her mother must help herself, that, though the wise woman knew the healing herbs of the earth, she did not know the ways of the sea. Her mother must somehow get herself to the Old Woman of the World, who lived in the underground cave in the cliffs at the edge of sea.

The daughter returned to her mother with what she had learned and begged her mother to go. In the end, it was the daugther’s anguish at her mother’s despair that finally roused the Selkie to attempt the trip. Weary and feeble, the journey was arduous, stormy, and fraught with peril, and the Selkie almost abandoned hope along the way.

Until one day, near the edge, it seemed she heard singing, a vibration coming from deep within the earth. Following the resonance, she descended the edge of the cliff, and beneath the water found the entrance to the cave of the Old Woman, who revived her to her previous vitality with a nourishing drink of medicinal sweetness from her cauldron, which contained all the herbs and seeds of the world. Then the Old Woman instructed her on where she must go and what she must do to find her way home.

So, the selkie woman boarded a curragh and rowed across the sea to an island, where, as the Old Woman had foretold, within its center cave lay the dead bodies and skinned hides of her slain sisters, victims of a seal hunt. At last, Selkie mourned… and mourned, singing the songs of lament she had been taught to sing by the Old Woman…..until the bodies of her dead sisters reformed. That is, all but one, whose skin the Selkie, with deep sadness and reverence, took to her breast, inhaling the familiar scent of her long lost sister.

Before donning the skin, however, the Selkie knew that she must go to her daughter, for whom she made the long journey back across the sea. Upon their reunion, however, her daughter somehow understood that her mother must go, that there was ‘something so deeply a part of her nature that she must not resist it- the need to find her element, to find her place, to find her home’ . And so Selkie slipped the young skin of her sister atop of her old, life-experienced bones and disappeared beneath the waves.

Selkie returns to her daughter once a year, but her daughter can see that she is different somehow. She is at peace. She is herself. Selkie comes to tell her daughter the stories and teach her to sing the songs of the sea, the songs that will call her kin, the songs of mourning, the songs that will take her soul home.

The last line of the story, as told in the book, is this one

 “All mourning will be transformed into joy, if you have endurance enough to make the journey, and courage enough to face the Old Woman in the cave’

If Women Rose Rooted, Sharon Blackie

And so I wonder. This call to the water in me.

This call to soul in me

As I think back on these years, and the times I have professed to be weary, the ways that I have bit-by-bit adapted to living here on the surface, the times I have said aloud, the words, that I would ‘go back for her one day’, after the years of childrearing were completed. I wonder if I relinquished that journey too soon, when it became too difficult, if I turned back too soon, my fear of abandoning loved ones keeping me from following that call.

I wonder if a soul is that slippery, that one can lose it so.

I think about my lost youth and the ways I likely have never completely sung the songs of mourning, not wanting to admit that anything was lost—for to do so would have meant, somehow, that the life I had ‘landed’ upon instead was unworthy. I think of being a young girl, naïve, never suspecting that there are those who would take what doesn’t belong to them, what I didn’t even know was steal-able.

I think about how rich (and also scary) my life was when I went diving in those depths a decade or so ago, when my grief ripped open the door to that cave and thrust me into its arms in such a manner that I could not hold up my usual shields to cover its vastness. I think of the ways that I feel like myself, ‘at home in my skin’, when I am ‘out there’ in my place of belonging. I think about the pain that both distracts me and beckons me. I think of my daughter’s anguish, my mother’s emptiness. I think about the years of surviving that and what it has done to my energy.

I think about those aquariums unable to contain it all, the unseeing eyes of my mother’s dolls, my own sense of uselessness. I think about a being of such vastness encaged within glass. I wonder if its a good thing that I realize they will break. 

I think about my deep sorrows and griefs, this recently opened new/old sorrow in me, its invitation, if I let it be one, if I let it carry me out to sea, in my boat, if I let myself swim in those depths, if I let my voice sing.

The songs it knows how to sing.

muskrat love

muskrat pushups on frozen pond

I am seated in the suite of a seaside bed and breakfast, next to a window where, last evening, horse-drawn carriages carried their soothing rhythm to my ears as they carried their blanket-clad guests past our door. Its blustery out there this morning, so now I am appreciating the creamy cup of coffee brought to me by my husband. Escaping for an impromptu getaway, before his upcoming corrective ankle surgery, we are simply relaxing here and now. Yesterday afternoon, we walked the beach, reveling in the vicarious joy we experienced watching a dozen wetsuit-clad surfers delight in the dusky high tide, then basked in the fuchsia sunset that set the sky afire and turned the waters pink.  Being with that intersection of water and sky suggested to me sitting next to an Algonquin lake, evoking similar feelings of peace in me.

This was the first Don has been able to walk on sand since I have known him, so the surgeries are, in the end, a positive thing. It’s just we both are weary, and the recovery from this second ankle’s reconstruction, two years ago, has been so problematic and unpredictable. We don’t know from one day to the next whether he will be in so much pain that he cannot bear weight on his foot or will be trucking along at a pace, to which I have to push on my shorter legs to keep up. Occasional drugs have been a life saver- in the wilderness far from home, or in the wilderness within him when the pain seems frightening.  Currently, the thought isthat there has possibly been an infection in it all along, which flares fromtime to time. The doctors are going in to clean it out and remove the possiblycontaminated hardware.

We are hopeful.

Additionally, this trip has been a respite for me, a breather so to speak, from the time I have been spending inside—inside my home, industriously building my winter’s nest (which went directly from the bedroom remodel project of the fall to the bringing in of the winter greens), and inside of my self, plumbing the depths of this recently opened chasm in me.

Muskrat’s come up for breathers too.  From beneath the frozen-over pond, they surface into conical ‘push-ups’ they have crafted for themselves with sticks poked up through the ice. There, they rest for a bit from the work of gathering  enough food from the bottom to fire their little bodies, a continuous and daily task throughout the long winter for them-.  Inside those push-ups they also welcome others, for the shared warmth provided to shivering bodies, huddled together to survive the cold. Sometimes they’ll even take nurture from the walls of those structures.

I too require such moments of shared nurture and reprieve, from these industrious days of searching the depths of my soul for the nurture that can only be garnered from the bottom of my being,  far beneath the sudden cold that descended upon me a few weeks ago.  As when gazing out upon a frozen pond, it may appear to the outside world that nothing much is happening within this interior world of mine, in which I have been encased, but this has been lifesaving and restorative work.

So, up from those dark depths I rise- for a visit with a friend, a walk in the woods, a long phone call, or an impromptu trip to the sea with my love- for nurture and warmth. Huddled with a fellow being who will share this space with me, one who is equally grateful for the warmth and nurture- these tender shoots I have drug up from the bottoms, with which I have crafted this shelter –  as I am of theirs, we are revived.

the wisdom of the body, turtle

This advent, I’ve chosen to follow along with the musings of Gayle Boss in her book entitled, All Creation Waits. Its theme of attending to the ancient wisdoms of the natural world during this season suits my sensibilities about wanting to listen to my instinctual self,  in attunement with nature, its rhythms and relationships. The first entry in the book is about sister Turtle. That seems to affirm the rightness of this invitation, for me.

Did you know that as Turtle’s body goes into hibernation in the pond’s bottom, her breathing stops completely, and that, just like you and me when our bodies are depleted of oxygen, lactic acid builds and burns in her muscles— including her heart muscle? Did you also know that in order to neutralize that acid in her bloodstream, her body draws the element of calcium from her bones, then from her shell, dissolving that hardness?

While I think I understood that a hibernating turtle’s body slowed down to the point of seeming death, I did not know that she used her shell in this way.  I have always admired that shell, beyond the evident use for retreat and protection, for the way Turtle can be at home no matter where She goes, carrying her belonging with her. Now I have one more gift to open from this friend of mine.

Anyway, I found the words the author chose to sparkle on the page, and so I plucked a few diamonds from those sentence strands and strung them with a few of my own pearls into the semblance of a poem. It speaks to me deeply of the idea that all that I am, and all that I have become – the ways I have grown resilient and strong, along with the inner world I have built – are available to me now for healing, as I burrow into my own roots , deep into the muck, from which all pond blossom’s emerge, and dissolve some of the hardness that has helped me to survive the cold.

responding to an ancient bell, 
you take a breath,
dive deep,
thru murky waters, clogged with roots,
burrowing beneath

the weight of frigid waters beg
instinctual withdrawal
a body buried in the muck
survives a cold like that
slowed beyond a breath
when breathing is impossible
the pain within your heart demands
utter stillness, quietude
while howling squalls batter
you wait below the noise
your very structure comes undone
 hardness is dissolved

to neutralize accumulated
acid in your heart
 the very thing you need to thrive
your elemental self

inland sea of grass


It’s not personal, it’s just what human incarnation is –

a weaving together of joys and sorrows,

beginning and endings,

woven together in a fabric

of appearance and disappearance

 Jack Kornfield

Unfortunately, (surrogate) relationships will never cover the emptiness that is left from inadequate mothering. To heal, the mother wound needs to be fully mourned. – Rachel Negar Partiali, “The Unmothered Child’

It is too painful so we look away, but the first step in healing is to see the wound. It’s not just enough to remember, we have to re-Member, reclaim the lost members of the family. -Robin Wall Kimmerer, Tallgrass

An inland sea of grass, she said

Whispering song when gales gust, absorbing fury

spinning it into dance, graceful waves to ride.

An inland sea of grass

capable of surviving drought, its mat – a sponge absorbing nutrients,

transforming earth to shelter, 

roots so deep they would not be cut — until the blade of steel at last was wielded 

An inland sea of grass,

misunderstood and undervalued,

her richness begs a closer look,


for the subtler treasure that she harbors,

refuge for the multitudes,

An inland sea of grass

capable of inhaling toxins,

exhaling purity

Like those prayers that once I breathed,

which came like instinct to my lungs,

inhaling pain, exhaling love.

And inland sea of grass

giver of life

mender of soil

holder of seed

An inland sea of grass,

nearly laid to waste

less than 1 percent of what she was.

And yet, and yet,

And yet she is not barren,

nor is she empty,

or dead

her seeds are still alive,

the remnant root awaits

in you,

in me

in Her

sodding, seeding , burning , weeding

we can stitch her back together.

pull her from the brink

reweave her tapestry

An inland sea of grass,

within you,

within me

neither ravages of fire,

nor gale

nor drought

can destroy x��Fp한�\ e

the very structure that supports me

image by Katie M Berggren https://shop.kmberggren.com/Vibrant_Health_mother_hugging_child_print_p/vibranthealth.htm

This morning’s self-healing message arrives again in an image, this time a painting of a mother cradling her child, enwrapping her in love. I came upon it while scrolling for a gift for a sister-friend, whose child is hurting. Suddenly I notice that this feels abit like the exercise I used to lead at retreats, where you flip through pages of a magazine, letting the images choose you, tearing them from the magazine without forethought or calculation. In the end you have a stack of messages from your soul to your self, for the soul speaks in image.

Like yesterday’s image of the Beloved – the mother earth of my heart’s home- this one caused me to stop scrolling at once. To pause and remember. To notice the deep feelings and memories it instantly evoked.

Mother Mary Love. Protective Love. Nurturing Love. Tender Love. Forever Love.

My home was once filled with such images – photographs, paintings, sculptures – of humans, but mostly mothers, tenderly holding another. I had an entire coffee table book of them- images of Love. They hung in a gallery on my wall. One greeted each visitor who graced my foyer. I carried a miniature in my pocket, like a touchstone, to finger as a reminder – of the way I was to be held. The way I should have been held. The way I’d longed to be held.

That kind of love was first awakened in me with the births of my own children, the overwhelming feeling of falling in love flooding my being with light — me writing love letters to the doctors who delivered them, thanking them for the gift, after the deaths of the others.

Several weeks ago, when the news came crashing down upon me about my mother’s final rejection of me, I’d had tentative plans to go weekend backpacking in the snow, a new venture for me with new friends. When they’d asked and I’d said yes, I’d missed noticing a granddaughter babysitting date on the calendar, of which I could have asked to be relinquished, and the parents would have done so with grace, but in the end, I needed the human touch of the familiar (notice the root, family, as in belonging to one, in that word) more than I needed to test my capacity to survive in another cold shelter.  I needed the warmth of love—both to BE love and to be encompassed by it.  The following week, there were 2 childcare dates on the calendar, slow, quiet, connective inside days…. coloring, reading, building puzzles, playing board games.  

My sons’ and daughter’s hearts opening to hold me in their love was another sort of encompassing embrace, in which I’ve wrapped myself. The day of my mother’s funeral, I found my body carrying me to stand in their encircling presence… a blanket and a shield of love. They’ve brought to me laughter in group text conversations, when all I wanted to do was cry.   In a heartfelt conversation last week with one of my sons, he filled my heart with goodness, like fresh air rushing in a deep breath, pushing out the stale, the toxic, to be exhaled at last. Listening to love songs with another son, preparing for his wedding day mother-son dance, the vibrations of love flowed through my nerve endings from head to toe.

It’s hard for me to understand why my mother didn’t feel that way for me. This is the endless, unanswered question of my adulthood. This is the searching the photographic record for clues, this is the piecing together the puzzle of her life story, this yearning to know what went wrong between us.  Unable to comprehend, there remains the nagging primal root that whispers to me that I was the one at fault.  I suppose this is a human response to random suffering in life, to those things, which are out of our control, that besiege us. We try to construct a scenario by which we would’ve been safe from harm.  If only we had done this instead of that, been there instead of here, kept the doors locked, worn the right clothes, not lifted that heavy garage door, kept our eyes more trained upon our child, not uttered the rage-inducing word…. as if we behaved absolutely perfectly, did and said all the right things at the right time in the right way, we would be safe.

We would be loved.

It wasn’t until I was 40 years old, in a healing therapeutic relationship with a tenderhearted woman, that I understood love from an adult that was not about me being perfect in order to earn it.  I’d been shamed. I’d been put on a pedestal. I’d been measured. I’d been objectified. I’d been desired. I’d been possessed. I’d been controled.  Recently, I’ve been recalling the long walk I took the night my first husband left me, questioning myself, wondering why I wasn’t able to receive the love he’d said he once had for me. Even then, I thought something was broken inside of me.  The words I clearly heard in response, ‘It was not LOVE you were receiving”. But it was what I had learned love felt like.

This last year of my mother’s life, I was right back there, hoping to earn her love, or at least her positive regard, at last– the little girl in me still whispering the words she longed to hear, after the door had closed on the darkness— but that door remained forever closed.  Yes, my actions and intentions were authentic– understanding and forgiveness, tenderness, empathy, compassion– but it seems some part of me was secretly hoping a small measure might be reciprocated. Some tenderness bestowed…..at last.

That same oxytocin bath perhaps that I referred to in yesterday’s post, in naming the feeling flooding through me when gazing upon photographs of my beloved Algonquin Park?  Perhaps I need a bolus of that.  Do they package that stuff? Could I fill my tub with it, immerse myself, let it soak into my bones until Love is the very structure that supports me.

The very structure that supports me.

The very structure that supports me.

The very structure that supports me.

May this be my prayer.

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