We cannot hide at Grandma's house

As I write this, I find myself terrified. Excited, yes, but incredibly terrified.

I am buying a house all by myself on a salary with which I can barely make ends meet (the danger of working for a non-profit). No backups. No safety nets. No second income. No roommates.

Just me.

There are times, as I run from one room to another, packing furiously, that I feel I will explode from the worry, from the fear. Can I do this? Can I even make the one step it will take to sign that last contract? Can I even make it as far as to just finish packing and truck everything over there?

Funnily enough, by the time you read this, I'll be well-settled into my house. I realize all of this will be over. I might even feel like laughing that I ever felt so afraid.

In fact, I'm counting on that.

In my youth, this kind of fear would signal to me that it was time to run - or at the very least, hide. I would've assumed the fear was a sign that things were wrong, that I was going down the wrong path.

Now, I see that I have never grown in significant ways without doing something that scared the you-know-what out of me. I have never changed without the rug being pulled out from under me, without doubting that I was ready to make a change, without jumping off the edge and into what scares me most.

I still hate that that's true. Will the next 40 years also be full of nausea-inducing choices to grow, versus the relative ease of complacency? Will I have to face this fear again and again and again?

I wish it weren't so, but I think I probably will. It's the Big Bad Wolf waiting for me in my dark forest. I just want to arrive at Grandma's house, safe and sound, but in truth, there's no end, there's no destination. There's only the twisting, winding pathways leading us through the woods, where all the scariest creatures await us.

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So, I press on. I know better now than to run. The fear, like a bear, will only run after me, and eventually overtake me. So I might as well face it, trembling, holding on to my lantern. Once I've looked it in the face, I know it's not going to be half as scary as I thought. And once I've danced with it for a little while, it's going to become easier and easier, pressing me to meet the next creature that awaits me.

I suppose that's the best gift we get out of all of these risks, all of these moments of facing our fears - we realize, simply, that we can survive it, which gives us the courage to try again, to reach even further.

Scared as I am, I cannot wait to see who I become after I settle into home ownership. That's a big manifestation in the physical realm. What's going to come to help me support that?

I am terrified…but jubilant with excitement, waiting to find out.

Where you can be yourself

A few weeks ago, I was at an event hosted by a local non-profit that works to get school-aged children out of the classroom and into the forest to experience more hands-on education. There's a lot of emerging research indicating that youth learn better in the outdoors and retain more information when education is more physical, more hands-on. (As you can probably imagine, this doesn't surprise me in the least.)

  Copyright 2017 Yancy Lael

Copyright 2017 Yancy Lael

During the event, a kindergarten teacher began talking about the positive experience she was having with her class during their outdoor education days each month. She had a whole list of anecdotal evidence to share that made her believe the experience was worth pursuing, but one of the things she mentioned really struck a chord with me. She said that one of her students told her something like (you know, the kindergarten version of this): "I feel like I can finally be myself when I'm out in the forest."

When I heard this, it gave me the chills. I hadn't really put it into words before, but this is exactly what I feel like when I'm out in the woods. Finally, I understand what drove me to seek out those wild refuges! And of course, it was a 6-year-old who put it to words. Leave it to a kindergartner to put complicated truths into simple words and in the process, solve all the worlds problems.

The greatest privilege of being in the wild world is that we get to connect with our own wildness (which is what we really are, after all). We get so caught up in the myths we've created around being humans that we forget we are still part of the kingdom Animalia, the genus Mammalia. We are animals, belonging to the forest, the desert, the mountains, the rivers.

Out there in the woods, I never have to worry about how I look. I don't worry about the rituals of mating that we single gals think about so often. I don't have to put on makeup. I don't have think about whether or not my face is bent at an angle that's unattractive so someone standing across from me. I don't even have to wash my hair. I can lie in the dirt and stare up at the sky through the canopy of branches and experience one of the greatest freedoms I have ever enjoyed: Not thinking about whether or not I'm attractive enough to catch a man's eye.

Out there in the woods, I can sing. I don't censor myself and my love of music comes spilling out. I hum as I'm walking, I sing softly while sitting by the creek, I even call out loud tunes from the top of the hill to see if I can make an echo of song in the fields below me. I don't mind so much when I miss a note (which happens a lot). I don't worry that someone will walk in, see how much energy I'm giving to my song, and laugh at me for being so dramatic. I just sing and I know the squirrels, the vines, the owls, love to hear these melodies.

Out there in the woods, I can just be myself. I don't have to impress anyone. I don't have to worry about saying the right thing, about having good manners, about keeping the peace or being "spiritual." I can take in every sight, every sound, every texture and engage fully with what's around me, barely spending a second thinking about my deadlines, my obligations, the social missteps I made in the past week. I don't have to worry about investing or working out or saying just the right thing at the right moment. Everything I do in the woods is the right thing in the right moment. There's no judgment from the flowers, the deer. There's no one measuring my progress, asking for goal charts, demanding more growth and improvement. I am what I am in that moment and what I am is perfect.

The woods demand nothing of me. The woods take nothing from me. The woods embrace me - not imperfections, and all, but me, as a whole, with no judgment. There's no such thing as "imperfections." I'm just a set of patterns, fractals, elements, observations, pulses, and movements, just like every other living creature out there. We are, all of us, together, one.

I can be myself out in the woods. And what greater gift is there than that?

Reading the Land

My first boyfriend was obsessed with a series of fantasy novels whose name I can no longer recall. He identified so strongly with the protagonist that he insisted everyone call him by that name instead of the one he was given. When we began dating, he said I was just like the female lead character. The girl in the story was a scryer - she threw stones and was able to find hidden answers in the patterns they made.

At the time, my boyfriend did not know what an intuitive I considered myself to be, how much I believed in magic, or even that I read tarot cards for fun. I found it incredibly affirming that he associated me, early on in the relationship, with someone who had such a strong connection to nature and such deep, intuitive insight.

As the years have gone by, I forgot about that book, about that character. My attention was caught again and again by other things.

Walking through the same woodland for 25 years, my artist's eye starting noticing the contrast between the different colors of bushes and bark. I became entranced with the dances the long grasses made when the wind blew. I especially loved textures and patterns - the way dead rabbitbrush would fan and flatten as it died, lying there alongside elegant twists and turns of living branches, or the delicious, slightly fuzzy bark that would peel away from the trunks of juniper trees.

  Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

I delighted in all of this, always wishing I could capture the beauty with more than just my camera.

And then one day, I read a blog post written by the luminous Sylvia Lindsteadt. She compares the detritus that washes up from the sea to runes and speaks about the secret language of the land that is hidden in these seemingly random items, in the patterns made by sea and sand.

I began to think about the patterns that, at one time I simply noticed, and that now I seek out - the random bone left behind by a coyote, the deer trails that crisscross the woods, the tiny, fluffy owlet feathers that still seem to appear in the most random places.

  Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

While I am glad to notice these things just to appreciate their beauty, what if there is more to our interaction than that? What if these are the runes of the land? What if these are the stones that we scry with? What if these items, these seemingly random placements and patterns, are not at all random? What if they are telling a very specific story of the land around us? What if those stories have instructions for us, information that could help us navigate through our own woodland (or seascape, or desert, or…)?

If we listen, if we read the runes, the stones, the bones, the feathers…what would they tell us?

Pay Attention

It always surprises me how challenging it can be to do the simplest thing - like pay attention to what's going on around me. Were we always this distracted?

I get thrown off by my cell phone dinging. I lose my focus when loud cars roll by or people spill into the office, talking loudly. I fall back into old habits of rushing not even always realizing that I'm doing it.

I'm trying to take a slower, more deliberate pace, especially at this time of year, when work is so stressful. I make time to write down my tasks in a date book every day, to help me focus on what I'm doing and where I'm going. I try to force myself to take breaks and to focus on taking care of my body.

Nevertheless, the rush creeps in. Just last weekend, as I was wandering the woods, looking for my owlets, I realized I was crashing through the brush at a rushed pace. Why on earth was I was going so fast?

Habit. Pure and simple. When I walk, I usually walk for fitness and am focused on what I have to get done when my walk is over.

But that's not the case when I'm owling.

  Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

I had to remind myself to slow down. I had to remember that I can't find those precious little creatures unless I walk very slowly and listen for their soft calls. I have to pay attention to every little thing around me.

I have to take notice of the magpies flying above. The way the wind is blowing. I have to look so carefully in the trees and listen with deep concentration so I can hear the owls' squawks.

All of this is a necessary reminder.

My bicycle commuting used to be this touchstone of focus for me. I can remember writing blog posts about how much bicycling slowed down my attention and helped me to appreciate the trees and flowers, how it allowed me to notice such "small" things like a beetle crossing the road - something I never would have seen from a car.

But all these years later, in another town, at a much faster pace, I have lost this sense of attention when I'm bicycling. I'm moving too fast. Hurrying too much. Trying to avoid the traffic, trying to get to work on time.

So now I must re-learn this lesson from the owls. Stop. Listen. Look around. Pay attention.

As I reminded myself of this last weekend, I stumbled upon a bush that was surrounded with owl feathers. I stopped, realizing my little owls had been there, probably not so long ago. My focus deepened, instantly.

Looking up for more clues, I found myself almost face-to-face with one of the owls. Right there. So close.

It took me several more minutes to realize that his sister was sitting right next to him, concealed by a branch. And another several minutes to notice his other sister just across the path from me.

There are a lot of things in life that sit quietly in the trees, waiting for us to notice them. It can be hard to see them. Hard to hear them. But if we remember to be deliberate and focused, we will take notice of the clues.

Go slowly. Listen deeply. Look closely.

Pay attention.

Fledgling

I find that there is no more dramatic, tragic, or triumphant stage in all this world than nature. Spending time outside feeds my soul in every way. I couldn't love it more.

I try to spend a good portion of the weekend outdoors - especially in places that are a little bit wild. That is mostly accomplished by visiting my mom's ranch, just outside of time. Forty beautiful, slightly secluded acres that are regularly visited by deer, skunks, badgers, owls, ducks, snakes, and coyotes. Even an occasional cougar.

  Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael, 2017

For the past several years, there has been a Great Horned Owl living on the property. With my love of owls, I often take sunset walks around the property with my camera, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

This year, my job was made easier by the fact that the owl found a mate and they have regularly made appearances near - and sometimes even on (landing on the rooftop) - the house. It's such a delight to see these powerful, beautiful birds swoop down from the trees just outside the window or to hear them hooting once the sun goes down.

A few days ago, my brother made a discovery: the owl couple had a baby.

What a wonderful surprise! Honestly, is there anything cuter than an owlet?

I heard the owls calling on Saturday morning and went out to see if the baby was up and about. I wanted to see her with my own eyes. As I approached the pond, the mother owl swooped down and landed on a fence post right in front of me. I was shocked - and so was she when she realized she had landed right in front of me. She immediately flew away and I laughed because she had come to sit right next to a plastic owl that we installed years ago to scare away the real owls and keep them from killing the ducks.

Whoops. I realized suddenly that it wasn't a plastic owl sitting there. It was the owlet!

I watched her throughout the day, stumbling around on the ground, trying to fly. Her parents swooped down on either side of her whenever she seemed to be in distress. At one point, she made herself a little bed in the grass near a fence and spent the better part of the day there. Her mother sat on the fence post almost the entire time, her head bent down, watching her little one. It was so sweet.

When I checked on Sunday, the owl family was gone. Back to their nest, I assume, with their little fledgling, who only has a little more time with her parents. Soon, she will be on her own, probably leaving the property and looking for her own territory.

The parallels between this journey and my own are clear. I'm in a state of fledge right now, too. I already have my own nest, but my nests have always belonged to someone else (meaning, I've always been a renter). I'm about to leave the nest I'm in and truly find my own territory.

But I think of those owls and how Mother Owl sat with her baby all day long, staring at her, making sure she was not disturbed, making sure she was safe from harm. We all have that force of protection in our lives. We may leave the nest, but we'll always be watched over.

When I think of the dangers that little creature faces - the neighbor's violent dog, coyotes, hawks, rattlesnakes . . . It's a miracle she was hatched from her little egg, and a miracle she made it to 9 or 10 weeks. It's a miracle she left the nest, not quite able to fly. It's a miracle that she's climbing fences and trees and building her leg and wing muscles. It's a miracle that she has gotten this far and that someday - very soon - she will be one of the most powerful predators in the area.

Life is holding her, taking care of her, like it does for all of us. Even when we leave the nest and have to establish our own territory. Our protector is watching from above.

I know exactly how I got here

When I was 10, my parents decided to write book under a pseudonym - my first name and an ancestral surname. When I saw the name Yancy on their business cards above the word "writer," I knew with every fiber of my being that I was going to be a writer. I started my first novel the same weekend their business cards arrived.

I know exactly how I got here.

I wrote novels longhand in spiral bound notebooks all during my teenage years - because back in those days, families were lucky to have one computer for everyone. We had to share. It was easier - and more private - for me to write my romantic novels and mysteries in my notebooks, dreaming about becoming a famous novelist someday.

I know exactly how I got here.

  Copyright: C. Martin, 2016

Copyright: C. Martin, 2016

My uncle gave me his old laptop - a funny name for the machines they had back then, which were really just smaller desktop models that weighed 20 pounds and only had one purpose - word processing. But hey, that was fine with me. It was all I needed. I started writing dozens of new novels on that machine, looking for the one that would capture my attention long enough for me to finish it.

I know exactly how I got here.

In the mid-90's, I was fortunate enough to get a real desktop computer of my own, which changed the game, entirely. Suddenly, with the speed of typing, I could pump out 10 pages a day if I was disciplined enough. I wrote three novels on that computer, certain that they would bring me the kind of publishing contract and  public recognition I was looking for.

I know exactly how I got here.

Oh, did I mention I almost never sent out queries to publishers? I was too scared for that. It felt so vulnerable to share my work with them. What if they thought I was a stupid, naïve little girl? (Well, I was.) I couldn't bear the thought. So my writing remained a secret from the world.

I know exactly how I got here.

In 2007 or 08, I took a big leap and decided to join all the other green bloggers around the world. A Green Spell was born and I was hooked. I made so many wonderful friends through blogging - some I'm happy to say I am still in contact with today. It was another world, back then - blogging was such an exciting platform for creativity and personal connection. Not so saturated as it is today. I loved it.

I know exactly how I got here.

In 2010, I took another leap and began selling the beauty products I had made to heal my skin. It was a big departure from the career in writing I had always wanted. But I enjoyed every second of it. There weren't nearly as many green bath and beauty vendors as there are today and people took notice of the care I put into my products. My shop and its blog, Five Seed (named after one of the streets in The Poison Box's fictional town, Salome - a novel I had abandoned by then), soon eclipsed A Green Spell, forcing me to put more and more of my time and attention there. Eventually, I knew I had to say goodbye to A Green Spell, a decision that was very difficult for me, but I was relieved to have more time to spend on Five Seed.

I know exactly how I got here.

It didn't take long for the market to become saturated with organic bath and body products. Competition became a genuine problem. And when a certain small business platform rolled out new policies barring natural beauty sellers from any mention of herbs, their history, and/or their healing properties, I was essentially put out of business. Sales went from the hundreds to less than ten in six weeks' time. Maybe there was a Plan B that I didn't see at the time, but I must have been pretty burned out because I let that disappointment end my business. And I can't say I'm sorry about it.

I know exactly how I got here.

The end of selling beauty products pushed me into another kind of production that I hadn't previously planned on: sharing the story of how I healed my skin. It started out as an idea for my blog, and then became a pamphlet. The pamphlet soon evolved into a book. Over 200 pages of what I had learned about skincare. The original plan was to make it into a PDF - and I had no idea how to sell something like that. But I soldiered on. I was quickly led to the world of self-publishing and my book became not only a Kindle book, but a real, full-fledged, paperback, as well.

I know exactly how I got here.

Suddenly, holding that paperback in my hands, I realized I had come full circle. I was finally an author.

I know exactly how I got here.

The next few years were filled with writing more books. Next came The Paris Diaries and Dear Me. I resurrected The Poison Box (to my delight) and then published Being Beautiful. As soon as Being Beautiful was finished, I knew I was done with my beauty books. I had been working on a huge series of beauty books prior to that, but I scrapped all those projects without a second thought. I knew what I wanted - I remembered what I wanted. And that's what I needed to put my energy toward.

I know exactly how I got here.

But the problem of my website still remained. After Five Seed closed, I made the quick and simple decision to set up a website under my own name: yancylael.com. That way, people could easily find me if they wanted to learn more about my writing. But I had to say goodbye to my old audience. Most were not interested in following me. I had gone from a natural beauty expert and product provider to a writer. A big leap for them. For me, though, I was just getting back to my roots.

I know exactly how I got here.

I started to notice that people were less engaged once I became yancylael.com. Was it because my name didn't evoke anything for them? Because I didn't have any cute titles like Five Seed or A Green Spell anymore? Because people weren't really sure what, exactly, I did?

I know exactly how I got here.

It didn't help, I'm sure, that I had a brief couple of years, during the promotion of Soulful Skincare and Being Beautiful, that I did beauty coaching and intuitive healing. I'm sure that had people a little confused. Was I a writer or. . . ?

I know exactly how I got here.

In the past year, I have tried to develop my website brand by calling myself what I am: a storyteller. Yet still, I feel a disconnect. Like something is not quite getting across. I often get the nudge that I have to perhaps remove Yancy Lael the writer from Yancy Lael the blogger, the seeker, the creative. As in, one site for publishers, for clients, for people looking for my books. And one site for people who want to connect more deeply with me and my stories and art. Perhaps I do need that website name that evokes something in others. Perhaps I do need to look in another direction.

I know exactly how I got here.

I believe in letting the wild world dictate what it wants. I believe in letting gardens find their own way to beauty and abundance. Hell, I wrote a whole book about leaving your skin alone and letting it finds its own way to health and beauty. Now how do I find that for my career? How do I let it go and let it find its wildness, what it wants to be?

I know exactly how I got here. But I'm not quite sure - yet - where I'm going.

Wildfires & Bonfires

I have spent the past few weekends helping my brother clear out the fire hazards at our mother's ranch. We live in an area extremely prone to wildfires and we all take that risk very seriously. One of the things we do in the spring is rake up all the pine needles, broken branches, and other flammable yard debris and we burn what we can and drop the rest off at the landfill, for chipping.

  Copyright 2017, Yancy Lael

Copyright 2017, Yancy Lael

As I was out raking, pulling in more material to throw into the burn pile behind me, I thought about how much we depend on our management of the land. It wasn't always this way - the land used to be free to manage itself (which it did quite well). It let the fires sweep across its plains, its forests. There was a reason for those fires - they cleared underbrush and other plant life that was competing with established trees. It was a clearing out that made room for other life to succeed.

We don't tend to be too keen to let Mother Nature manage herself on her own, anymore. We have our cars, our homes, the roots we have almost literally put into the earth. We don't want the wildfires to sweep through our land. So we do our best to control that.

Nevertheless, things happen. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. And yes, those fires sometimes rip through the land, despite our best efforts. As my brother and I threw branches and pine needles into the fire, we talked about our own hurricanes and wildfires - broken relationships, recent disappointments, and all the new growth that was coming into our lives.

I wondered, though: Who was the keeper, the watcher of these wildfires and everything that came after them? Who held and protected the voles, the badgers, the deer, when fire ripped through their land? Who held my brother's hand or mine when the fires swept into our lives? Who is watching us? Who is protecting us?

And of course, it was just the right weekend to be around a bonfire what with today being Beltane Eve. Just the right weekend to be pondering the protective mother energy of this universe and all the new life and new growth springing up around us.

I feel so certain that there is someone or something that holds on to us during the wildfires. We are protected through the burn. We often can't see until later how much good the fire will do for us.

And now…spring is here. It's the time of year when we'll start to see the new life springing up in the areas that were burned. We'll start to notice that yes, someone was holding us through that entire process (even if that process lasted many years - or even a decade or two) and just waiting excitedly to show us what was going to spring up from the ashes.

We are always held. Always protected. Always blessed.

Even in the fire.

The Terror and the Beauty

There is a place about 20 miles north of here that I have always loved to visit. A 300-foot gorge cuts through the earth from west to east with the beautiful Crooked River twisting through its base. For 25 years, I have passed over the Crooked River Bridge that spans this gorge on road trips and visits to Jefferson County. This place inspired me so much that when the vision of Salome (the setting of The Poison Box) came to me, one of the first things I saw was a 300-foot gorge cutting through town with the Two Thieves River running at its base and a beautiful, tall bridge spanning its width.

  Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

There is a raw beauty to this landscape, both the real one and the fictional one. Steep sides covered with brush and boulders, rushing water at the bottom, running on for miles and miles…

And each place has a dark history - from the young man who threw himself over the edge of the gorge in Salome to the dozens of men who fell to their deaths while constructing the Crooked River Bridge. There are even signs all over the area overlooking the Crooked River Gorge, stating that hundreds of dogs have leapt to their deaths, not realizing there was a 300-foot drop on the other side of the short wall, and reminding visitors to please keep their dogs on a leash to prevent such a tragedy.

Even in its beauty, the landscape is full of peril. Even in its grandeur, there lurks danger and even death.

Just as in life.

Over the past few months, several friends of mine - people in their 20's and 30's - have fallen gravely ill. Just like that. Out of the blue. Beautiful, healthy, young people stricken with health crises that are mostly attributed to people much more advanced in age.

A young man in our community was recently killed in a freak automobile accident. He was 18. We had just attended his graduation ceremony two months before. He was just beginning his life.

And then there are my own freak accidents - injuries and issues that popped up out of nowhere that violently shook my life or brought it to a near complete standstill.

But somehow, there is still beauty in it all. The danger, the threat, the risk cannot displace or diminish the beauty of the human spirit. The friends who weather their hospital stays with grace, who courageously cut off all their hair and keep their hearts open and soft even in the face of terrifying uncertainty. The community members who come together to honor a lost member. The family who stands together, hand-in-hand, to weather one of the greatest losses they will ever endure.

Each person, each soul, cuts their way through this world. We all leave our mark, somehow, just like the Crooked or Two Thieves rivers cut through the earth. In that beautiful way we make our mark, we also somehow find that we cannot escape the vulnerability of being human.

And the realization that that vulnerability is also beautiful in its own way.

Terrifying, but beautiful as hell.

I don't want to be afraid

One of the biggest points of contention Lee and I had in our relationship was that he insisted on carrying a loaded gun with him wherever he went - to the grocery store, to the movie theater, on a romantic date. Everywhere. He did it legally - he had a license to carry a concealed weapon - but I felt uneasy and sometimes downright afraid knowing that a gun was strapped to his belt right there in the produce department.

Why? I would ask him. Why do you need to carry that thing everywhere?

His answer was very simple. He told me he was terrified he was going to be mugged someday, maybe attacked and killed, and having that gun made him feel safe.

But here's the thing: we didn't live in Oakland or New York City or Boston. We lived in a rural town in the middle of Oregon where crime rates are very low. Having lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles and Albuquerque, I could not comprehend his fear. The chance of someone getting mugged, raped, or murdered in this county is statistically pretty low.

However, as I thought about it over the course of our relationship, I realized I have had a similar experience. I spent over 10 years of my life being terrified of men. After experiencing sexual harassment, assault, and bullying on a regular basis at school, I grew up feeling like my body was not my own. I felt helpless and powerless. I was so certain I was going to be raped that when I lived alone in my twenties, I always kept knives in the drawer by my bed, a baseball bat behind my front door, and I barricaded the bedroom door with a chair before I went to sleep each night.

I realized that my baseball bats and knives and barricades were the same as his gun - a symbol of my overwhelming fear. I had, thankfully, grown out of that particular fear by the time Lee and I started our relationship. He, however, was still in the middle of his journey.

When our relationship ended, I immediately felt a release. I would no longer have to see that gun on the night table. I would no longer have to feel it against my hip when Lee hugged me. I would no longer have to pretend that I thought it was business-as-usual to carry a gun into a grocery store.

I didn't want to be afraid the way he was. (And coming from someone who has extreme anxiety, that statement is saying a lot.) I didn't want to look at everyone as a potential mugger or murderer. And looking back, I didn't want to be afraid in my twenties, either. I didn't want to fear that every man was a potential rapist. I didn't want to live behind a barricade with a baseball bat in my hand. And I sure as hell didn't want to have a gun with me everywhere I went.

And today…I still don't want to be afraid.

Yet, in a world this scary, that is a tall order. Terrible things can happen. We can come upon a friendly dog in the dark woods, only to discover later that it's actually a vicious, rabid wolf.

In the fairy tales, the heroes and heroines are required to confront the scariest possible enemy. Baba Yaga, Ereshkigal, dragons, the devil, etc. Not just any random murderers or rapists - the ultimate "big bad wolf." The heroes and heroines don't have weapons. They don't get to hide behind a barricade. They don't get to stay home and tremble under a blanket.

These heroes and heroines have to do exactly the opposite of what we try to do in real life - they have to disarm themselves, completely. Inanna had to literally strip off all her protection, ornamentation, and clothing in order to face her enemy sister. Only her vulnerability saved her. The Handless Maiden had to submit to the devil's every demand. Only her virtue saved her.

Granted, this life isn't a fairy tale, and leaving our front doors wide open at night isn't the answer. We must demonstrate prudence, of course. The evolution of the soul demands us to learn discernment, to develop our intuition enough to be able to identify and avoid potential danger.

But walking around with a gun strapped to our hip and barricading our doors at night is not helping, either. Actions like that literally summon and cultivate the energy of fear.

I don't have an answer. I don't know the right path. I only know what feels right from one step to the next.

I know we all have our own big bad wolves. I know we are all trying so hard to light up our space with our lanterns and that so many of us don't feel like the light stretches quite far enough to assuage our fears.

But somehow, it feels like there's an answer in that, in the knowledge that we are all afraid. There are so many of us in the dark woods, and our lanterns not only illuminate but cast shadows, too. We see the shadows cast by others and our eyes cannot give us the truth about what we see because the shapes are always shifting. Our eyes allow our fear to make up other stories - stories that aren't always accurate.

I'm trying to remember that behind the shadows is the light from someone else's lantern. And that the shadows they are casting might only be a reflection of my own fear.

All I really know is that I don't want to be afraid. And maybe…no one else does, either. 

Intentional Words, Intentional Action

It is a noisy world out there. These days, it’s noisier than ever. I find myself both addicted to and repelled by social media. I want to see what’s going on, what people are saying and sharing, but I also feel like I’m going to come out of my skin listening to all the squawking (including the squawking in my own head).

I’ve noticed that I’m feeling compelled to share everything on Facebook. If I see an article about something I like or something that’s upsetting me, I feel such a pull to hit ‘share’ and post it along with my opinion. I have to remind myself over and over again that the Facebook contacts on my personal page (friends, family members, and colleagues) already know my opinion. It won’t surprise them or enlighten them to hear that I’m against the Dakota Access Pipeline, for instance. And as for my Author Page, it’s important for me to respect the people who are supporting my work by not cluttering their feed with endless links – I’m sure they’re seeing enough of that from their own friends and family.

I’ve also noticed there are interesting parallels between the social media world and the White House right now. There’s a lot of noise over there, too. A lot of overlapping voices. A lot of words whose truth, meaning, and/or consequences are, as yet, unclear. A lot of anger and defensiveness. A lot of squawking.

We are all storytellers, whether we are writers or not, and we’re all trying to tell our story the loudest.

Unfortunately, the noise is making us all a little antsy. A little louder than usual. And more prone to reactionary storytelling than we should be. Just like on Facebook, we’re randomly spewing ‘shares’ and opinions even to those who already know our opinions. Even to those who don’t care about our opinions. Even to those who don’t need to know our opinions.

My time on social media is pushing me to be more intentional with what I put out into the world. I don’t want to contribute to the noise. I want to create and protect beauty with my words.

The truth is, my friends and family, for the most part, don’t need to wade through a stream of shares and opinions from me. They already know me. Sharing these things isn’t going to change anyone’s mind if they disagree. And it’s not going to change the situation I’m squawking about, either.

While I’ve found it important to share my feelings about political issues from time to time, for the most part, I’m trying to be more intentional with my voice. I’m writing to my representatives. I’m working on editorials. I’m weaving my thoughts and feelings into my work as a fiction writer and a feminist artist.

 Photo copyright: C. Martin, 2015

Photo copyright: C. Martin, 2015

I ask myself these questions over and over:

What am I hoping to gain by sharing this?

What are my intentions in sharing this?

Is this going to protect the beauty of the world or create more of it?

I think it’s important for us all to go deep and get very clear about our intentions whenever we speak, write, or communicate in any way. There’s been a lot of change and the world is a little topsy-turvy right now. We have to right ourselves before we can start getting clear about who we are and where we want to go. That’s going to require a little silence which means we’re all going to have to learn how to cut out own unnecessary noise.

Now the big challenge for me is implementing this in my personal conversations. In general, I’m doing pretty well, but I have to admit, with my very small inner circle, there’s a lot of squawking going on. I’m going to have to start thinking about the relationships in my inner circle as a social media feed. Then I can start asking myself whether or not I really need to share what I’m sharing.

In the meantime, I, like so many, am navigating my way through this dark forest by the light of my lantern. One step at a time. And as intentional as I can remind myself to be. 

Winter is our teacher

(I wrote this post about a month ago, when we got the first of what I thought would be a handful of storms. And...that storm turned into dozens, dumping several feet of snow on us. We're still in the thick of it, too. Non-stop snow, terrible road conditions, bad accidents... All of which is causing me a whole lot of anxiety. So as it turns out, I obviously still have a LOT to learn from Winter, my teacher.)

I have to say, I’ve noticed a surprising amount of backlash to winter this year. I know many people find the long nights and cold weather hard to bear – in fact, I am one of them. But there’s a certain magic to winter that cannot be denied.

There is nothing like the colors of winter. The grays, blues, pinks, and purples. On some mornings, the sky looks like taffy – striped with 4 or 5 muted pastel tones. In the late afternoon, that muted blue sky becomes deeper and deeper, turning almost sapphire, while the gray of night slowly overtakes it. On especially nice afternoons, the sunset gifts us with a beautiful pink tone.

Then there’s the snow. I admit, I’m not always a huge fan of snow. Even after decades of living in northern climates, I still hate driving in snow and ice. I still fear weather-related car accidents. And I absolutely despise it when we get so much snow at one time that I have to set my routines aside. Not being able to bicycle or take my daily walks because of the messy, dangerous roads is extremely difficult. Within 24 hours, I get pretty extreme cabin fever. After a week or more of this, I have been known to struggle with panic attacks because I feel like I’m trapped. So yes, I’m not always a fan of snow. However…

You can’t deny that snow is beautiful, wondrous, and magical. There is nothing like the feeling of big fat snowflakes landing on your face when riding your bike or walking around town (assuming the roads or sidewalks are clear, of course – if you’re worried about slipping in the ice, then it’s hard to pay attention to the beauty of the snow). And nothing beats the color of the sky when it’s snowing like that.

Snow is like a big, fluffy blanket laying itself down over the earth. If we aren’t rushed by our work schedules, or stressed about the holidays then we have the chance to actually feel an appreciation for this beautiful change in the weather. Think about how fun it is to sled down a hill. Or to feel and hear the sound of snow crunching under your feet. And just seeing the trees and rooftops decorated with that silver-white sparkle is so beautiful.

The best thing about winter is that it gives us permission to slow down, rest, and contemplate. Granted, our society completely denies this and holds us to wildly different expectations. But the only way we’re going to change anything is to start changing ourselves.

Like many of you, I’m not in a position to make drastic lifestyle changes just because it’s winter. I still have to wake up before dawn in order to get to work on time. I still have to put in the same amount of hours in a day. I still struggle with the holiday rush and seasonal affective disorder. And I, too, have to find my way in the holiday rush.

However, as each year passes, I try to adjust as much as I can. I turn off the TV and computer and read a real book (e-books are a no-no, because I’m trying to let my eyes adjust to less light at this time of year, which translates to less screen time) at the end of the day. I work out slightly less (sometimes simply because the snow forces me off the streets and sidewalks). I try to stretch more and go to bed earlier. I take a lot of time to think and try to pull back from activity in order to spend more time on contemplating how I feel, what I want, and where I’m heading over the course of the next year.

In the long term, I have what I call a “winter goal” – a big picture lifestyle goal that I want to move toward over the next few years to help me create the kind of winter I want to have. I want to start clearing more space for that time of year so I have more down time and more time to spend with family, rather than feeling like all the end-of-year tasks are piling up and that I’m busier than ever.

Ultimately, my goal is to be self-employed and to be able to pull back a bit from work in the winter time. I’d like to wake up when my body says it’s time to wake up (around 8 AM, I’ve noticed, in the wintertime) and go to bed earlier. I’d like to have ALL the holiday gifts finished and wrapped by Thanksgiving so I don’t have to run around looking for last-minute items. I’d like to have holiday cards completed by Thanksgiving, as well. I’d like to have all my creative projects finished by Halloween so I can automate everything – from sales to blog posts – in November and not have to touch my website in December. Which leads me to the ultimate goal of wanting to take the entire month of December off. As a teacher, I used to get July and August off, which is really nice, but honestly, I’d rather have a month or two off in winter – especially December, when all I want to do is bake cookies, knit, and spend time with my family.

Now, here’s how I know that our culture doesn’t support this kind of “seasonal living.” I literally felt scared to type out that I wanted to take the whole month of December off, knowing other people would read this. I’ve already heard many times that teachers are “Peter Pans” who never want to grow up because “real adults” work all year long, with only a couple days off for holidays and illness.  There’s still a big part of me that feels like I “should” deny these desires to alter my lifestyle season-by-season – even though that’s what we were MEANT to do. (Electricity and the internet have given us the opportunity to work 24/7/365 – but that’s doesn’t mean we SHOULD.)

So I’m going to dare to listen to my body and believe that I have every right to create a life that works for me and keeps me healthy and happy. I believe this is everyone’s right.

I honestly believe that if we had a little more respect for winter and for the lessons and opportunities it brings, we would feel very differently about this time of year. I suspect so many people hate winter because we live in a summer society. Go, go, go. Fast and hot. Long, long days. Do. Do more. Don’t think, just go. We get angry and frustrated because winter simply refuses to play along with this game. It won’t give us the light or the warmth to allow us to remain in action mode, and our bodies naturally want to pull back a bit, rest, be instead of do. And this is very hard for us to accept.

I also believe that the source of much of our seasonal depression is caused by this inability to alter our lifestyles in the winter. There’s really no social support for those who want and need to pull back and so we feel like we have to fight to keep going, to keep producing. I think it’s easy to fall prey to depression when we feel we cannot give our bodies and souls what they need.

There’s no easy solution to any of this. This is the world we live in and it’s not going to change on its own. In fact, I’d bet that it’ll keep moving in the direction it’s moving in – greater action, longer days, more disruption to our circadian rhythms. I don’t say this out of cynicism, but out of genuine concern. I think it’s imperative that we stay tuned in to what our bodies and souls need and keep pursuing those needs relentlessly. No matter what our society tells us. No matter what’s on our to-do list.

We have to take care of ourselves. That’s what winter is all about. Its severity, for those who live in colder climates, isn’t a mistake made by Mother Nature. It’s a test of will and survival. What do we have to do to stay warm and nourish ourselves in this stark, harsh time?

Breathe. Eat. Rest. Be.

Sometimes, that’s enough. And it should be enough.

So don’t hate winter. Find the beauty and magic in it. Listen for its lessons. And let it change your lifestyle. Let it affect you. Let it mold and shape you.

This time of year was never meant to be simply an interruption of summer. It wasn’t mean to be an inconvenience to ignore.

Winter, as much as summer or any other time of year, is our teacher. 

The sacred space of grief

There is a place along a path I walk where a beautiful coyote took its last breath. He laid in rest there for the many cold months of winter until he was removed in the warmth of spring.

  Copyright 2016 Yancy Lael

Copyright 2016 Yancy Lael

The weeds have grown around this spot, leaving the perfect outline of the wild creature’s body. Nothing grows there. Everything keeps a respectful distance. For now.

There is something beautiful about the space that death makes. It’s sad, and it’s empty, but it’s also a blank page. A quiet moment. An empty pocket.

Life respects this empty space. It keeps things clear for a time. Because the space must be acknowledged. The grief must be tended to.

From the outside, it may look like ruin. Plants may grow in a riot around this space. Life may be screaming all around the emptiness. And yet there it remains, still, silent, gaping.

What you can’t see, hidden underneath the surface, is all the magnificent energy building and growing. New life is always waiting to be born from this empty space. The ground where the coyote once laid may look barren, but in reality, it’s more fertile than the ground around it, boasting all those audacious weeds.

One day, when I walk that path again, I won’t be able to tell where the coyote slept his last sleep. That space will be filled with luscious green grass, swaying the in breeze. That spot will be more filled with life than any other place on the path. The bees and worms will swarm and squirm there. The Western Kingbirds that live nearby will visit for lunch every day. Gophers and snakes will take shelter there when a stranger like me walks by.

One day, the space death overtook will be alive again. Screaming, screaming, screaming alive. 

Interacting with Spirit Animals

I have always had a strong pull toward the concept of spirit animals. When I was younger, Unicorn was my spirit guide – it became a huge symbol of power for me. As I grew up, woodland creatures began to “appear” to me as spirit guides. At one time, Bear was my companion, but soon after, Fox came along and has been my companion for many years.

However, I’ve never been one to have just one spirit totem. Many come to me, sometimes for just a short spell, while others are always nearby, just in the background.

Owl has been one of these secondary totems, always hovering close, always an energy of guidance in my life. Lately, Owl has been taking on a bigger role in my life as a protective figure. Last year, my neighbor’s dog attacked and almost killed my dog and later they refused to pay the vet bills, becoming almost threatening when we pursued the matter. I was terrified that something more would happen – another attack, perhaps, or something worse.

A few months later, I noticed a little metal owl sitting near their front door. It must’ve been there all along, but I never noticed. In that moment, I heard a voice in my head saying, “You and your house are fully protected. No further harm will come to you.” I knew the voice was Athena’s and that she was speaking through her owl companion.

I heard her speak again. “You will know that you can have faith in this promise when you hear something about Athens or Athena today.”

I was grateful for the message, but I didn’t think much of it until a few hours later, when I turned on my MP3 player. I was listening to Thrive, by Ariana Huffington and had just started a new chapter, where she talks about growing up in Athens. I literally had to sit down, because I was shaking so hard.

Since then, Owl has become the protector of my home. There have been many, many times when worry arose about my safety, or about the changes happening in my home, but every time I think of my Owl, I feel better.

Last weekend, while walking out in the fields, I decided to go on an “owl hunt” (don’t worry – I was just looking for one to photograph, not to kill!). I made my way into the wooded area behind my mother’s house, toward a tree where I knew owls like to sit. I put the binoculars to my eyes and immediately found myself looking directly at a Great Horned Owl.

Again, I got the chills. It was so beautiful, I couldn’t believe it. I spent half an hour creeping closer and closer to it, trying to get a good photograph. I was shaking with excitement the entire time. Finally, I was just 10 feet away, and I lifted the camera to my eyes…and my brother’s dog, who I had brought with me, jumped up and barked, scaring the owl away before I could get a close-up picture.

All the while, I could feel the connection and the protective energy of this beautiful creature.

Engaging with spirit totem energy in real life situations is so powerful. Make sure to watch for any opportunity to engage with the energy and messages coming to you. It may be something as seemingly innocuous as seeing a bee crawl across your window. Or you may be blessed with a prolonged “visit,” like mine with the owl.

Whatever it is, pay attention and do some research on the animal that has made itself known to you. They are always bringing us messages – we just have to listen.