Restoring The Waters

Category Archives: Ecology and Art

Citizen of Earth

Francis Bellamy was a Christian socialist minister ousted from his own pulpit for espousing Jesus as a socialist, and preaching against the evils of capitalism. Maybe this is new news for some of us, but Bellamy’s original version of The Pledge of Allegiance was intended for citizens of any country.

I pledge allegiance to my flag

and the Republic for which it stands,

one nation, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.

No God entity was in the frame.

I’ve been trying to re-imagine what it might mean to be a citizen, a citizen of something or of somewhere. I do know this. I know that I am a citizen of the land I walk with our three rescue dogs. I know it especially today, in the eye of a blizzard; the woods are darkening in the late afternoon, and I know our path; I know to avoid the ice patches underneath the magnificent snow; I know every tree and boulder, many of them by name. I know I am a citizen of the pond – whichever trail we take – which marks the outgoing destination. And on a day like today, all four of us know the ultimate destination – HOME – where the fires in the wood stoves are as welcoming as the mac’n’cheese in the oven. A night for comfort food. I know myself as a citizen of the land, a citizen of the home fires, a citizen of my family, a citizen of my friends.

What does it mean to be a citizen? What does it mean now, in February 2017, with a man in the White House (at least from time to time in residence) who has little sense of his own heartbeat and far less sense of the pulsing heartbeat of the land, a man who revels in malfeasance and surrounds himself with very white and very male advisors of malfeasance? What are they whispering in his ear? That’s a rhetorical question, I guess, because we know what’s being whispered. Climate change? Nonsense. GMO’s? A non-issue. Immigrants? Why keep them. Refugees? Not on our watch. Non-Christians? Ours is a Christian country. Women? It’s time they return to their place (except the one who can’t seem to find her pencils). Health care? Voting rights? Black Lives Matter? Latinos/as? Asians? People who are poor? We know what’s being whispered. I should probably use the word tweet – we know what’s being tweeted.

To identify as a citizen of the land is a far different commitment than to identify as a citizen of this country, (the U.S.) which is barreling down a path of unmitigated ruin, taking down everything it can with it. I am writing of the earth, the forests, the waters, all creatures, including the humans – many on the brink of extinction – habitat, and the very air that all life forms breathe.

My sister posts on FaceBook: I am hearing about oil spills from the left and from the right, so I thought I’d post this. “This” was a photograph of her winter flowers. My sister is a citizen of beauty and art, and things that grow.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer identifies herself as a citizen of the Maple Nation of the Northeast. She names the currency in the Maple Nation as carbon. “It is traded, exchanged, bartered among community members from atmosphere to tree to beetle to woodpecker to fungus to log to firewood to atmosphere and back to tree.”

What do we do now?

Like many of us, I imagine, I am overwhelmed to the point of paralysis by the petitions of resistance. I wonder if we don’t have to choose our particular citizenship and trust that others are choosing what we didn’t. Many of us are trying to re-negotiate our citizenship. Canada, we say. Or Ireland. Or Australia. Or Costa Rica. Or even California.

The question I hold, and it’s not easy to find the words, what citizenship do I claim, here in this place where I sleep, and walk, talk to trees and boulders honoring them by name even as I leave special gifts, where I eat, shovel snow, make soup for a friend with bronchitis, and haul wood from the outside racks to the living room? How do I become a citizen of the land, the waters, the denizens of the woods and oceans, and the forests? What is my currency? How do I keep it circulating?

Sacred Water ~ Sacred Ritual

Because I am convinced that it’s through ritual designed for what people are calling the new narrative that we come to know earth and water, creature, air, and fire as sacred, deserving of our most respectful and devout care, I’d like to share with you a ritual for the coming of spring. A group of us gathered at a local pond, Tannery Pond in Wilmot, NH, and this is what happened.


I posted on Facebook, “I think I am asking for help.” Many people responded from different corners of the globe. That was thrilling enough!
Around the world local communities were acknowledging the equinox with celebrations around water. Berta Caseres’ death by assassination was just several days old.
Before we began, I filled a vase with water from the pond and arranged flowers. The ritual we designed was collaborative, multi-generational, designed around the sacredness (and plight) of water, and raised up Berta Caseres and other ecological activist martyrs.
On this chilly full sunshine day, we began with a ceramic sculpture, created by Ann Kieffer, and a poem. The woman is carrying a jug of water on her head and walks through the dry lands with long confident strides. A few moments of silence, as we contemplated both sculpture and poem.
Nancy Woodworth-Hill, participated long distance, with a call-and-response lament she’d written (first draft) for just this occasion. I’ll include a significant portion of this powerful call and response draft, which picks up the ancient form of lament:

Lament            Legend: V = Voice, Voice 1,2,3 etc.          R=Group Response

V1: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: As we turn toward the sun on this day of half-dark and half -light, we, who are composed of stardust and ocean, await the spring melt with waters rushing in stream beds to gathering into rivers and flow down to the salty oceans.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Come waters, come! The time of sleet and ice is waning, soaking hard spring rains yielding to summer’s gentle pitter patter of rain drops.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Flow through tree roots to become cherry blossoms and summer peaches and autumn apples. Flow into fields to nourish delicate herbs, hearty root vegetables and sweet corn. Flow into beaver dens and puddles and ponds.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V2: Water – splashing, bouncing, dripping. Water – bubbling, coursing, dancing. Water – fragrant, tender, sacred.

R: Where there is water, there is life!

V1: O Water, what have we done?

V3: We, who carry you in our veins, have muddied your arteries. We, who sing your praises, have removed your purity. We, who depend on you more than we know, have redirected your flow.

R: O Water, what have we done?

V3: We, who are disconnected from our roots, tear you from yours. Ancient aquifers depleted. Desert fountains spilling precious drops into the air. Swamp land drained.

R: O Water, what have we done?

V3: We, who don’t know where our garbage goes, obstruct your life-giving soul. Birds ringed with plastic. Sea turtles choked with fishing line. Fish and frogs with mutant parts.

R: O Water, what have we done?

V1: O Water, Earth’s life blood!

V4: Among us are those who think they own you. Precious desert water bottled, for sale. Land drained of its lifeblood, for sale. Dams built for power and recreation , for sale.

R: O Water, Earth’s life blood!

V1: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Whose voice is raised to protect you? Who will save you for next year’s apples and peaches? Who will protect our earth’s heritage for our children and grandchildren to the seventh generation?

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Raise voices loudly in lament! Rachel Carson, John Muir, Berta Cáceres, your message is true! Your concern for right use of public land needs to be proclaimed from the roof tops!

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

V5: Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, carried in the waters of her mother’s womb, flowed with love for her people and their land, whose life blood, halted by the assassins’ bullet, enriches us all.

R: Where is Water Wisdom?

We then shared what we know about the late Masaru Emoto’s experiments with water crystals as they responded to a variety of human messages: I love you; I hate you: blessings of healing; and so on. I had prepared images and now distributed them, of water crystal in response to these messages from humans. Reading Emoto’s work changed the way I see water. I now think water sees me.
Each of us took a flower or two from the vase, and we offered blessing into the water that remained.
Jim Sims played (guitar) and sang a piece of music by the late Tom Wisner, “Made of Water.”
Those who had brought poems offered them into the group, each followed by a moment of silence. Another song, this time in the form of a chant which Nancy introduced  Hu ~ A Love Song to the Universe. The clear air loved the music, one syllable, sung again and again, harmonies never the same.
     It was time to return the water with all its blessings to Tannery Pond. Rose who is eight years old picked up the vase and carried it so very carefully and respectfully to the water, returned the water from the vase to its source, and laid her hand on the water. The water caressed her hand gently, and with love. Some of us added our flowers to the current. Sue then offered the take-home gift of forget-me-not seeds to plant in seed pots.
     This was the simplest of ceremonies. Designed collaboratively, it included anyone and excluded no one – and it was a most reverent and sacred hour we spent together. Grateful for the sun, grateful for each other, grateful most of all for the water.
Later that afternoon I walked with our three rescue dogs to the pond around the corner from the beach. I don’t know how to find words for this, but the pond felt different to me. Maybe it was my own relationship to the water, maybe the human–to–water exchange carrying a transformative hope. I don’t know, and I guess I don’t need to know. But as a flower drifted by, I could still see the water as it enfolded Rose’s hand, could still hear the echoes from our love song to the universe.

Sense of Place Part VI ~ The Dance of Beauty and Gratitude

It is not new news that my three dogs walk me or entice me at least three and sometimes four times a day down to the little pond which borders our property. It’s not a long walk, maybe half a mile round trip, and my husband Jim, by cutting a switchback trail up the ridge, makes it seem like more of a hike.

The dogs reach the pond long before I do, and often I find the smallest of the bunch, Althea – weighing in at forty pounds – halfway across the water, chasing a duck which she forgets has wings and can fly. I call her back, just her nose and tail visible above the water line.

At the edge of the pond is an old moss-covered rotted stump. Considerate enough to have a ledge for me to sit, I do sit, and am grateful. I think about this old stump, the tree it once was. I peer at the moss and the lichens, slipping into the timelessness of watching spiders, ants, and other small creatures . . . imagining the billions I can’t see.

I think about the roots of this old stump, still exchanging nutrients with the other trees of the woods, still an integral part of our pond ecosystem. I think of Trebbe Johnson and her insistence that the way we heal earth and self is by walking into the wounded and disregarded places, with love and in the recognition of the beauty even in the unlovely

I want to do something in appreciation of this soft damp mossy stump that forms such a perfect cushion for my sitting and my daydreaming.

One morning, on the first of the days walks, I pick up a bright orange mushroom that has been severed from its stem. It looks like a small blaze of fire as I cradle it in my hand, and when I arrive at the stump by the pond, I know what to do with it. I lay it along the side, supported by moss. A couple days go by, and I find a piece of birch bark, which I lay against the side of the stump. Then a cluster of oak leaves which surprises me because there are no oaks in sight. Where did this fly in from, I wonder.

Within a couple weeks, the stump is clothed in shapely sticks, iridescent stones, lichen covered bark, a pine cone or two, a clump of white pine needles, the discarded shells of pine nuts and acorns, even a shell – another curiosity.

By way of confession, I had a struggle with the feather of a blue jay. I wanted to take it home, but didn’t.

I have to say, it’s not only beautiful, this ancient stump, but it’s the perfect expression of my gratitude, for it’s life, for the comfort it offers me, and for the generosity it continues to offer as habitat for immeasurable life, and as food exchange for its kin.

Sitting on the shelf of the stump is a timeless experience. My dogs are content to sit by the waters edge and watch.

Does it matter, I wonder, that I do this? Does it make a difference? Such a small thing!

I like to think it matters to the tree, and to the life which surrounds it, but I can’t be certain about that.

I do know it matters to me. From this simple four-times-a-day ritual emerges an increasing awareness of where I put each foot as I climb the switchback, an increasing consciousness of the exquisite life and beauty of which I am but a small part. The thrushes deep in the woods seem to sing more often and more clearly, or at least I am more aware. The capacity of my heart to deepen and broaden its embrace is a daily gift, and it is enough.

I know that I am a better, kinder, more mindful, more contemplative, and more careful human, as I rejoice in my increasing acceptance into a partnership of life and death, of beauty and gratitude.

The Dance of the Caterpillars ~ In a Time Before Texting

This is a publication announcement for The Dance of the Caterpillars ~ In a Time Before Texting. The back story is embedded in the post itself. It has taken me twenty-five years to see it in print, the reason being that I needed – and couldn’t persuade – a “legitimate” publisher. It was an ego thing. A week ago, with gratitude to The Gau Family Studio, I published this story through Amazon CreateSpace, under my own imprint, Flatlander Press. To have released the ego need around publishing has been one of the finest and most essential accomplishments of the “third half” of my life. Fisher has waited a long time for his debut, but here he is. I hope you’ll be glad to meet him at last! I am excited!

I have adopted a phrase from a friend, Marjorie, who once wrote that she was “a poet widely unread,” substituting the word writer for poet. Of all my books unread, The Dance of the Caterpillars is my sweetest. This story has suffered two failed contracts, and has languished in my filing cabinet until I might find the time to bring it from the 1980’s into the 21st century, a challenge I have resisted for years, assuring myself that I have moved on. Clearly I have been wrong. This particular filing cabinet sits in our basement, and although I have little reason to pass by it on a regular basis, when I do pass by, I can hear Fisher calling. “Hey!” he yells. “I’m still here!” So, a year ago I brought Fisher upstairs, having made the decision to bring him into the 21st century with regard to both technology and fourth grade pedagogy.

But let me take a step back and introduce him to you the way he introduced himself to me. In the 1980’s I drove a city bus for Seattle’s Metro Transit. I arrived early enough each morning (4:30 am) to read the morning paper. One day I read a Letter to the Editor from a man who wanted to tell the world about his best friend Fisher, who had died recently. He explained that Fisher was always spelled with an exclamation point (Fisher!) because he was usually in some kind of trouble.

That afternoon, after my shift, I went to my Pioneer Square office as I always did, took a short nap on the naugahyde couch that left brown streaks on my already brown Metro pants, bought myself one beer, and went to the typewriter (typewriter!) on my desk. No sooner had I rolled in the sheets of paper, sandwiching the carbon, when Fisher! leaped onto the page. “Hey!” he shouted. “Where have you been?”

Fisher then proceeded to tell me his story, a story pretty much untouched in the pages which follow. Thus began our joint journey of “almosts” with two publishing houses. When the second contract fell through, Fisher was relegated to our basement, where, from time to time, I continued to hear his intrepid voice shouting, “hey!”

When I brought him upstairs, it was to do the work of bringing him into the 21st century. I gave him a smart phone. I talked to several elementary school teachers about “teaching to the test,”“Race to the Top,”and “Core Curriculum.” I learned a great deal about smart classrooms.

Happily, as it turns out, I was unable to make the shift. I couldn’t recreate this exquisite child, bringing him into 2013. I added to the original title (The Dance of the Caterpillars), so that it now reads The Dance of the Caterpillars ~ In a Time Before Texting.

I have entertained the notion that it is sheer laziness on my part; I have entertained the idea that I have indeed moved on. That, however, is but a small part of the truth. What embraces far more of it is this: today’s I.T. world of smart phones and classroom computers and standardized testing has cost our children greatly, perhaps too much. In The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, a San Diego fourth grader admits in an interview with the author that he would rather be indoors, because that’s where the electrical sockets are.

As mystical and spiritual as the experience in which Fisher is invited to engage, and as much biological license as I have taken with the metamorphosis itself, I want to believe that that there are still Fishers in this world, that there is still the possibility of mystery and magic. In the words of Mary Oliver, “I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery.” I have my doubts; yet I long for my own Fisher nature.

What I want to say is this: we have become a disconnected species, disconnected from our place in the ecological systems of a healthy planet. And the disconnection has cost and continues to cost all of us, human and non-human alike. Not only that, the pace of separation is one of alarming acceleration.

It is not my desire to speak from any platform but that of grief in combination with hope. This is a story of what I believe is still possible . . . an ancient memory that all creation has emerged and continues to emerge from the elements of dying stars, that indeed we are all made of the same stuff. I want to believe that mystical experiences are still possible among us ordinary folk, that a human soul can unite as deeply as Fisher does with the non-human, that the universe has everything to teach us, and is calling out ceaselessly.

David Wagoner, in The Silence of the Stars, tells of a man named Laurens van der Post, who has lost his capacity to hear the stars. Even in the quiet dark night of the Kalihari Desert, he cannot hear them. His sadness – and the sorrow of his companions the Bushmen – are palpable.

We all share in the loss of Laurens van der Post. It is a great irony that the systems and institutions we ourselves have created for the sake of greatness, freedom, and power, have cost us our hearing and our vision; they have compromised our intuition; they have eclipsed our core of wisdom and knowing. They (and, therefore, we) have transformed our sacred world into toxic pools of expedience, exploitation, and self-aggrandizement.

In the mid ’80’s, a young child whose name is James Fisher Ford – Fisher to his family and friends – refuses to sever his deep knowing of the mystical nature of the universe. He insists that he be an intrinsic participant in the ongoing song of the spheres. It seems at first that Fisher must pay too great a price for his choices, in terms of his relationships with family and friends. Yet even as he himself is transfigured – and the work is deep and difficult – so does he become a catalyst for the transfiguration of others.

Caroline Fairless









Sense of Place ~ Part Three

With thanks to Douglas Wood, author of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, who so generously offered his permission to adapt his work to an outdoor theater.

Continuing my series of reflections on Sense of Place, one of the deepest layers of place holds the beating heart of the local community. Whether or not we know it, deny it, ignore it, we are fast heading in the direction of mutual interdependence, and the relationships that can be built in our own communities will stand us in good stead.

The Transition Movement began as an imaginative activist response to the dire news about climate change and the fact that we are on the downside of oil production (peak oil) – and these realities remain at the core – yet the movement is far more than that. It is about community, about resilience; it’s about optimism and radical hope; it’s about play. It’s about healing, and it is about knowing one’s place.

My husband Jim and I live in a small village in central New Hampshire. We make giant puppets, the kind that require human engagement rather than simple manipulation, and for six years, we have had it in mind to stage an outdoor production, to introduce Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater into our own community. We see it as our our small part in the Transition Movement, but we weren’t going to do this alone.

This was our summer to do it! And it looked like this. In partnership with the Wilmot Community Association, we worked with members of our village, ranging in age from six to seventy-seven, to choose our totem animals, to make larger than life masks, to sew costumes, and – ultimately – to rehearse.

It’s fair to say, I think, that there were skeptics (I include myself among them). Every Wednesday evening over the course of the summer, we met, floundered around in buckets of flour and water, hiding chicken wire clippers from one another, cutting and sewing fabric. Wednesdays got bigger and bigger, with more and more people trying their hand at the art of paper mache.

There was more than the creation of puppets and costumes. Old Turtle and the Broken Truth is a spiritual story of conflict, ecological disregard, and the potential for healing. Each of us was invited to learn about our totem animal: its habitat, food needs, its character, and the stories of adaptation (or not) to the often wanton and selfish ways of the humans.

As the masks and animal characters themselves began to take shape, so – thankfully – did the infrastructure and supportive roles. The word was getting out, through volunteer publicity. Our favorite musician showed up, our friend Tom agreed to direct this motley group of non-actors. We had popcorn makers, a seamstress, lights, sound, and above all, we had an audience! Below is the You Tube video, in three parts. It’s a gem, even with all its warts and glitches. Sometimes it’s good to get them over with early on!

The night was magic. Ten days before the scheduled production, the forecast promised rain and thunder storms. The day itself was perfect; the people who’d come to see watched the sun – reflecting on the water of the pond – disappear, were bathed by the late summer breezes, and the sounds of the crickets. The sound system worked; we didn’t need the lights.

I think all of us – both in the production and watching the production – were a bit surprised to awaken to the power of imaginative collaboration, to the grace of risk taking, and to the possibilities for community art to deepen friendships. We were also surprised, I think, to understand the sacredness of the earth-community, to understand that we humans are part of a much larger narrative than the one we often think (and certainly act as though) we dominate.

Jim and I are grateful to have not only survived our first Restoring the Waters Puppet Theater production, but to have been so greatly enriched by all the creatures of our small village of Wilmot, N. H.