Thursday, July 31, 2014

Afterthought #30 - NOT Like the Oatmeal

Worldwide, approximately 359,000 adults are members of the Religious Society of Friends. There are fewer than 100,000 of us Quakers in the United States—about a third of the number of Missouri Synod Lutherans in Illinois  (where I sang in the choir all through high school).

So. It’s no wonder people don’t know much about Quakerism or what Quakers are like today.

The weekly QuakerSpeak videos are trying to correct that with short conversations with contemporary Friends.  A recent one features Guilford College professor Max Carter responding to the frequent question: Are Quakers Amish? In less than five minutes, Max clearly describes the major differences between the two religions and in the process tells a lot about what Quakerism is.

Friends General Conference answers Frequently Asked Questions About Quakers, too, to help clear up some of the confusion about our small community. 

One of my favorite responses, though, is this 
t-shirt that a Friend from Seattle recently made. 

Cool, huh?

“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning's worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, comments overheard, maybe even bumper stickers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fear and Writing About Faith

In just a few days I’ll make the trek to Whidbey Island for my final residency at the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program. This time, I’ll try my hand at teaching as well, collaborating with classmate Cynthia Beach on a workshop— Writing About Faith, Spirituality, and Religion.

Philip Zaleski, editor of The Best American Spiritual Writing series, defines this genre as,

“…poetry or prose that deals with the bedrock of human existence­—why we are here, where we are going, how we can comport ourselves with dignity along the way.”

I carry some fear about writing about faith (see my Feb. 27, 2013 post), and it turns out my co-presenter Cynthia does, too. As we explored ideas about how to discuss these worries, she told me she looked into her box of fears. 

“You keep yours in a box?” I asked.  “What a good idea.”

Next week, we’ll literally pull our fears out of a box to initiate a conversation about what gets in the way of writing about those bedrock issues.

Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir Wild, tells her writing students, “…the invisible, unwritten last line of every essay should be and nothing was ever the same again. By which I mean the reader should feel the ground shift, if even only a bit, when he or she comes to the end of the essay.  Also there should be something at stake in the writing of it. Or, better yet, everything.”
Scary stuff.  And yet…

I Know No Other Way

Everything I write
is in service
of making sense,
of shining light
on fears, hopes,
beliefs, questions.

I know of no other way
to map my search
than with a pen
on blank pages.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Knowing the Farms That Feed Us

When Summer Moon Scriver and I collaborated on the book Hands at Work, we talked with and photographed a number of farmers. One of them, Henning Sehmsdorf, offered this vision:

Our dream is the community will feed itself. The only question people will ask about their food is which of their neighbors’ farms it came from. We believe we’re the future.

Photo courtesy
Hands at Work - Portraits & Profiles
of People Who Work with Their Hands

Two Lopez Island organizations—Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT) and Lopez Locavores —have embarked on a three-year project to help Henning’s dream (and that of many of his neighbors) become a reality. BOUNTY - Lopez Island Farms, Food, and Community will tell the Lopez food story through photographs and profiles of twenty-seven Lopez Island farms (including S & S Homestead Farm, home to Henning and his wife, Elizabeth Simpson).
Sue Roundy, a past member of the board of the LCLT and current secretary of the Lopez Locavores, conceived of the project. “It’s time to celebrate our farmers and thank them for their hard work and delicious food,” Sue says. As Artistic Project Manager for Bounty, Sue has put together a team of photographers, interviewers, advisors, a graphic designer, and a writer for this effort.   In the project’s first year, photographers Steve Horn, Robert Harrison, and Summer Moon Scriver will develop a color slide show of the farmers, their land, and the food they produce.  The show will premier October 25, 2014 to celebrate the LCLT’s 25th anniversary at the organization’s Harvest Dinner.  The slide show also will be presented at the San Juan County Agricultural Summit in March 2015.

In Fall 2015, framed black-and-white portraits of farmers will be exhibited, first at Lopez Center in conjunction with the LCLT Harvest Dinner, then at Lopez Library and the Lopez Post Office. I'm honored to be involved in the project’s third phase, publication of a book including the photographs, stories and recipes. Bounty - Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community is scheduled for release in 2016.

The photographers and interviewers are documenting the process of telling the Lopez food story at the BOUNTY website.  Notes and images from farms such as Sunnyfield Farm Goat Dairy,

Julie, from Helen’s Farm, at the
Lopez Farmers’ Market

Sweet Grass Farm Beef, and Helen’s Farm  are filled with the same kind of passion that Summer and I found when we talked to people for Hands at Work. I look forward to discovering what themes will emerge from those whose hands are in the soil, those who witness cycles of birth and death of their animals, and those for whom their work is a way of life in which it really matters if it rains or not. 

BOUNTY is just the next phase in the LCLT’s history of supporting local agriculture  through its Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) program. It also joins the international movement to promote local, sustainable, seasonal foods and eating, ideas brought to public awareness by authors such as Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), and Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon (The 100-Mile Diet). Most recently, Vicki Robin chronicles the experience of local eating even closer to home with her latest book, Blessing the Hands That Feed Us. She committed to a month of eating only food grown within ten miles of her home on nearby Whidbey Island, WA and then wrote about it. During a visit last month to Lopez, Vicki talked about how she was “…surprised, peeved, moved, deprived, curious and empowered…” by her month of hyper-local eating and how she fell in love with the hands and lands that fed her. 

As so often happens, one person’s experience inspires others, and now the LCLT and the Lopez Locavores are organizing the “Lopez Bounty Food Experiment.” Beginning this September, participants will choose a month, or part of a month, to dedicate themselves to eating locally and blogging about it.  They’ll share what they miss most, what they’re most grateful for, and what new local foods they discover.  Interested? Contact the LCLT at

Whether you participate in the Lopez Bounty Food Experiment or not, you can be part of the community-funded effort to celebrate local farms and farmers. Contributions to BOUNTY will support the creation of the slide show, photography exhibit, and book that all will help tell the Lopez food story. I hope you’ll join us.

What questions do you ask about the food you eat? What do you know about the farms that feed you?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Afterthought #29 - The Case for Hope in Writing

Early in June I heard the writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit speak at Seattle Arts and Lectures. I left Town Hall Seattle with three of her books and have just finished her essay collection, Men Explain Things to Me.

While the essays focus on some of the ways we continue to wrestle with gender inequality, Solnit also makes a case for hope in writing; I turned over the page corner and underlined this:

“…you don’t know if your actions are futile…you don’t have the memory of the future…the future is indeed dark, which is the best thing it could be…in the end, we always act in the dark. The effects of your actions may unfold in ways you cannot foresee or even imagine. They may unfold long after your death. That is when the words of so many writers often resonate the most.”

On those dark days—so many of them—when I wonder if my work as a writer is of any help in the world, I’ll return to Solnit’s words.

“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning's worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, comments overheard, maybe even bumper stickers.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Commute

These days, it’s warm enough to keep our bedroom door open at night. The rising sun wakes me just after 5 AM, and soon after, the hum of a ferryboat lulls me back to slumber. Two days a week, though, I have to resist the soothing thrum of the vessel carrying passengers from the mainland so that I can join other Lopez commuters who work on neighboring islands. For the last five years, I’ve been among them, leaving Lopez shortly before 7 AM for the half hour sailing to Orcas Island and my job as a school nurse. (see Nov. 2010 post Ferry Boat Meditation).

Lately, my commute has been the stuff of Hollywood movie sets. We’ve had a painter’s dream of clear skies and crystalline blue water, contrasting with the jewel-like greens of the shore. 

At the Orcas Landing, the red roofs of the market and the 110-year old Orcas Hotel welcome our arrival.

As I sip coffee from my travel mug, I chide myself for wanting to sleep in; I know I’d receive no sympathy from commuters on car-clogged freeways.

Today was the last day of my commute—not just for the school year, but forever. After forty years as a nurse, I’m retiring. Or, as I prefer to describe my departure, refocusing. I’ve thought of this day often, especially in the winter months when I’d rise, get dressed, and drive to the ferry landing in the dark. Those mornings I’d have preferred to succumb to the ferry engine rumble and tunnel under the comforter for another hour of sleep. 

Some days, though, I’d be rewarded for not hitting the snooze button, making it to the landing just in time to see the ferry approach the dock, the sunrise glinting off Mt. Baker’s peak.

Now I’ve learned that the M/V Evergreen State, the ferry that has carried me to my job on Orcas, is retiring, too. Or, in ship lingo, is being decommissioned. The Evergreen State was the first vessel custom built for Washington State Ferries in 1954. 
It will make its final run on the interisland route this Friday afternoon; if I were more sentimental—and didn’t have another commitment—I’d make an extra trip to Orcas just to say farewell to this vessel that’s one year younger than I am.

M/V Evergreen State will be replaced by M/V Klahowya to carry passengers and vehicles on the interisland route through the San Juans. The boat’s name comes from a Chinook Indian term for "greetings." I suspect I’ll spend some time on this vessel; I learned during my commutes that the ferry is a good place to write. Perhaps in the coming years, some of my “greetings” to you will have their beginnings on the Klahowya. But next week, I plan to just listen for the sound of its engine from my bed.

Do you commute to work? I’d love to hear your commuting stories—whether they’re current or from the days before you were “decommissioned.”