Learning from Stone

img_1633Hiking in the canyons of the Huachuca Mountains I find that my connection is less with the ancient people of this land, and more with the land itself. The desert, in this place and season, offers rich diversity under a broad sky, with mountains creating a ripple along the far horizons.

On my hike the other day, it was the “stone relatives,” that captured my attention. In the canyon areas there are a few massive rock outcroppings, more large clusters of boulders and endless small rocks in stream beds and along pathways. At any scale, what they show is a gathering of a wide range of hue, texture, mineral content, shape and degree of luster all tumbled together. Some carry striations within, while others are solidly green or red or curry-colored. All mixed together, resting on one another .

Finding balance in my life these past few weeks has been difficult and so I asked for a message from Stone. The response I received was, “It takes a long time to become stone, and it takes a long time for a stone to break down.” Integrating the various elements of my life can not be hurried. I am in the process of drawing together the basic materials of my life experiences, and seeing what new form my gift to the web of life may take. This is not something that can occur overnight.

The other message from Stone: “See the beauty of the diversity of the gathering of all of these elements.” Each stone reflects its own unique way of drawing from earth, wind, water and fire to form an enduring expression of the riches of nature. This invites a trust in each of us on our Earth walk. Each one of us is a wondrous expression of the combining of the elements of the earth and the glory of light and spirit. Together, we provide mutual support as well as create a beauty and power in our combined forms that is not be available to any one individual.

Stone is also the stable and enduring aspect of the changing landscape. Its being draws in the heat of the sun in the daytime and releases it as warmth in the cold desert nights.In its shade, plants grow and animals find shelter. Around its form, water flows and splashes and tumbles on its way.

As I seek to integrate the various areas of my life, it will be the stable core of my dedication to the healing of Mother Earth and all Her children that will be the basis for everything else. I begin as a child of the Earth enlivened with the light of the Source of All That Is. I can be patient and allow the rest to take solid form in its own time.


A Gift From Skunk

We live in a hillside house, with the forest reaching up just beyond our small back yard. In the early mornings, we enjoy taking our coffee out to sit in the yard and watch the birds and small critters bring the hillside to life.

Last week, we were enjoying our coffee (and celebrating that there was no smoke in the area from nearby fires) when a different odor drifted in. It smelled a bit like when you walk along a trail recently visited by a bear or a content skunk, but it also struck us as a little like propane. Of course, once that idea occurred, the smell seemed to come from the far end of the yard, and be growing. Since we had just had the propane tank filled at the end of the previous week, the idea that something might be wrong with the tank soon took full hold.

We called the propane company, and they said that to be safe it was time to get out of the house and let them come and check the tank. So, in the spirit of bugging out, we got dressed, grabbed a few things and headed into town. Within the hour, they had called back with the news that there was no leak and that the tank was fine. But, they also decided to change it out just in case, since it was looking old and worn.

That afternoon, Bill was talking with a neighbor and the man commented on the skunk that had wandered through that morning. Now if it had smelled obviously like a skunk spraying or like a dead creature along the road, we would have recognized it. Since we didn’t, we wondered what, beyond one more bug-out practice, the skunk was offering.

The next day, they traded out the newly filled 600 gallon tank for a new 250 gallon tank. (This works fine for us, since the hot water heater is our only propane use.) They have not figured out our revised bill yet, but it is likely that instead of owing the propane company about $750 for topping the old tank for the winter, we will probably have some credit waiting on the account when they fill the new tank in the spring.

I can easily become preoccupied with the financial and practical challenges of making the move to our more simple and earth-connected way of living. I am grateful to Skunk for the reminder that there are many unexpected possibilities that may emerge to smooth the way. Even as we work with the details, I want to stay focused on honoring the Earth and being dedicated to helping Her and all Her children to heal and thrive.

(Skunk’s other gift is the reminder that things are not always as they appear.)



This is question that has come pouring in from friends and relatives ever since we announced our plan to shift to full-time RV living. People who love me and who don’t want me to lose this right-livelihood craft work are asking how I will fit presses, papers, tools and equipment into the RV and outdoor living that is ahead.

The short answer is: I do not know. I keep envisioning possibilities from outdoor canopy space to shared space in an art coop to letting it go entirely. So, I do not know if, where and how it may find its place in the next phase of my life.

What I do know is that I enjoy bookbinding and repair work. It was a life-saving discovery for me when I let go of the identity and role of being a full-time Zen Center guide. Since my childhood, I had carried the “Teacher” self-image and though it had gone through a number of adaptations through the years, I held that as a core understanding of what I had to offer in the world. When it fell away, there was a huge gap and I was delighted when the art and creativity of making and restoring books emerged as a next step. It was a wonderful place to put my time and energy. In providing that bookbinding has already fulfilled a vital role in my life.

Over the past 7-8 years, I have invested both financially and physically in taking training in bookbinding and repair; equipping a studio with tools and supplies for various projects; and developing a craft fair booth design to enhance NW Bookbinding/ Cherished Books. I have even gathered a small handful of investors who have added their financial support to the business.

While in the early years, I did quite well binding Bill’s Tao books, (great success with The Parent’s Tao Te Ching and  Sage’s Tao Te Ching), more recent years have brought less financial return. I have continued to do hand bound gift editions of Bill’s Tao books, and this year added three books in the public domain to the list. (You can see all available title at NW Cherished Books ). Journals have sold moderately well at many craft fairs. The repair business has been steady and incredibly interesting through the years. Yet, whether due to my lack of determination and drive, (craftspeople have to work extremely hard to make a living wage) or the diminishing interest in journals and books, NW Bookbinding has been a minimal success. Big expenses of equipment and training have added to our debt and the moderate income each year barely meets the ongoing expense of materials. Yet, shifted to the smaller scale of our more simple life, it may be one of those little creeks of income flow that will nurture us. Who knows?

More important to those who are asking: Bookbinding is not a core identity for me. I enjoy the work and will continue it if I have the opportunity, but I will not feel diminished in any way if it does not fit with this next phase of my life. When I envision living “in deep connection with the Earth and for the benefit of all beings,” the bookbinding area is not something that first comes into focus. Being willing to let it go may open the way for it to find a new form, or it may just be another enjoyable chapter of my life that weighs too much to carry forward with me.

In the meantime, there are craft fairs coming up this fall to prepare for. Just this week, I entered an arrangement with the owner of a Gift shop in McCloud to sell journals, books and art pads on consignment in her store. Basically, I handed over 2/3 of my stock and will be spending a good bit of time in the studio to have a good selection for the Apple Harvest Festival in mid-October. For now, I remain a bookbinder and repair person and will be working to use up as many of my papers and other materials as I can in the coming months.


Eagle’s Point of View

As I look forward to the transformation of our lives  — toward living in harmony, honor and peace within nature  — my habitual mind wants me to focus on the specifics. It has all kinds of questions about the what, when and where of this transition. It wants to pin me down about how life will work with all of the day to day details. In general, it wants to push for answers I do not have, in hopes of boxing me back in and convincing me to stay the culturally approved course for someone my age and background.

Also, we have told friends and relatives that we are preparing to birth something new in our lives. This puts us in a communal as well as individual gestation process. Those who love us are being asked to integrate a different image of Bill/Nancy into their experience. They have to find how it fits with who they have known us to be; their images of appropriate living in the senior years; and their own life experiences and inner voices. We know that this it not an easy thing for some of them to do, and so we will stay quiet and open, hoping to respond to them in a way that mirrors their love for us.

Both of these processes tend to throw me into the mental habit of “figuring things out.” Yet, at the core of this journey is the heart, and not the brain. My human perspective can not lead me through the inner transformation that is involved in stepping out of the main culture into a life lived for the healing of Mother Earth and her children. For that, I seek the spiritual wisdom within.

I recently asked, in a Shamanic journey, if there is a power animal guide who has specific wisdom for this transition period in my life. Golden Eagle is the one who appeared. My perspective can not be earthbound, but must be broader. The focus should be on “weaving an appropriate human expression within nature.” (I am not quite sure what that message means). This is not about a change in the size and shape of my home, but in my understanding that I am not a separate being in relationship with nature and light, I am nature and light – one strand in the web of all life.

Eagle offers to carry me, so I can gain perspective and so I can learn his trust in riding the air currents. There is no illusion that I will control Eagle in his dance with the wind. The way events, people, circumstances and created things flow in, around, and through our lives will remain a mystery.  Not all winds are gentle or sweet. We do not need them to be. Learning to trust that all of the experiences of life are moving on currents that  nurture our becoming is the heart of this journey.

So, I will continue to listen with my heart, and to focus on what it means for me to become “an appropriate weaving of a human expression within nature.”

Woman on the Mountain

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I don’t think that I could make this shift of lifestyle without the inspiration of the image of The Woman on the Mountain. She is in some ways my future self who is living the fulfillment of my life’s dreams. In other ways she is the archetype of the woman who is fully at ease in the natural world and living her days in harmony with Mother Earth and all Her children.

I first met her through my shamanic journey work. I set the intention of meeting my future self who is living the most alive, fulfilled, peaceful and joyful life possible. As I let the drumming carry me, I found her sitting on a high mountain slope, resting in the midst of a morning walk. She had a huge smile on her face and radiated joy, love and contentment.

From my journal:  “She shared with me that she is not afraid of anything; especially nothing in nature. She knows every plant and their medicinal properties — every creature is a companion. She knows the trees so well that she could probably draw her nourishment right from the soil, as they do. And the Mountain and all the spirits of the Mountain love her and welcome her.

Since she journeys effortlessly, it does not matter what chair she might be sitting in or what bed she may be laying on. The room around her does not matter because she is most often in Panther Meadow with the healing ancient ones.”

Walking in nature and growing comfortable with my physical strength is part of the path from who I am to who she is. Seeing all beings as light enfolded in a sheath of earth, water, air and the flame of life, is another.

When I grow uncertain of how I will make the shift from recliner chair in a 3 bedroom house in the woods, to a folding chair outside an RV, I think of her. In spirit, she will be my guide.