Very few things went “right” this year for a lot of people.
It’s been a year that has shaken us all out of our routines and forced me to love my home despite the floors than need refinishing and the flooded basement. I count myself lucky to have come through 2020 relatively unscathed.
I know this is the time of year where people traditionally make resolutions, set intentions, and plot out how they want the new year to unfold. I won’t be doing that this year. I may never do it again.
“Things will work out,” my Mom used to tell me when I got upset over things I couldn’t control. How can she be so sure?
She didn’t really know. Yet, despite her not knowing the English language very well, never having driven a car, and being used to living in the city, she married my dad and moved to the woods of Connecticut. That was 1967. They are still married. Things worked out.
And her mother didn’t know either. She had three children during World War II in the Netherlands, and endured her husband being taken away by the SS to a work camp. She endured and he came back. Sometimes things really work out.
I’ve come to understand that things will work out the way they will work out. Acceptance is the path of least resistance.
And a few things actually did work out this year.
After a slight delay at an auto shop in Laurel, Maryland and some new brakes… I made it to Connecticut to visit my parents for Christmas. This was not without its challenges. I traveled with my kitten, Captain Pickles because I feared leaving her alone for a few days would render my couch a pile of upholstery shredded to bits.
We made it to Baltimore before the howling and other feine-in-distress sounds started. They were so piercing that I missed my exit off of 295 and ended up in a sketchy warehouse district.
As I idled by the welding shop on the side of the road, I made an executive decision. She was to roam free in the car. A bold move. I had decided that Things will work out.
After 20 minutes of exploring and crawling under the seats, she settled into my lap. She stayed curled up on my lap through all of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Things worked out.
Things really worked out a day later when my Mom started hollering for me to come to the window!!!
There, in the dusk of the backyard were three black bears. A momma and her two almost full grown cubs.
I had been waiting almost five years to see the infamous bears that roam the hilly and woody terrain of my parents neighborhood.
I almost didn’t believe they existed.
But there they were. A magical Christmas gift for me, Captain Pickles, and my parents. We all stood watching safely from the window as they approached the bird feeders.
My father made a clanking noise with a wooden stick on the tile floor. The sound was enough to deter Mamma from going any further towards the feeders. She turned around and walked back towards the woods. Her two cubs diligently followed her.
This year there has been a lot of uncertainty. But things worked out. So, instead of a grand list of things I’d like to accomplish in 2021 or a resolution for grander things, I’m going to stick with: Things will work out the way they will work out.
That’s where the adventure is anyway.
Happy New Year’s Everyone.
Today is Thanksgiving. I am deeply grateful for the air I breathe and the freedom it affords me to keep gliding through life's currents.
This year I learned about traveling sand from an ancient ocean floor —now the Sahara Desert— that makes its way from Africa to far away places via air currents. Wind carries the sand eastward from the Sahara across Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to Austin, Texas.
Tiny minerals from the desert touch down in Texas Hill Country and settle in to the local scrub brush. Sand hovering in the air causes a plume of dust, creating magical sunsets for a few weeks.
When I read about this, the thought of the tiny bits of Africa in Austin warmed my heart. Everything really is interconnected, I thought.
Freedom to Fly
I was reminded again of the magic of air currents a few months ago, when I was riding my bike along the Anacostia River trail. This is one of my favorite things to do, as riding a bike often makes me feel as if I can fly (more on this to come).
I was headed north along the trail and had just crossed over the bridge that hovers above Watt’s Branch stream. Maybe it was the blue of the sky or the missing clouds that day… but as I approached the wide open marshy field ahead of me, I looked up.
Above me, gliding ever so effortlessly, was a bald eagle. Once almost extinct, these magnificently large birds can now frequently be seen along the river. I stopped riding, pulled over along the edge of the field, and watched her fly for a bit.
Finding Connection Through Breath
This year, COVID 19 has made me very much aware of the air I breathe, the oxygen I need to keep my body alive, and the shared space that air claims. Air is everywhere at once, all around us, within us, and between us. It permeates everything. And it is a necessity for life.
I have been blessed with two perfectly well functioning lungs. When I took yoga classes many years ago, I was stunned to discover that my breathing was rather shallow. Yoga taught me how to breath. I learned how to deeply inhale and exhale, and to take my time. I also discovered that my body felt more relaxed and my mind more alert when I did this.
If I find myself anxious, a few deep breaths can bring me back to the present moment. And if I continue this, the breathing moves me towards something greater than myself. To a mystery that can not be explained, but can be seen as tiny bits of sand from Africa tucking themselves into the terrain of Texas.
Many of this year lost people, jobs, routines, or sometimes just our sanity. I am so very grateful that the winds of change shifted for me and created space and time for me. The opening has allowed me to breath even more deeply. And to imagine what would happen if we all stopped for just a few moments to watch eagles soar, to slow our breathing down, to feel the wind blowing, and the clouds passing by.
I talked with a friend the other day who is one of the most optimistic people I know. Even in circumstances that I would not call promising, he usually believes everything will turn out all right.
But this week, when I talked to him, he seemed uncharacteristically down. And who wouldn’t be, really?
We’re in the middle of a pandemic, millions of people are out of work, the flames of racial injustices are roaring-- all while the environment throws us wildfires, hurricanes, and flash floods.
It’s overwhelming. Who wouldn’t be down?
You’d have to be living on a different planet to not be affected by all that is swirling around. It’s like a toddler decided to take over and we are now living on a burning island in Lord of the Flies.
Finding the One Silver Strand
The conversation reminded me of a particularly glum period of my life after an epic adventure that went sour. A series of unfortunate events forced me to reframe how I viewed myself, the world, and myself in the world.
It wasn’t an easy passage to the other side. But things had gotten stirred up.
After the dust of misadventure had settled and the immediate crisis had stabilized, there was a period where I felt as though I was in a cocoon of darkness.
In the midst of seemingly endless darkness around me, when I couldn’t see how things would ever improve, I had a sense that I was connected to something larger than myself.
I saw it in my mind's eye as a tiny silver thread that connected me to the larger universe.
That tiny strand of silver was my signal line.
A signal line is the one thread that connects the spider to the web she has built. When something gets caught in the web, she can easily climb the line back to the web to collect her meal.
In the fog of darkness, I had a signal line.
When you’re hanging on by that thread, it isn’t time to push, to do, or even to try and climb out of the hole you’re in. It’s time to let the darkness cover you like a blanket, to rest, restore, and renew.
As much as our culture wants us to keep doing, (to stay open during a pandemic at all costs!), when you’re feeling like you are hanging on by a thread… it’s time to retreat.
This is how the new gets born.
When I eventually had the strength to climb out of my cocoon, I was forever changed. I wasn’t the same person I had been before the series of unfortunate events.
It was time to weave a new path, a new web, a new life.
We are collectively all hanging on by a thread. And when the storm passes and we have the strength to pull ourselves out of the cocoon, we will need to weave a new future.
In early September, a flash flood ran through my little slice of the world. Forecasters called for heavy rain and possible flash flooding. I wasn’t worried.
Thirteen years ago, I invested in a lot of money to install a sump pump and French drain system in my basement. A necessity for my house, at the bottom of a hill… in a neighborhood built on reclaimed swamp land.
A narrow band of rain barreled down on my town. I went to check on my basement. Sump pump working.
As long as that pump was pumping, I was in the clear, I thought.
My thought was wrong.
A river formed between my house and my next door neighbor Mario's house. My backyard was flooding. The end of the block filled up with enough water to fill a neighbor's car with water up to her seats. The new levee being built on the other side of the town (in anticipation of more storms due to global warming) was at capacity.
After oggling for a a few minutes at the sheer volume of rain that was barreling down, I went to check on my basement. My kitten’s litter box was floating on top of ten inches of water. My furnace, my hot water heater, washer and dryer were all sitting in almost a foot of water. My heart sank. I went back upstairs, with a long, heavy sigh.
This was one of those moments when home ownership felt like the worst idea in the world.
A few days later, after the clean-up, mopping, and dry out was complete, I called my friend Kirsten. It was time to try and start each piece of machinery that was in the basement to see if it was still working.
I needed some good juju. We sent positive energy to the water heater before I tried to start it.
“Hot water is what separates us from the animals,” my brother texted, when I told him I was waiting for my basement to dry out before turning on the water heater. Good to know.
I turned the gas back on and tried igniting the pilot. Success! After four days of drying out, I was back in business for hot water.
My dryer started right back up. My furnace kicked back on. I was feeling very, very lucky and contemplating moving to the desert. The last thing that needed to be tested was the washing machine. I was hopeful. This thing is built for water, I thought. I put a load of clothes in and turned her on.
She refused to fill with water. She was dry as a bone. How ironic.
I called Kirsten again. We got centered. We sent good energy to the washing machine. We read her energy. … to see what she might need. “She feels like a happy machine, with a possible hiccup,” said Kirsten. “Check the machine where the hoses come into it.”
I did as she suggested and there, in the back of the machine was a secret panel. I could see a piece of folded up paper sitting behind the panel. Instructions? I was beginning to feel like Sherlock Holmes. I got my socket wrench out and took off the back panel. I unfolded the piece of paper.
It had very specific instructions for resetting the machine. “Position cycle selector at 9 o’clock. Depress start button while rotating cycle selector knob 180 degrees. Release start buttons and all LEDS will light. This is position zero.”
Who comes up with this stuff? Should I also hop on one leg while doing it? I tried five times before I gave up.
I looked at the instruction sheet again. It had a schematic of the machine and realized I could open the front of the machine. I did this and noticed that below the tub that holds all the clothes, on the bottom of the machine, were about 50 wires. I placed a box fan by the wires for a few days. Maybe they just needed to dry out.
I tried the ridiculous instructions again. Nothing.
I caved and called a repair man (a mortal sin in my father’s house, as he fixed everything himself).
The repair guy came fully loaded with a COVID mask and face shield. He spent less than five minutes waving some sort of electric meter around the wires before he declared, “Your motor is spent.”
She had died. And there was nothing more to be done.
There are times in life when a flood of emotions overruns you and it’s hard to keep yourself together. And then there are times in life when an actual flood overwhelms you and it’s hard to keep yourself together.
And then there are times where it’s hard to distinguish between the flood of water and the flood of emotions.
This is one of those times.
Meet Pickles! Modified to Captain Pickles after I realized she could sail around the room, jumping four feet from bookcase to dining room table without twitching a whisker.
I did not want a cat. I wanted a dog. COVID house arrest had me applying to various shelters and rescue groups. I had a dog for 13 years. Petie was my constant companion. I know the joys and comforts of owning a dog. They are loyal, they are forever by your side... forever able to take in whatever kind of day you are having. Perfect for my grumpiness over being stuck at home!
I applied to three different shelters. I got the same answer from all: There is a waitlist. Apparently, everyone else had the same great idea that I had. Evidence was popping up all around me. On my daily walks, I noticed WAY more hound dogs in the neighborhood. Apparently, the hound dog rescue group has been busy.
I put the dog search on the back burner. A week later, a friend I hadn't heard from in a while texted me and said a woman she knew had a cat she was trying to rehome.. and was I interested?
Hmmm.. a cat? In my mind, they are second class citizens to dogs. Aloof, independent, only cuddly when they want to be... What would I do with a cat, I thought?
But I contacted the woman anyway. She sent me a photo of the cat: black, with a white tipped tail. She called him Tippy. I contemplated. I mused. I tuned in to my intuition. I passed. I just wasn't sure about the cat thing. I knew dogs were THE BEST COMPANIONS EVER. And a cat... well...
A few more months passed. Each time I went for a walk, I longingly looked at the dogs and their human companions.
My neighbor Mario found a dog left at the local dog park and brought it home. I offered to take the dog until the owner could be found. For two hours, I doted over this dog. I made plans with this dog. Then, the owner showed up. I was slightly crushed.
Where was my animal companion?
A few weeks later on my local community listserv a neighbor announced: A friend of mine found two kittens in the woods. She'd like to find a home for them. Contact me, if interested.
Something nudged me. I talked to the woman who had found them. She had one kitten remaining. She sent me a photo. Something about THIS cat made me say yes, immediately. I just knew I had to take this one and it would be o.k.
She delivered the kitten to my door, complete with a makeshift litter box from a shoe box.
The first day, the kitten sniffed my toes and then retreated to her corner. But over the next few weeks, she started coming out of her shell.
And as she did, I was glad I followed my intuition to take THIS cat.
Captain Pickles has been nothing but a constant surprise to me.
She's more like a dog... following me around the house from room to room, hanging out in the kitchen with me while I am cooking (not even my dog did that!). She's cuddly, constantly purring and mewing and seeking attention and touch.
She likes her belly rubbed.
She greets me every morning when I wake up. She runs down the stairs ahead of me as I slowly stumble down to get my coffee.
She talks to me a lot. I talk back. She causes chaos. My house now looks like a kitten playground. There are toys everywhere.
I'm in kitten love. And I’m glad I said yes, to THIS cat.
Intuition is a skill. Its sort of like being an animal tracker... following the trail of an animal that you can't physically see... but you know was in the space you now occupy. You can see the tracks they left behind... sometimes you see a few hairs or maybe some fur if you are lucky.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling very frustrated with the disjointed national response to the current pandemic. Before I became an artist, before I became a coach, and before I learned to hone my intuitive skills... I worked as a writer in public health.
"Where is the national public health campaign," I wondered? "Simple, consistent public health messaging could go a long way in curbing this outbreak," I thought to myself as my heart was breaking over rising case numbers.
My curiosity peaked. There was something here for me, I could feel it. So I started to follow the trail.
I did some internet sleuthing and searched for "successful public health campaigns." I found a few references to mass media campaigns.
And I remembered that egg in the frying pan from about 1986. Oooh, how that image seared into my brain. Needless to say, I didn't do drugs.
I stumbled upon an article by a small company. I read the article and I was totally hooked by plain, easy to understand writing. The tracks were interesting, so I sleuthed some more.
I poked around the company website. I liked their vibe. And then...there, right on the trail in front of me... they outlined their company values: we are empowered, curious, kind, and fun.
My heart skipped a beat. Oooooh. I like those values. I identify with those values.
I immediately submitted an application.
What was happening? I was excited about public health again? This had not occurred for over 10 years. It felt effortless to submit my application. Their vibe matched my vibe.
When I received an email from their VP of Talent a week later, I was over the top excited.
Even more excited as I signed a contract this week to be on their roster for freelance work.
And bonus, their company name reminds me of an image I had of myself several years ago when I started this adventure in intuition. I kept seeing myself as this gawky teenage girl, with a red cape and goggles on... flying her bike around the DC metro area.
Some of this is true. I do ride my bike around the DC metro area... but I do not wear a cape in real life. Though sometimes I like to pretend I have one on when I ride. The point is, the image of me on a bike with a cape and goggles on resonates with the feeling of the company. Another indicator that I'm on the right track.
Following my intuition is a skill that I have honed. I had to learn how to listen for, feel into, and be on the lookout for the clues on the trail. And, it's damn near fun, every time I do it. No matter what the outcome.
This morning, I left the house at 7:30 am for a walk. This was painfully early for me. It has been almost two weeks of sweltering heat and humidity in the DC region. Not unusual for this time of year, but we were spoiled by an unusually cool spring that lasted well into June. In order to have a walk where the heat index is below 95 requires early rising. I have been resisting this need to get up at the crack of dawn... but the last few days, my cranky factor has gone up dramatically... indicating a certain urgency for exercise.
Yesterday, I heard an owl on my walk in a section along a tributary of the Anacostia River. It was magical and wonderful. And unusual. It is only the second time I've heard an owl while out walking in the slim pickin's forest patches of DC. So, understandably, I was mesmerized. That magic carried me through another day of what feels like slogging through COVID lock down torture.
Today, I decided to walk a different route to the river trail. About a mile into my walk, as I was approaching the stretch of path where I had heard the owl... something inside said, "No. Not this way." So, I stopped right before the crossing with Windom Road and just turned around.
My brain said, "Well, that's weird, why did you do that?" If I had been walking with a friend I probably would have dismissed the impulse to stop and turn around and just kept walking the way I had been going. But since I was alone, I indulged the urge to turn.
My walk continued. About half a mile of backtracking and I again randomly turned left. And then, as I approached the corner of Upshur Street and 37th... I could hear my thoughts saying, "Well... this is good enough for today. Not every day is going to be as magical as yesterday with the owl." Since I had turned away from the river and was walking in the opposite direction, I just assumed my walk would be run of the mill, no magic, just get it done before the heat kicks in kind of walk.
Literally seconds after I had that thought, I looked up and to the left. There, standing in someone's front yard... a deer. She was literally 5 feet in front of me!
The early morning light was streaming in behind her. It made the tips of her ears look all lit up. We had a moment, she and I... where we just sort of stared at each other. Then, she moved a few feet to the right and started munching on the tree leaves that she was eating for breakfast.
Pure magic, at least to me. And we all need a bit of magic these days.
Had I not listened to the strange urge to turn around abruptly... I would have never had the privilege to encounter this beautiful creature. Intuition works in strange and wonderful ways and when we follow it... we are often led down a wondrous path of magic and mystery.
And, it's never really a straight line like we think it's going to be.
Looking at the world from above the fray. Houkje writes about following her intuition, observerations on the magic of the natural world, and navigating creativity and chaos in an uncertain world.