Monday, February 26, 2007


My baby Ravenna is here! It was a long gestation - it started over 2 years ago when I read the story of Sir Gawain and Ragnell in Everyday Blessings. I loved the story of freedom and friendship, but I was a little dismayed that it seemed to hang so much on physical beauty and romantic love. I thought, I want to do better than that. I shared my dream with dh and df, Daniel Nevins - who is also my favorite artist - and they helped me nurture it. We will continue to tinker with the story and, of course, I want Daniel to illustrate it. I intend to see it through to its publication in book form. Here it is for you now.

The image at the bottom of the post is Perspective, a painting Daniel completed for his 2004 show at Blue Spiral. I have been inspired by so many of Daniel's paintings, and this one, especially, whispered in my ear as I wrote the story.

*Note: Below is a rewrite from 3/4/07.*

There once was a boy named Galen. He lived on a farm in the mountains and spent his days exploring the surrounding forests, streams, and pastures. He would climb trees to find nests, run through the fields with his horses, and wade in the streams to collect smooth stones and crayfish.

Then one day Galen heard his parents talking about their new neighbor and learned that the man lived with a bear. Galen knew bears lived on the mountain, but he had never seen one, nor heard of anyone living with one. Wild scenes flashed through his head of what that must be like. Leaving his parents in the kitchen, he started the mile-long walk to the man’s new farm.

When he got there the man was building a chicken coop. Galen helped him, and told him about the coop he and his father had built the year before. Soon they had finished, and the man thanked him for his help.

And then Galen remembered why he had come. "Do you really have a bear?" The man laughed. "You must mean Ravenna." "Your bear's name is Ravenna?" The man laughed again, "You want to meet her?" "Your bear is a girl?"

At that moment, from around the side of the barn, came the most amazing thing Galen had ever seen. It was a bear about the size of a man. She was beautiful—so black that her fur glowed with a bluish sheen. And she was dancing.

Galen found he couldn’t speak. Ravenna approached him and in a kind voice asked, "Who are you?" Now Galen felt completely at ease, but he still couldn’t talk. Ravenna seemed to read his thoughts and said, "Do you want me to come live with you?" Finding his voice, Galen said, "Yes, very much."

Ravenna then said, "I will go with you if you can answer one question: what does every creature want?" Galen had no idea and was sad. But Ravenna smiled, placed a paw on his shoulder, and said, "You know the answer, but you need a little time to discover it. Go to the forest, go to the stream, go to the countryside you love, and you will find the answer." Galen was filled with hope and ran home.

First he went in to the forest and climbed into his favorite tree, a towering hemlock. He reached the top and the branches swayed in a gentle breeze. "What do you want?" Galen asked the tree. He sat for a long time before the tree told him, "I want to spread my roots wide and create fresh air to breathe." Galen thanked the tree for the answer, but knew it could not be what all creatures want, since they did not all have roots, nor could they all create air to breathe.

He went to his favorite stream and lay on his stomach, and put his hand in the soft current. "What do you want?" he asked the water. He lay for a long time and then heard the answer, "I want to flow strong and clear all the way to the ocean." Galen thanked the stream, but felt no closer to the answer to Ravenna's question.

He went in to the fields near his home and came upon his favorite horse. "What do you want?" he asked. She nuzzled his cheek and answered, "To run and graze in wide, green pastures." Galen thanked the horse, but as he turned away he was afraid. Everyone had a different answer, and he had lost his chance to have Ravenna for his own.

That night he dreamed of Ravenna. She held and rocked him in her arms and he felt loved and safe. The next morning he awoke and knew the answer.

He raced to the man's house and found Ravenna alone, dancing her beautiful dance. He was out of breath, but managed to say, "I know the answer!" She smiled at him and waited. He grinned, and said, "All creatures want to be free!" Ravenna scooped the boy up in her arms and held him like in his dream. "That's right," she said. "All creatures want the freedom to live their own lives."

Then the man came out of his home to say goodbye. Ravenna hugged him and then took Galen’s hand. They walked back to the boy’s house. And as they walked, Ravenna began telling Galen the first of thousands of stories of her travels in the wide world.

For many months Galen and Ravenna were very happy together. They had many wonderful adventures. Galen would climb onto Ravenna’s back, and they would travel for miles into the forest. Ravenna shared everything she knew with Galen – which mushrooms you could eat, where to find sourwood honey, the names of lizards, and – the best thing of all – how to understand the language of all animals.

One afternoon Ravenna had a long conversation with a flock of goldfinch. Galen couldn’t understand everything they said, only that they were talking about their travels to far and distant lands. They talked until it was nearly sunset, and Galen reminded Ravenna it was time to go home. On the ride back, Ravenna was quiet and Galen was lulled to sleep in the warm folds of her coat.

It was later that night when Galen woke from a dream and knew he had something to tell Ravenna. He found her curled beneath a tree, and when he sat beside her she raised her head. Galen said, "Ravenna, I love you very much, and I want you to be free, too." Ravenna smiled at the little boy and said, "So you really do understand." And Galen said yes. The last thing Galen remembered that night was being rocked in Ravenna's arms. When he woke the next morning he was back in his bed, but Ravenna was gone.

He left his home and went to see the man. He asked if Ravenna was back with him. The man said, "No, and like you, I learned that Ravenna belongs only to herself and should go where she pleases." Tears welled in Galen’s eyes, "But will we ever see her again?" The man smiled, "Yes, of course. I see her all the time in my dreams. And I know if I really need her, she will be back again. But now she needs to be somewhere else."

Galen understood this was true. He was glad that Ravenna was where she wanted to be. He was happy. He knew he was where he wanted to be, too.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An American Midwife in Mexico

I wrote in an earlier post that I hoped to publish in WNC Woman's new series, 1000 words and a picture. Here is what I submitted today:

In 2002 I lived for 6 months in Mexico and worked with Doctors Without Borders on a maternal-child health project in the state of Guerrero. I also had the opportunity to travel through a good bit of Mexico – the capital city, Oaxaca City, San Cristobal in Chiapas, and even Acapulco one week when my husband came to visit. I saw that Mexico is really 2 nations; one is the relatively prosperous, relatively modern country of NAFTA. Another is the humble, forgotten Mexico of small villages and barrios.

I worked with an all Mexican medical team and we set up clinics in remote areas of a region referred to as La Montana, or The Mountain. We ran our clinic from 9 am to 2 pm, taking a break from 2 pm to 4 pm, and continuing the clinic until 6 pm. We always gave preference to women and children, but we saw anyone and were available for emergencies all 24 hours. We saw women in a continuous string; they often brought 5 or 6 of their children at one time. As expected, we saw a lot of respiratory and intestinal infections, but also many skin problems, mostly scabies and infected bug bites.

My most memorable patient was a woman named Celia. Within an hour of arriving in one of the communities I learned that she had given birth 8 days earlier. It was her second pregnancy and her first birth had been unproblematic. She started labor in the evening and the contractions had become stronger all night but with no evident progress in labor. In the morning they realized something was wrong with the labor and decided to seek help in the closest town with a medical clinic - this meant a 7-8 hour walk, and then she probably would have been transported the 4-5 hour drive to the only regional hospital. After almost an hour of walking they realized that the road was in too poor condition to be passable. Discouraged and in great pain, Celia decided to turn back and go home.

Once back in her home the partero (male midwife) again tried to facilitate the birth of the baby with a common practice which involves placing a large sash or blanket behind the woman’s back, grabbing both ends, and then shaking the woman from side to side. When that did not work and the contractions seemed to diminish the partero decided to give two injections. The family didn’t know what he gave, and he was not in the community while we were there to tell us (he was further out in the countryside tending to his animals) but I suspect he gave Pitocin. (Pitocin is a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin which causes the uterus to contract. Anyone can buy the medicine without prescription in Mexico, even though it can have serious side-effects. ) About 10 minutes later the baby’s head came out but the rest of the body was stuck. The partero said the baby was alive because the baby initially sucked on his fingers. He tried everything he could, getting her to move in many different positions before determining that the baby was dead and finally using great force to pull the baby out.

When I met Celia she was lying in bed. She said that she did not feel well. Signs pointed to a uterine infection and we gave her an antibiotic. I visited her several times a day for the week we were close to her home and every day we talked about her loss and grief. Her 2 year-old daughter was the source of much joy for both of us. By the time we left her vital signs were normal and she said she felt much better. In my time in all the communities, hers was the only birth I heard of that ended in a neonatal death. Conditions were difficult, but most of the people we met were relatively healthy and enjoyed their lives centered around family and work.

One of my favorite parts of every day occurred after clinic when other members of the medical team and I would walk the 20 minutes to the natural spring that fed into a little lagoon before flowing into the river. It was always a treat to walk through the cornfields that were ringed by mountains just as the air cooled from the setting sun. We always arrived hot and dirty and left clean and refreshed. I am still struck by how much time and work it took to keep one’s body and clothing clean in communities where there are no conveniences like electricity, running water and appliances.

Every morning I would wake just before sunrise; it was a wonderful time to be outside because the air was fresh and cool and it was the only time I got to see the stars since it was always cloudy or raining at night. I loved seeing the sky so full of constellations that were completely unlike my own in the skies of North Carolina. I also saw things that I didn’t notice during my busy days: mostly just the ebb and flow of the country life that was so foreign to this city girl. I saw baby pigs the size of kittens and baby goats the size of small terriers with their dried umbilical cords still attached, all tottering after their mothers.

I had an amazing experience those 6 months I lived in Mexico. Most of all I learned a great deal from the cultures that are very different from my own. Especially striking to me is that the people from these cultures are geographically very close to us, yet we often do not notice or choose to learn from them. The US and Mexico are both culturally diverse. But what often transcends all groups and exemplifies the Mexican culture is that they value community, the ritual and mythical world, death and nature. These are all values that could greatly enrich our own culture.

P.S. I submitted 3 pictures for the editors to consider. My favorite is of my friend, Ita, who accompanied the medical team into the field and translated from the indigenous Na'savi language to Spanish. She also introduced me to the pleasures of a temezcal - a sauna dug into the side of a hill.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Viva Pablo!

A few weeks ago our friends' cat, Pablo, was mauled by a dog and required extensive and expensive surgery. On Friday, February the 9th friends gathered at our house to celebrate Pablo's recovery, raise money for his care, eat a mountain of homemade tamales, and play some awesome music. Most of all it was a celebration of the extraordinary community we are honored to call our own.

When I broached the idea of the benefit to my friends they were torn: yes, they could use help with the unexpected expenses, but weren't there bigger and better causes that deserved attention? To that I said, we can do those benefits later. I want to deal with the suffering (large or small) in front of me right now. I could see they were struggling - they had even considered putting Pablo to sleep because the expense of the surgery was so great. And I thought, I don't know how (yet) to eradicate AIDS in Africa, but I do know how to make some delicious tamales and my friends know how to make beautiful music. Who wouldn't want to help Pablo and enjoy an incredible evening in return?

The response was astounding. Even people who couldn't make the evening (we had only given 2 days notice) wanted to make a donation. The generosity and good will that flowed were a powerful testament to the law of attraction. (And you know how I love to talk about that.) There is a book - Ask and it is given - that talks about how the universe is orchestrating all of its resources to meet your needs, but it is thwarted to the extent that *you* create barriers to it. That people often erect barriers was apparent to me when I heard that some were openly displeased that my friends would allow themselves to receive support from other friends (and the universe). Suffice to say, those folks did not come and have a fantastic time that extraordinary night.

I was so heartened by the response from the majority of folks - not only did they want to be a part of the benefit, but they saw the *possibility* it suggested for their own lives. They thought - there is a way I could receive support in an area of my life where I am struggling, or, there is a way I could offer more support to someone I know is struggling. In that feeling of possibility is *everything* we need to create and receive the best the universe has to offer.

I'll leave you with some of the images captured from that wonderful night. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

My Vision Boards

Christine Kane ( wrote a great post last week about vision boards. I got very excited and *knew* I wanted to do one with my mom. I emailed her CK's post and asked her if she'd like to do it with me. I thought the vision boards might be a helpful tool for both of us. I *knew* it would be fun for me. So I got the boards and some glue and showed up at my mom's house on Sunday. She has *hundreds* of beautiful magazines and we spent hours tearing out the pages. I tore out a lot of images of travel. I love to travel to far and distant lands, but have only made one short trip to NYC since my son was born almost 2 years ago. I've been wanting to visit my friends who live in Italy. My mom does not love that I love to travel. (I think she likes me to stay close and safe.) She expressed unhappiness when she saw that I was tearing out images of travel. I tried to address her concern in my usual ways, but it wasn't helping. Finally I said, "Yes, I am attracted to these images of travel, but I don't know if I am *attached* to them. Let's see what happens when I put the images I'm most drawn to on the board." That seemed to help. And lo and behold, the travel stuff *did not* end up on the board - family (enjoying the amazing and wonderful family I have and adopting a daughter from Latin America), home (raising chicks and renovating), quiet time for myself (meditation), and Oprah (!), did. Completing the vision board really helped me see that *I* am choosing not to manifest travel in my life right now. And it helped me make a contact this week with a woman I met last December who adopted her two children from Colombia. And the whole board just makes me feel very happy when I look at it. Additionally, I created another board for the book I have wanted to write for a long time and now it seems a whole lot closer, too. My mom didn't get to finish her board, but said she worked on it the next day and hopes to have it finished by the end of the week. I can't wait to see it. A big thank-you to Christine Kane for encouraging such an inspiring and meaningful project!