Wood Stove

Wood Stove

We put in our wood stove about a year ago, now.   One late September morning, a lanky man and his assistant rambled up to the house bearing silver stove pipes and ladders and left two hours later as we gazed at our newly installed wood stove. We got it from a guy across the river that didn’t need to have it around and was willing to let it go for a reasonable price that included dropping it off in our garage. After living for all of my adult years without wood heat, having a stove in the middle of the living room feels a bit like returning to home soil after a long journey away. I grew up in a house that was heated exclusively by a wood stove, and I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the company of slowly burning logs until I invited them back into my daily life.

And with it has come the task of operating the wood stove – something that Dad always did when I was growing up, and his administrations of which I look back on now wishing I’d paid closer attention. There’s a bit of an art to efficiently using a wood stove, and I admire the commitment my parents had to the labor and routine that is required to make such a lifestyle work.

Such a lifestyle requires chopping and splitting wood, curing the wood properly, storing it in a dry place, making sure there’s enough kindling to get a fire going, hauling the wood from the storage place into the house every day, clearing the ashes… and this is all before you even build a fire. Building the fire requires opening the damper, getting a good small fire burning, and then feeding it larger logs until the temperature and coal bed is hot enough to close the damper again to ensure an efficient use of the fuel. You can adjust the air flow too, for good measure.

As winter progresses and the air takes on more of a chill, I am thankful for the means to heat part of our home with the wood that grows abundantly in the forested land around our house. Heating with wood is, for us, part of building a life that is centered on simplicity – one of the facets that I believe to be important in living in a sustainable and life-giving way. As we move toward heating more with wood and solar power, we use less fossil fuel and take our support from the corporations that feed on our dependence to those things. We aren’t independent of them yet. But every time we make a choice that takes energy from supporting corporations that are based on profit and greed for a few, we put more energy into building a system that is based on truth and abundance for all.

This is not to say that living in a simple way is easy. In some ways, it isn’t even simple. At first glance, it seems simpler to flip on the furnace when the temperature dips, rather than going outside to split wood. It is easier to sit down with a cup of coffee and the morning news, instead of using those first moments of the day to start a fire in the stove. The culture we live in today is built on the promotion of buying convenience. Choosing to do something by hand, or the ‘hard’ way doesn’t make sense through the lens of the American Dream.

So why do it?

Because when we choose to live simply – when we see that we have enough, and usually more than enough – we live more fully and are part of the system that allows others to do the same. When we choose inconvenience over doing things the easy or quick way, we offer our work to the benefit of those who don’t have the luxury of such a choice. When we choose to accept enough, we return home. We remember what it feels like to love without boundaries and to be content with enough.

This post also appeared on enough.



Trays of yellow, red, orange, green and pink tomatoes shine under the morning sun. Bell peppers of the same colors are piled high and purple eggplants and beets peek out from around wooden boxes of long, slender green and purple beans. Carrots the color of a sunset fill more trays. Leafy bunches of basil, oregano, thyme and parsley provide an aroma to inspire any aspiring chef. The display table of a farmer’s market vendor in early September is much like a work of art– and it is a sight that tells a story of hard work, dedication to a piece of land and the love of a simple and sustainable lifestyle.  And it provides plenty of ingredients for a weekend of putting up the harvest.

There is something undeniably real about taking plants that were grown from local soil , chopping them up, mixing them together, cooking them down and putting them into jars to be enjoyed in the depths of winter. In an era where one can get any type of food at any time during the year, there is something more real about not indulging in the “get it now” attitude and the unsustainable way of living that punctuates so much of the “developed” world. What if growing (or knowing the grower) and perserving food ourselves was our default, much going to the grocery store or Target tends to be? What if shopping meant waking up early to get first pick of the produce on Saturday morning? What if food meant gardens, pastures, and a freezer full of frozen fruit, veggies and sustainably raised meat?  What if convenience food meant popping open a jar that spent time in a pressure cooker or snacking on fruit that once lined trays of a food dehydrator?

This past weekend was our annual food preservation family gathering – the goal each year is to preserve most of the fruits and vegetables we will need to get us through the winter and early spring before things start growing again in the Midwest. This year we succeeded in canning jar after jar of beets, salsa, tomatoes,  and apple sauce; we froze peppers, basil pesto, raspberry and plum jam and zucchini bread; we dehydrated eggplant, more tomatoes, peaches, hot peppers and herbs. The work was simple-harvest, chop, mix, jar and boil, freeze or dry. But through this simple work, a rhythm that is missing from a world of offices, supermarkets and interstates is always rediscovered. A sense of belonging to the earth, gratitude for what the earth can provide and appreciation for the hands that cultivate it is rekindled. As the shelves fill with jars, relationships deepen, feelings of accomplishment settle on tired bones and living a simple but authentic life becomes more of a reality.

What if every weekend was like that?

Farm Fresh

Farm Fresh

It’s summer in Minnesota, where I live.  And summer in mid-west America means that farmer’s markets, CSAs, roadside stands, u-pick berry farms, and community gardens are in full swing.  We tend to celebrate the re-engagement with fresh foods around here because in this part of the world, winter is long and the growing season is short.  Some of us have greenhouses and high tunnels and grow lights to extend the season, but the days when tomatoes and peppers and lettuce thrive outside with only the sun above and the soil below are days to savor.

Where are you getting your produce this summer?  What takes you into the field to pick berries instead of down a grocery store isle?  What helps you wait for market day to restock your crisper drawer?  What makes you prioritize weeding your home garden over watching television in the evening?  How do you support your local farmers?  If you ARE a farmer, how do you take care of yourself as you care for your farm?  And most importantly, perhaps, what recipes do you look forward to making when things growing outside start to become abundant? (some of my favorites are found in this Prairie Grown recipe series)

Share your wisdom, and may we all enjoy the fruits of the season as we support a sustainable way of being on the earth.



Extinct Waterfalls

Extinct Waterfalls

The other day I saw a hummingbird drink from a waterfall that dried up thousands of years ago.  This tiny creature, glittering in the sunlight, lapped up a trickle of moisture that found its way to this remnant of before, situated high above a roadway and made into a spectacle for hikers to view from a platform.

I could imagine what the cliff used to look like, cascading water falling into a crystal clear pool at the base, flowing down into the great river deep in the valley.  Water plants of all kinds probably covered the ground around the pool, and moss the hue of emeralds perhaps lined the cool back wall of the cliff, hidden by the falls.  It was a pocket of myth and moisture – a sanctuary for all creatures who need those things.  The roadway site was likely just a swath of trees and more sandstone, maybe a route for elk or black bears on their way to drink from the river.  Maybe there were people who walked there.  Maybe they walked somewhere else.  They walked more lightly than people do now, wherever their paths were.  I could see them, too.  They are us – our memories and our dreams.

All those years ago, when our memories were now and the forest was all there is, the waterfall  was still a spectacle, but of a different kind.  It wasn’t something to hike to on a day off, a photo opportunity, or an excuse to stop to rest and check for cell service.  Rather, it was an intricate part of the organic, living landscape. Not a separate point of interest, just an oasis amidst even more abundance, another piece of the paradise that lives again when we listen for it and help it to grow and harmonize with our own energy.

When hummingbirds drink from extinct waterfalls, memories bubble to the surface and transcend how we view time – despite the roadways and platforms.

We remember we are part of the ancient and still find our home in the present.

Happiness Is A Cloud

Happiness Is A Cloud

I read an article in Orion Magazine the other day about happiness, and the pursuit of measuring it in a place that is on the other side of the world. I read about the clash of opportunity and preservation, and the struggle between progress and selling out. I read about what happiness is, and what happiness isn’t. I read about the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, and how their new consitution includes what they have dubbed the “GNH” or “Gross National Happiness.”

GNH is part of Bhutan’s plan for negotiating the wilderness of modernization without losing its soul. Every schoolchild, public policymaker, teacher, citizen, and civil servant has been asked to help create a society based on the four pillars of GNH: sustainable and equitable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.
I read about how the Bhutanese people have differing ideas on what will be good for the country, different ideas on what will lead to prosperity and happiness. I read about how people are starting to abandon bamboo lunch baskets called bangchung as insulated plastic lunch containers made in China are trucked in from India. And I read about a road that is being built up to a temple perched high on a cliff.

In a nation where there were no roads until 1961, this is a big deal. It means that the elderly can once again return to their holy place and take part in the ritual offering ceremonies, or pujas. It means no one will have to hike for miles with heavy packs, or use horses to transport heavier goods. It also means the use of cars becomes a reality, which means more people, which means more insulated plastic containers, which means more garbage. And it means more danger to the animals that also call the mountain home, and a loss of the health benefits from all that walking.

The road means so many things. This is what is happening. It is the thirst of people for an easier life. But there is a trade-off between peace and convenience.

It’s easy for me – here in the United States, sitting in my home office, typing on my computer, looking at my plastic pen holder – to look at the roads and modernization of Bhutan and think, “Of course, they should not allow that road, and continue to preserve the old ways of doing things.” It is easy to focus on the negative aspects that come with adding modern conveniences when I only read about them in a magazine. It is easy to forget that I don’t know what it is like to live without roads, or plastic containers or long treks to get to my sacred places. I wonder what side I would be on if I lived in Bhutan. Would I be against the road and the way of life that it threatens? Or would I be celebrating its promises of an easier and more connected life? I can only guess at how I might think if I had another culture and way of life coloring my perceptions of what is important. Of what is enough for a happy life.

What I do know is that Bhutan’s happiness doesn’t depend on the road, or how long it takes to get to the cliff side temple, or how many plastic containers are on the hillside. Based on my limited knowledge of this country and its people, I think life there will go on and happiness will be a part of it – because happiness has been acknowledged as an integral part of the human experience – contrasts and all.

…life includes suffering, and nothing lasts forever. Happiness is not something you achieve, or purchase, and then get to keep. As one Bhutanese friend explained when I tried to pin him down on the matter, “Happiness is a cloud. It comes and goes.”

So, I read about happiness and how one little nation plans to keep it central to what they know to be true. I read about the challenges that come with trying to define what ‘happiness’ means, and what it might look like to operate from such an awareness. I read that happiness doesn’t just go to the highest bidder and that it can exist despite brokenness. I hope, like the author does, that maybe this reawakening of what happiness might mean is the real gift that Bhutan is offering to the rest of the world.

And I hope that I can, like the Bhutanese do, agree to allow happiness to be the cloud that shadows my life, whatever it brings.


This post also appeared at enough.

A Hymn of Creation


As I go about my office work days, my body rebels against sitting at a computer station in the form of a sore back and a right arm that feels slightly disconnected from how it should. I would rather be sore from chopping wood or planting an acre of kale by hand. I am reminded of how far away from our roots we have gotten as a human species – and how much we need to remember those roots. We click away on computer keyboards and scroll through information on touch screens hour after hour, day after day. There are good things about technology, to be sure. We can stay connected and get information more easily than ever before. But we also lose something if we let technology take the reins –when we let it dictate our choices and our day-to-day actions. We read about nature online instead of taking time to walk in the woods, we send emails in greeting instead of knocking on a door, we listen to recordings of soothing nature sounds to relax instead of opening the windows, and we look up weather conditions on a news website instead of stepping out the front door to experience them in full. We watch television or play video games instead of having conversations or living our own adventure. How strange we must look to other creatures.

Do we notice that our behavior has gotten so out of touch with reality that we destroy the elements that keep us alive? Some of us do. Some of us do, but keep living like we always have. Some of us are preoccupied. Some of us want to rule the world. I wonder what it will take for us to get back in touch with the part of ourselves that IS nature, the part that yearns to see its unique weave in the tapestry of creation. I wonder if I notice my weave enough. I wonder if noticing can heal what’s broken or unbalanced. I wonder how I can take the noticing and use it to live in a way that is truly woven deep into the soil that nourishes, into the air that breathes, and into the water that keeps intention flowing into being.

I wonder how to remember to be the water.

I can hear birds chirping and frogs singing to each other this morning. Life outside is in full swing as creatures of all sorts revel in the newly warm temperatures and in celebration that everything is waking up with the arrival of a new season. There are seed potatoes sprouting in a box by my feet, waiting to be planted and broccoli seedlings outside the door getting used to the natural air before moving to their soil bed in the garden. Wildflowers of brilliant blue and bright white are popping up through old leaf cover in the woods, and the great blue heron has made his homecoming to the shores of the lake. After a winter that was punctuated with more snow and more cold later than we wanted, spring has embraced the landscape again.

Despite the seemingly constant hum of industrial progress, and the drone of lack and longing that rides a fine line between illusion and reality, the essence of the earth persists at casting shadows of joy all around us. If we look closely, we can see the weaves that connect everything, and the rhythm. And we can see the light that radiates when each piece of creation’s mystery adds a note to the hymn that is being written.

We could perhaps all benefit from remembering to be the water.

How do you stay intentional about  weaving nature into your lifestyle?


This article first appeared at Café Truth.  The “winter” version of this article first appeared at enough.


Look out the back door into the sunrise.


lakesunrise (3)

There is a faint, yet unwavering beat spreading horizontally over the landscape. It has a rhythm like the powwows of the Lakota people, of a drumming circle, of a collective chanting and funneling of energy into a medium that can be felt and heard by all. This pulse is coming from Gaia, from the core of the earth, from the Being that is represented in all life on the planet. It cannot be ignored. It can be pushed aside and is by many, but it is persistent. The authentic earth is speaking.

What do we hear? What are we going to do with this pulse that is reminding us of who we are? What are we going to be as the ancient rhythm settles into our veins and spreads outward through our choices?

Through our choices, by the actions we take and because of the way we walk on the earth, we are  part of the life that continues to unfold all around us. Nothing that is life – that has the capacity to love, that is the essence of something bigger than we can fully understand – can be contained by systems that are not peace centered and life giving. Though we have plenty of broken systems, we as a collective are an integral part of the unwavering beat – the pulse- and the energy that is propelling our world into something that we know is truth.  To something that is more beautiful than we can imagine on the good days.

This forward motion, this horizontal push into the newness of what has always been at the core, is not without challenge. Change is hard for humans, even when the change is full of light and promise. It can be easy to hold on to what we know, even when it doesn’t serve who we truly are. Even while we welcome change, we don’t know what our reality will look like in the days to come, and we have a hard time with the unknowing. We want something concrete; we want dates to look forward to. We want to plan, and we want to see changes and energy shifts manifest in ways that we can understand and see in our daily lives.

We will get these things, even when it feels like we are still waiting for a sign that Now we can truly live how we are meant to live.   Because while we question, while we still feel like we are waiting, while we strive to exist in a way that is authentic, the pulse is still there. It has always been there.   Many ears are still deaf to the realness of the beating, but it is getting louder with every intention to live as a part of the whole and to be as one with the heart of creation.

Look out the back door into the sunrise. You will see the pulse of the earth. You will feel the collective call to be a people of wholeness and of healing. You will remember that you are the true value, the energy and the answer.



Be part of the sunrise.


The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

–Alan Watts


The Other Side Of The Road

The Other Side Of The Road

A runner for years, I have logged a lot of miles. Currently I run a 2 mile loop around the tiny lake that our neighborhood is centered on almost every day. It’s not far, and I don’t usually go very fast, but this time outside, re-connecting to the energy of my immediate surroundings helps to keep me centered in reality. It keeps my physical body’s cardiovascular system functioning in an efficient way, it gives my leg muscles some exercise and it forces me to pay attention to where I’m placing my feet.

I’ve had issues in the last few months with some mild discomfort in my right ankle that has worked its way up into the shin/calf area of my leg. It hasn’t been enough to keep me from heading out each morning, but it HAS been enough for me to notice it and wish it didn’t feel that way. It has been enough to invite a sense of dread when heading on a run when I’d rather be looking forward to enjoying the movement.

I got some new shoes, hoping that would help. It didn’t. I wore my old shoes again. No change. I tried running with different posture and just got frustrated that I wasn’t enjoying my running anymore due to trying to place my feet in a way that didn’t seem natural. I started to feel like perhaps my body was just unbalanced and it was just something I was going to have to accommodate – or that I was simply going to have to stop running. And then a few days ago, as a last ditch effort, I ran on the other side of the road.

Most of my route is on gravel, on a road that slopes down just slightly on each side, presumably to allow proper drainage. Good for infrastructure and road maintenance, but not so good for human bodies when they always run on the same side. Due to always being just slightly tilted while in motion, my right ankle finally started to protest. And now, since I started running on the other side (yes, the “wrong” side, with traffic instead of against which is another matter entirely), the pain has minimized. I will, of course have to switch back and forth to avoid developing pain in the left side, stay mindful of my posture and pay attention to my foot placement in order to continue running successfully. But, at least for now, it’s nice to know that the answer was less complicated than I anticipated.

There are a lot of issues that are not so easily solved: Humans as a whole continue to use more resources than the planet can sustainably provide, multitudes are exploited every day by the choices made by a wealthy minority, and the corporate culture of more, better, faster continues to pervade everyday life for far too many souls. But despite the dire state of so much of the world, it is heartening to know that sometimes the solution is as simple as running on the other side of the road. Perhaps some of our answers lie in looking for ways to do the things we do every day just differently enough to have an impact that contributes to healing instead of destruction.



What can you do differently today to invite healing into your life, and into the world?



Featured image: by Andrew Cooper http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Andrew_Cooper





We see value in the eight week old chickens that spend their days poking around in the sparse woods, climbing logs and honing their scratching skills in the spring soil as their caretakers commit themselves to making a new way of life. We see value in the neighbor’s greeting as he gathers the last buckets of a maple’s sweet life blood at the close of this year’s sap run, and in the children who offer their enthusiasm to the project. We see value in new trees being planted, in spring snow giving way to spring sun, and in the hints of green that cast a hue of promise over the fields. We see value in the wood duck perched high in the basswood tree, in the gentle flap of a sand hill crane’s wings overhead, and in the beaver, the keeper of the lake. We see value in life unfolding organically all around us.

Turns out the value that is needed to sustain abundant life isn’t found in a bank, a trust fund, or a gold bar. Value isn’t in the numbers of a dollar amount next to the numbers of checking account when you look at an online banking profile. Value doesn’t come from putting in overtime for a company that works for profit of a few.

Real value can be found in the sacred of life, in the people and creatures that call the earth home, and in the energy that flows between everything in the universe.

There is a Native American saying which goes something like this: “Only when the last tree has withered, the last fish has been caught, and the last river has been poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.” No one wants this to be the end of our story: Not the linemen who work for oil companies. Not the suburbanites who drive army vehicles to get their groceries at the nearest Walmart. Not the farmer who sprays his GMO crops with Roundup. Not the commuter who travels two hours every day to get to a high paying trading job on Wall Street.

We need to remember where our value lies, and use it. We need to remember that the reason we are alive and in communion with this place, this earth, is to experience the abundance that is possible when we make a point to notice it. We need to judge less and love more. We need to cling to the outcome we want less and accept more. We need to turn a blind eye to the cry of the earth less and listen more. We need to see value where the value is.

Goodness is the only investment that never fails. -Thoreau

Finding Our Balance

Finding Our Balance

There has been a lot going on lately.  So many people I encounter say this, or allude to it, regardless of their life situation – poor, wealthy, middle class; student, teacher, parent; volunteer or employee; retiree or entry level worker.  The pace of life is fast, quickening even as these words are typed.  It would seem that all people are busy, constantly.

Yet steeped in the busyness, systems are changing, albeit slowly.  A lot of energy is being projected into helping the population interact in a different, more positive and healthy way, and a project of that scale takes time and effort.  Even those who do not recognize or believe that anything is different put a lot of time and effort into completing their usual tasks and going about their daily routines.  Work hours are long, jobs feel tedious, values are tested, traffic is bad, cities are congested and the kids have music lessons, sports, church activities, tutoring sessions, and homework.  All of which they need help with, or a ride to.  The driveway has to be shoveled and the dishes washed.  Things take longer than anticipated and many times don’t go quite as planned.  So, regardless of state of being or level of awareness, people are generally busy and have too much to do.

How can we find a sense of balance amidst the energy that needs to be put out? How do we maintain our equilibrium when putting forth the energy that must back the tasks that need to be accomplished, the ideas that need to be thought of and implemented, and the hours of work that are necessary to move this planet into a way of existing that is sustainable and life giving for all? How can we take the ashes of failure and see an opportunity to know beauty in a completely different way?

For positive change to occur, we will all need to contribute and use our unique gifts to serve the collective.  We will need to step outside of our individual needs and into our neighbors’.  We will need to figure out how to operate cooperatively after so many years of competition.  We will need to let go of needing more.  Even the Joneses can’t sustain their pace forever.  We will need to accept sadness and allow joy to radiate from places of darkness.  The road into the light, while welcoming and full of joy, is not without rocks, bumps and the occasional uphill stretch.

It sounds daunting, and maybe it is.  But I think we can find our balance amidst the rocks, the uphill stretches and the energy needed to sustain momentum by remembering what is driving us to do the work in the first place.  We can remember the vision of an earth that is defined by beauty, equality and peace.  We can remember that this vision will not look the same to everyone, and that it doesn’t have to.  As we project the energy of love and joy into the space that surrounds every action and thought we will get where we are called to be, even if the road looks different than we thought it would.  And we can use the empty space that exists around the work doing and being whatever it is that makes life real for us.

So take your life situation for what it is -a situation – instead of a sentence or definition; busy or not, and let it be a way for your Being, your true self, to experience all that is worth experiencing. Walk through a grove of aspen trees, stand in a ray of sunlight in the middle of the city, marvel at the way your physical body helps you carry out the mission of your soul.  Focus.  Spend time loving the present.  Take some time off if serves you.  Enjoy silence.  Be loud when being loud helps.  Dance with your baby, talk to your neighbor, let the snow or rain melt into your skin and see the art in the world. Look past the to-do list to what is.

Find your balance, and honor it.

Life evolves and is a living organism that can recreate itself. But this will not be an easy transition, because our world is so out of balance. Our civilization has been running on empty for too long, our way of life too unsustainable. If we continue our future is too bleak, the inner emptiness too desolate. In pursuit of a few material pleasures we will have lost what is most precious and most meaningful in our existence. We will have to confront our fears and our weaknesses, find courage that we did not know we had. Nor do we know how long this transition may take. We may be just creating the seeds for a future that will blossom in a hundred years or more. But with grace, commitment and care, with a heart open to grief and to love, life can once again regenerate—together we can create a way of life that is truly sustainable. The light of the sacred will rekindle, and once again the soul of the world will sing the song of creation: the hidden mystery within all of life.

—Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee