Here, but also there.
However, in a new geographic and psychic location.
The physical geography, I am sure of: Vashon Island, Cascadia, Gaia. Looking out on Mount Rainier, a massive stratovolcano about 50 miles away. 14, 411 feet high. Considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
I live on a sweet rock along with twelve thousand music loving souls, in relative rural harmony, plus some chickens, goats, Jersey cows, horses and donkeys.
Many deer. Escaped mink.
Dozens of colors of rhododendrons.
In terms of my new inner location, I am exploring.
Il faut être absolument moderne. One must be absolutely modern.
Wildness is a preoccupation. Volcanic wildness.
Why am I here now?
So I can sit at the Red Bicycle and blog?
When I was a young girl, my father was a pastor in a Mennonite Brethren church in northern Saskatchewan. We grew our own vegetables, and reluctantly, my mother received gifts of sausage and flour from the parishioners, intended to supplement my dad’s slender salary. Mother turned my father’s old winter coat into jackets for us girls.
On summer holiday, we went to visit some church people that lived even farther north than we, near the end of where the road goes. Past gentle hills, rocks, and stunted fir trees, we finally turned into the laneway of a very rough house. While my mother and father talked with the people in the house, I sat in the back seat of our brown 1953 Chevy, my legs hanging out of the door, my bare feet in the dust. Bored, I pulled out a slab of Macintosh’s toffee which I had been sucking on all morning, and commenced to licking on it again.
A young girl about my age came out of the house and looked at me, as I licked and licked my toffee bar, all creamy and buttery and sweet. She didn’t say anything, but stared fixedly at my toffee. I didn’t say anything, either. After about fifteen minutes, my parents came back to the car, and we drove away.
“I thought you might have given the little girl some of your toffee,” my father remarked in that placid way of his. I was dumbfounded. The thought had not crossed my mind. “She probably doesn’t get much candy,” he added. “They’re poor.”
I puzzled over this idea, of sharing. I felt very strange, thinking that this girl was even more poor than I, that she might consider me rich, with my huge slab of Macintosh’s toffee.
The idea of being generous also was very novel. I was comfortable with being the recipient of generosity: wearing my cousin’s old clothes, eating food at the table of a well-to-do neighbor after Sunday dinner.
Since then I have learned to be more at home with giving. Our minister at the New Hope Community Church in London, Ontario, Greg Wyton, introduced us to the concept of tithing, and George Kinder taught us the Aloha spirit at a weekend workshop at Kripalu Retreat Center. My husband and I set up automatic deductions from our bank account for our church, environmental and spiritual groups, Geez magazine. My husband and I looked very closely at living in the common purse model, by living for almost a year in a household at Reba Place Fellowship, an intentional Christian community in Evanston, Illinois. During that time I discovered that sharing to that extent was more than I was willing to subscribe to. But we were being called by the words of Jesus, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But does that mean that we should literally sell everything we have and give it to the poor? Is it possible for me to live without attachment to material things? I really l*o*v*e my Amish-built Mission-style oak dining table, around which twelve people can sit comfortably on matching chairs. What does “everything we have” mean? Who are the “poor”? What does it mean to have “treasures in heaven”? Should we “give until it hurts” or “give from a full cup”?
So these are the questions I am living with, right now.
I invite you to consider a permaculture approach to life, nurturing our talents in a gentle way.
Do not diligently toil away like a megafarmer, struggling and striving to grow and harvest an enormous, fertilized, irrigated grain crop.
Rather, like the mushroom reapers of the Pacific Northwest forests, could we practice benign neglect, attune ourselves to nature, and reap an unexpected harvest?
You have stood by me these two and a half years
and I still don’t know your names.
Nameless, you have steadfastly endured
beside me, slender, tall, always reaching
you rise straight up from the earth
past the concrete, the glass, to the sky.
At night you brush the soft grey light
You even out the clouds.
While I sleep, you are the roost of angels
In the day you pull down the sun
You suck it out of the sky
You entice it to stay
You hold the light in your arms while I sleep.
My sister Christine Ruth Wiebe wrote this poem when she was living in Chicago, on Tuesday, February 12, 1991.
Ann Hostetler and my mother Katie Funk Wiebe are working on a special issue of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing focusing on Christine and Sylvia Bubalo, two writer/artists whose inspiring spiritual and artistic journeys deserve a wider audience. Both struggled with chronic illness as well. Christine’s flavor was systemic lupus erythematosus.
I have been going through Christine’s letters and writings to find poems which she never showed to anyone, and this is one of them. She also made the drawing, which was separate from the poem, but I joined them together here. For the most part I have preserved her punctuation, but I am thinking that had she lived to publish this poem, she probably would have added a few periods here and there.
In 1993 I won an award at the Silvermine Gallery in Wilton, CT, for a diptych, Two Letters. They were a pair of “envelopes”, a memorial to men and women who died under Stalin’s KGB. Each envelope bore a black and white photo of a prisoner in the upper right hand corner, like a stamp. Addresses were etched in a cryptic formal script. One was done on a nice creamy sheet of hot press Arches watercolor paper, the other on black scratchboard.
After I finished these two pieces, it was late May, and close to my June birthday. I was inspired to do something more personal, an envelope addressed to myself, using scratchboard as a medium. The photo is of myself at the age of three, standing on a chair between snowbanks at my grandparents’ back door in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. This portrait was made possible, one might say, because my grandmother Anna convinced her husband Jake to leave Russia in 1923, thus escaping the Great Purge of the Stalin years, which pretty well eradicated the family members which did stay there, although I have a Great Aunt Neta who survived the Siberian work camps and now lives in Berlin. The “return address” in the upper left corner is my birthdate and birthplace. The address in the middle is the word “Survivor”, scratched out in dramatic flourishes. I used rubber stamps and silver ink to create postmarks, and sealed it all with my thumbprint. Happy Birthday, Joanna Wiebe.
One summer day when I was about eight years old, my cousin Trudy and I were jumping on a trampoline in her back yard. All around us was a very green, tidily mowed lawn. Trees in full whispering summer leaf stood at the periphery of the lawn, and above us gleamed a blue, blue Canadian sky. It was a happy moment for me, a little surreal, even. That’s because our cousin seemed so rich, with her store-bought clothes and auburn ringlets, her abundant toys, and this immense trampoline right in her own backyard. Then Uncle John, Trudy’s father, came home from his store, carrying a cloth bag that was tied at the top. Smiling, he untied the string and tossed the bag’s contents onto the trampoline–hundreds and hundreds of Canadian coins.
And as Trudy and I jumped on the trampoline, all around our feet, and up into the air around us flew hundreds and hundreds of maple leaves, voyageurs, beavers, moose, Queen Elizabeth, King George, and sailing ships, bouncing off the taut surface of the trampoline and onto the green lawn where they glinted between the blades of grass.