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Skunk woman

Lately, I’ve been meditating on the distance between knowing something and believing something.

In some cases, the distance is like a chasm: far, wide, and unpredictable. In other cases, the distance seems tiny, barely perceptible.

I’m beginning to think that there being any distance at all is what determines my lived experience. When I know something to be true, and I believe it, it’s a simple given. When I know something and I don’t believe it, I feel a certain kind of emotional denial. When I believe something, but I don’t know yet, I’m leaning on faith.

I know that I am on a divine timeline, and I believe it. I need no proof that life is full of miracles and catastrophes and randomness.

I know my grandparents are aging, and have cancers in their bodies, but I don’t believe, not really, that I’ll have to live without them.

I believe that it’s all going to work out in the end, but lord knows that I don’t know the details. How will I move west? How will I build a family? How will I make a life? Who knows! But I believe it will come together in perfect timing.

A week or so ago, something inside me clicked into place – a belief – and the alignment of what I had known and what I believed tickled me almost senseless. I snickered and laughed and fell into giggles at the profundity and the silliness of the whole thing. I sputtered as I tried to explain it to M:

A few weeks ago, I came home to find a skunk pelt in the middle of my living room. Years ago, I can’t remember when or why or who or how, I received a gift of a skunk pelt. It is soft and lush, and was so carefully and expertly cleaned. It’s something I’ve moved from house to house, and I’ve kept it safely tucked away. It’s purpose has been unknown to me though I have cared for it like a treasure. I’d been keeping it in a trunk in my bedroom closet on the second floor. And yet, there it was.

Just chillin in the middle of my living room.

As I tucked it away, I said a quick prayer: OH HI, Tunkasila. I hear you. Good one. Fist bump.

I went about my life: work, friends, travel. Conversations, plans, to do lists. Group text messages and house projects.

I often take a story-based yoga class on Sunday morning, and the topics are all over the place. Last week, the instructor started talking about animal medicine. Her story travels a bit, and finally she laments: Is it so important that we identify WHICH ONE it is? Whenever totems come up in conversation, there’s often an urge to pinpoint. If I tell you that I feel a fascination with doves, hawks, and robins, do you start to contemplate which bird is most closely associated with me based on what you perceive of me? Or what you know about those birds? Can we just be comfortable acknowledging that there’s something special about winged ones? Can we acknowledge that the impulse to identify, define, and claim a totem is the work of our ego? As though if we pinpoint it, we will have done the work?

I smiled as she spoke, appreciating the synchronicity of the moment.  I remembered a conversation from earlier in the summer on this very subject.  I was relieved this was her teaching. (I sometimes feel a sense of vigilance rise in my body: is this going down a path I don’t condone? No? Okay. Phew. It’s hard out here in the suburbs.)

It was later that day that it all fell into place.

  • I was gifted a skunk pelt years ago.
  • I’d been talking about animal medicine with someone earlier this summer who had asked me: How do you know?
  • I asked my mom about it when I was in Portland in August. She reiterated: You have to listen.
  • I realized that I wear stripes… a lot… after I cleared out my wardrobe.
  • The skunk reappeared in my living room.
  • (I’ve been deeply drawn to essential oils, and therapeutic uses of their aromas.)
  • (I am often helping others with boundaries and the practice of self-respect.)
  • (Nothing turns me off faster than someone who comes on too strong.)

The evidence tipped the scale and I found myself laughing. I’d known – for years. Suddenly, I believed.

I read the description of skunk medicine in Medicine Cards. Ah, yes. I’ve read this before. Yes, of course. But the meaning is totally different now, however many years later.

If that wasn’t enough, some preliminary searching revealed that the Ojibwa consider Chicago “the place of the skunk” (Source). And because this would only makes sense (!!), Chicago-area experts considered 2015 to be a high point of a 12 year cycle of skunk population (Source).

I came across this:

“Tribes with Skunk Clans include the Creek (whose Skunk Clan is named Kunipalgi or Konepvlke), the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw. The Hidatsa also had a Skunk or Pole-cat Society, which was a ceremonial organization of young women associated with the celebration of war honors” (Source).


Alright, alright.  I hear you.


What service am I rendering?

“It is very important that you do only what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may live in a shabby place, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days, you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.”

“How do these geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we, humans, know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within, if only we would listen to it, that tells us so certainly when to go forth into the unknown.”

“The basic conclusion I drew, and one that has remained unchanged, is that human beings, whether rich or poor, American or Russian, have similar needs, wants, and concerns.  In fact, I have never met a person whose greatest need was anything other than love.  Real unconditional love. You can find it in a marriage or in a simple act of kindness toward someone who needs help.  But there is no mistaking love.  You feel it in your heart.  It is the common fiber of life, the flame that heats our soul, that energizes our spirit and supplies passion to our lives.  It is our connection to God and to each other.

Each person goes through struggles in life.  Some are great and some do not seem so important.  But they are the lessons we have to learn.  We do that through choice.  In order to have a good life, and thus a good death, I tell people to make their choices with the goal of unconditional love, by asking, “What service am I rendering?

“As far as service goes, it can take the form of a million things. To do service, you don’t have to be a doctor working in the slums for free, or become a social worker. Your position in life and what you do doesn’t matter as much as how you do what you do.”

―Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying


The autumn equinox is fast approaching

This weekend, I:

attended a gratitude workshop,

bought $55 in vegetables from a local farm,

read an entire book (for the second time),

did yoga in front of my fireplace,

emptied out a closet,

listened to a lecture about the throat chakra,

pinned fall outfits on Pinterest,

took an early afternoon nap,

put pictures in an empty photo album,

started thinking about Christmas shopping,

watched a lecture about how to eat for the equinox,

took a ritual bath,

ate lunch on the grass,

uploaded photos and an audiobook,

tossed out boxes of things,

slept in,

played with cats,

talked about future plans,

learned about the definitive line between psychic downloads and mediumship,

cleared the house with sage,

drank a pumpkin spice latte, and



The changing of the seasons

The bees have returned. We’ve had a few follow us into the car already. They won’t last long, but here they are a potent reminder that nights have gotten crisper. It’s still early enough that I’ve caught leaves falling in my peripheral vision. Soon they will rain down in dramatic showings and, eventually, leaves will sweep across parking lots on breezes. But right now, for a few precious moments, they fall one by one.

As winter approaches, leaves lose chlorophyll and the tree salvages its constituents — mainly nitrogen, magnesium and phosphates — for recycling. The nutrients are carried back from the leaves into the branches where they’re deposited in the bark.

Plant hormones (first auxin, then ethylene) then trigger the leaves, which are now largely stripped of nutrients, to fall off the tree.


In so many ways, I’ve come to think of my time in Chicago as a winter. If life had seasons – summer, fall, winter, spring, then I am firmly mid-winter. When I hit this conclusion (post-meditation, maybe?), I felt a certainty under my skin. … and for some reason, this certainty exalted this phase that I find myself in.

(“Hold your joy like it’s your most sacred thing,” she said to me a few weeks ago.)

Winter is a time for stillness. Our energies are pulled from our branches into our bark. It is a time for retreat and inward exploration. It is the time to fortify our core before another growth phase. It’s the time to simplify.

Because growth phases will happen.

Buds can also lie dormant over winter, often covered in scales, until the plant been exposed to low temperatures for long enough. Cherry trees, for instance, are genetically programmed to undergo a winter before buds open in spring. So, even if we have an unusually warm winter, buds won’t burst to life until the tree has been chilled.

But how do plants ‘know’ or register when they’ve been exposed to enough cold weather?

“Plants have a temperature memory,” says Atwell. “They measure the product of time and temperature and can work out how cold it’s been and for how long.” (Source)


Some day, I’ll be done writing this blog. I’ll retire from Nashlandia when I’ve made the journey home. Some day, I’ll leave this winter behind for exuberant spring. Some day, I’ll even be in a summer again.

In the meantime, the season in Chicago rolls ever forward.

The autumnal equinox is September 23rd.

In pagan mythology, the equinox is called Mabon, or Second Harvest. It is a time to give thanks for the summer and to pay tribute to the coming darkness. It is also a time of preparing for Samhain (October 31–November 1), the bigger pagan festival that begins winter. Some Wiccan rituals for Mabon include building an altar with harvest fruits and vegetables, meditating on balance, gathering and feasting on apples, offering apples to the goddess, sharing food, and counting one’s blessings. (Source)


Gratitude and balance, you say?

If there’s one thing that season changes activate, it’s lessons and understanding about balance and gratitude.  Just in time.

Welcome back, autumn.  So glad to see you again.


Sitting on the corner of 11th and Couch

I’m on a date with Portland at this moment.  Just the city I’ve known for 20 years and me, sitting together.

It only recently hit me that I’m beyond the halfway mark.  This pilgrimmage doesn’t have an end date, and I don’t have an exit strategy. I’m not harboring a secret master plan for westward expansion, but I can tell you that I left home a little over 2.5 years ago.  And I’m certain that I’ll be home before another 2.5 years passes.  What I have learned in this time I cannot put into words, as there’s no translation for the felt sense of love, loss, and longing in the same moment.  (It’s a real motherfucker to emerge.)

(A woman just walked by wearing a shirt that read: This is the city that I love.)

I’m here.

I’m back.  Back in the game.  Back to myself.  I emerge hopeful and reminded of my deepest inner truth and knowing, which is that life is awesome beyond measure and that hope is not unwarranted.  Life is playful and celebratory and complex: the miracles!

The every day miracles are soulfire.

I was so worried for so long that hope was unwarranted. To be free has its terrifying side, but I am mostly ecstatic.  What will I do first?  Now that I’m here, where the hell do I start?

Everything will change.  Again and again and again.  I hope that I remember what I have already learned:

Hope is warranted.  

Your hope isn’t foolishness, childishness, naivete, or futility.

Hope, it turns out, is the whisper of the heart.

Hope is the language of your ancestors.

Hope is louder than pain, and louder than fear.

Stuff I want to do soon

  • Tickets for a Weird Chicago bus tour
  • Tickets to A Gentleman’s Guide to Murder
  • Yoga retreat in October at Starved Rock
  • Trip to visit Ann in Sioux Falls, SD
  • Tickets to the Broncos/Bears game on November 22
  • 90 minute massage
  • Pedicure
  • Haircut
  • 3 float pass at a local float shop
  • Weekend getaway for a writing retreat