For Phoebe (“Miss Febb”) Burns
Perhaps it was the translucent effect of the sun on the petals of its namesake’s drooping head that caused her to pause. Perhaps she, too, felt her shoulders lift in the sun’s light, shedding, for that moment, memories of her husband’s futile battle with typhoid four years earlier, the long list of responsibilities, like milking the cows, churning butter, mending, cleaning, cooking, ensuring the success of the farm while raising their four children. Alone.
Taxed without representation. Governed without say.
Perhaps on that day in August of 1920, it was the radiant light across the shadows of a cut flower that prompted her to stop and write a note to her eldest son that would change the course of the nation. Had it been cloudy, a day free of the normal heat and humidity of a Tennessee summer, would she have taken the time to pen a seven-page letter? And would he, a junior statesman from the east side of the state, bombarded by lobbyists on both sides, troubled by the intensity of the arguments, the endless marches down Broadway, the pressure from constituents, still unsure of the right thing to do, would he, that morning of August 18, 1920, after reflecting on his mother’s words, have tossed his red rose to the floor and replaced it with yellow, the color of the suffragists, the color of the sunflower in the vase on his mother’s kitchen table?
For more information, read my August 2019 blog reflection, "Welcome Her with Yellow Roses," on the passage of the 19th Amendment 100 years ago.
In gratitude to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and the many women who persevered for over seven decades to pass legislation that gave women the right to vote, and to Phoebe (“Miss Febb”) Burns and all mothers who take the time to acknowledge and speak their truth.
Sunday morning, I walked down the pier to our boat, looking forward to escaping the news and recharging my spirits. To my dismay, hoisted up the forestay of a neighboring sailboat, was a Trump 2020 flag.
All people in this country have a right to their opinion. But because it seems as if there has always been an unwritten rule that politics, family feuds, and other potentially controversial and stressful subjects are left in the marina parking lot, the flag was a jolt. I felt betrayed. A little bit angry. I would have felt the same had it been a Biden 2020 flag. I don’t want to be bombarded on the water. It is sacred time and space.
But I was also more than a little dumbfounded that someone who sails these Great Lakes could support a president who--in my opinion—cares so little about the quality of the water, about reducing the stressors that put such an essential resource at risk.
I considered interrupting the boat owners’ morning coffee and launching into a fact-based spiel based on fifteen years of research, but then I remembered Brian Doyle’s book, One Long River of Song. In the essay “His Listening,” Doyle describes his extraordinary and unforgettable experience of being in conversation with his father.
“. . .when you said something to him, anything at all, anything in the range from surpassingly subtle to stunningly stupid, he would listen carefully and attentively, and silently, without interrupting, without waiting with increased impatience for you to finish so he could correct or top or razz you, and he would even wait a few beats after you finished your remarks, on the off chance that you had something else you wanted to add, and then he would ponder what you had said, and then, without fail, he would say something encouraging first, before he got around to commenting on what it was you said with such breathtaking subtlety or stupidity.”
My grandmother, a mother of seven including two sets of twins, a young widow who endured cancer and whose insides were charred by early attempts at radiation, listened to me like that. One of my greatest memories is sitting on a wooden bench at the foot of her bed chattering about school, friends, boys, and dreams. My mother “inherited” that same skill.
So, rather than rattling off the top three reasons I think boaters should not vote for President Trump if they care about the health of the water on which they sail, I’d like to understand the other point of view—to really listen, learn. I’d like to help build a bridge of understanding rather than contribute to the divide ripping across our country.
If you are one of those boaters and willing to engage in “listening time,” contact me. Perhaps we might even learn each other’s names, wave to each other as we sail out the channel.
One would never know it doomscrolling through the headlines. Too many crises. But thanks to the “Three Things Thursday” email from Lisa Wozniak of the League of Michigan Conservation Voters, I learned that effective August 3rd, Michigan will adopt tough new standards to regulate the levels of PFAS in our drinking water! AND with overwhelming bipartisan support (310-107), the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act! The legislation will ensure public lands are preserved and protected by permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As it has already passed the Senate, the bill now goes to the President for signature.
If you are interested in staying on top of issues related to our drinking water, clean air, the Great Lakes, our parks, and good government, sign up for the “Three Things Thursday” update. And while you are on the site of this nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, check out the “snapshot-in-time” scorecard for Michigan’s governor, attorney general, and your state representatives on these five focus areas. It’s good information to have as you cast your vote on August 4 and again on November 3.
It would be heavenly if she could see
her children on the front yard again,
glance at them through the window
above the sink as she fills the house
with the sweet smells of her baking;
if, when she called them for dinner
they came running, knowing what was
waiting in the oven after vegetables.
If only she again could use lard in her crusts,
ample sugar in her fillings. If only
she didn’t have to worry about her health,
or theirs. She lies on the kitchen floor, staring
at the dark spot on the ceiling above the oven,
trying to ignore the pain slicing through her side.
How long ago was it? That day smoke filled
the kitchen? That day her children told her
to quit baking? That day everything changed?
She hears a strange voice calling her name,
asking if she is alright. Commotion in her entry.
Closing her eyes, she smells the fragrance
of a freshly baked pie, sees angels bounding
in her direction, notices God reaching toward her,
a dessert plate between thumb and forefinger,
and hopes she remembered to add enough sugar.
In gratitude to those who use their talents, while they can, to bring joy to others.
And speaking of angels, take a peek at this 1995 Humanitarian Award performance featuring angelic voices including that of my cousin, one of the lead singers whose voice is the first you will hear in the song.
Michigan, like most states in the Great Lakes region, is transitioning from the manufacturing mecca of the 1900s to an economically vibrant, safe, healthy and just place to call home. All our cities are in various stages along that journey, but few have my respect and admiration like Muskegon. Formerly an industrial city with one of the forty-three most toxic harbors in the Great Lakes, it is well on its way to being removed from that list of environmentally degraded waterways and evolving into an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Join musicians Ruth and Max Bloomquist and me as we share our love for this special place, a place that gives me hope for the transformation of all communities in the region. And when you visit, be sure to “wave and blow a kiss to Bicycle Bob.” (?? Listen to the video to learn more!) And while you're on the Listening to the Voices of Water channel, consider taking another five minutes to listen to their inspiring song, "Michigan Girl."
To be a part of the West Michigan's transition, consider making a donation to help purchase 43 acres of forested dunes to add to the Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve in Muskegon County at:
In a book rich with metaphors, award-winning English teacher Eric Stemle describes how to listen—not just with one’s ears, but with a mind that savors every word, with eyes searching for the unspoken, and most importantly, with a heart that is non-judgmental and accepting, willing to love, unconditionally, and learn with every student in the classroom.
While targeted to education majors and new teachers, I Was Not the Blossom: Growing with Your Students in a Nurturing Classroom, offers insight into what it means to be in relationships that create possibilities and paint the world with hope.
What if all of us could do just that? What if we cared less about always being “correct,” or being “the star” and more about creating a robust, colorful garden that respects and balances the unique needs of all? What if we, like Eric, viewed ourselves as the stem, “a conduit, rooted in the soil and delivering water and nutrients to the petals?” Could we create a healthier, cleaner, more just planet?
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” says Stephen Covey, author of the best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
That is why I was Not the Blossom, written by a childhood friend who has mentored my own journey into writing, resonated with me. I am a person of passion—particularly when it comes everyone’s right to clean, safe water. And passion, a fuel for engagement, can be a detriment for discussion, for negotiated solutions—unless one channels that exuberance into creating a learning environment where everyone blooms.
I picked up the book of a friend. I read the book of a visionary.
What if more of us chose to be stems?
Remembering the stems and blossoms of the fire-ravaged AZ mountains
to the creativity, passion and perseverance of teachers, particularly during this unprecedented time when producing “the room where it happens” involves rethinking what it means to be in a room. Please share this message with every teacher and aspiring teacher you know.
They deserve our support.
I wonder how many newspaper pages it would take to list all the unarmed people of color who have lost their lives unfairly in this country? Or the property owners who have incurred damage in cities ravished by violent protests? Or the women and girls who have been discriminated against, assaulted, killed, or worse because of behaviors incorporated into cultures centuries ago? Or the people who have suffered harm from the extreme storm events sweeping across our planet because of climate change?
So many names. So much suffering. The walls of the heart feel as if they are collapsing.
“It is only when the seed is broken that a tree begins to grow,” Gary Jensen writes in his book, Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey through the Stations of the Cross.
Perhaps we can find a way to nurture the seeds of our brokenness, find ways to grow a tree, maybe even a forest. Perhaps we can fill the air with oxygen so all people can breathe. Perhaps this time we will find a way to listen, learn, negotiate our differences, and nurture God’s forest.
In gratitude for what may be learned while walking through a forest.
One photo showcases the legacy left by our parents, a generation that insisted on legislation that protected our water and air, endangered species, and held those who polluted with hazardous waste financially responsible for the cleanup.
The other tells the story of the legacy we are leaving our children if we fail to curb climate change and to enforce environmental legislation designed to protect our properties, our health and our dreams.
Both photos tell the story of a small cottage on Sanford Lake that has been in my husband’s family for over sixty years. It is where Rubin learned to sail, waterski, fish, love boats, and hate mosquitoes.
On May 19th, the Edenville dam collapsed after days of unprecedented rainfall. The dam, one of four privately owned by Boyce Hydro Power along the Tittabawassee River in mid-Michigan, failed federal inspection in 2018. When it broke and the contents of Wixom Lake poured into Sanford Lake, it took only two days before the pressure of the additional water overwhelmed the Sanford dam, sending another wall of water down the Tittabawassee River and into the city of Midland. The result was the equivalent of a 500-year flood.
The damage caused by one record-setting rainfall and two privately-owned dams whose owner, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was chronically non-compliant with regulator requests to upgrade the dams, is mind-boggling. Roughly 1,000 property owners on Wixom Lake and another 1,600 on Sanford Lake watched property values plummet as the lakes disappeared over the dams, leaving debris and destruction in their wake. Throughout the Midland area, over 10,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes. While the financial cost of the flooding is unknown, the aerial photographs tell a horrifying story.
Even before the civil lawsuits began accumulating in the courts, Michigan’s governor called for an investigation. And while accountability is essential, I believe there are additional concerns.
Michigan has 2,523 dams, 1,153 regulated by federal or state agencies. Over half the regulated dams are privately owned. Should infrastructure that affects so many people be owned privately? Regardless of ownership, what should happen when a dam is not maintained, particularly with the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events caused by climate change?
The Tittabawassee River flows past a Dow Chemical plant and eventually meets the Saginaw River, continuing into Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. Throughout the 20th century, the plant contaminated the river, air and riverbanks with a compound called dioxin. Considered a hazardous waste, dioxins can cause cancer and damage immune and reproductive systems. Under the Superfund legislation passed in 1980, Dow is responsible for cleaning up the site. As the cleanup plans were not agreed on until 2007, implementation delayed until 2012, cleanup efforts are still underway. Scientists and environmental groups are concerned the flooding could sweep the dioxins back into the floodplain and farther downstream.
In October 2019, the Government Accountability Office said the EPA should take steps to protect the 1,871 Superfund sites from the effects of climate change, including flooding from heavy rains. What is the status of those recommendations? When will they be implemented in the 89 Superfund sites in Michigan? If the EPA is not addressing this issue, what is the state doing? And what can be done to expedite these Superfund cleanups?
It was reported that flood waters were commingling with Dow-Corning’s on-site containment ponds, potentially unleashing a 26-page list of chemicals and contaminants like solvents, tars, lead and other heavy metals. And while it is too soon to tell if the spread of dioxins and these other pollutants will be another cost of the flood, homeowners have been encouraged to have private wells inspected. At a minimum, there is risk of E. coli and other pathogens contaminating the groundwater.
How many before and after photos will it take for us to make climate change a priority? To insist existing legislation be enforced?
Our legacy hinges on how we cast our ballots in November.
to Lori, Rubin's sister, who provided the photos and personalized this seemingly preventable tragedy. Fortunately, no human lives were lost. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the fish, wildlife and vegetation.
I want to write a poem
about the fox or the robin
the turkeys or the moon
or even the radiant colors
of last evening’s sunset
but all I can think about
are those empty store shelves
knowing at some point
I will get down to that last roll
in my boxes
a Sears catalog.
from your local bookstore
or online retailer
and on this site.
The Ideal Gift
Tiny Treasures, a collection of wildflower photographs and poetic prose, available by clicking on the Purchase Products button below.
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