Ask The Simple Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Simplicities are enormously complex. Consider the sentence “I love you”.” ~Richard O. Moore, Writing The Silences

I’ve been told again and again that, at the heart of every complexity, there is a simplicity. And, of course, at the heart of every simplicity, there is a complexity. So, either way you go, there you are.

I find that I am yearning for greater and greater simplicity. I appreciate quiet. I avoid crowds, not “like the plague” but because of it. I’d rather be in my studio or on a trail than almost anywhere else. I wish I could go sit in a museum all by myself, in the quiet for an hour or two, with a Chagall or Picasso. Intentional beauty. I feel like the world is so full of extraneous noise and dedicated bloviating that I’m having trouble hearing the simple essentials.

And, perhaps because my desire is for simplicity, I find that I am, like Frankie, projecting simple solutions on to everything. Yes, 9 million dollars in my bank account would solve everything!

Almost.

Do you remember Rodney King? I was in Los Angeles when he was beaten, when the city was aflame after the acquittal of the officers who beat him. Do you remember what he asked? It was the ultimate simplicity: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I think it would take something more than 9 million dollars to solve the complexity to which Rodney King spoke. There probably isn’t enough money in the world. But, here in my dedicated simplicity, I think the opposite should be true. Rather than cost anything, getting along would probably save all of us a lot of money, and time, and heart ache. Getting along would profit all of us.

It costs nothing to open a door for someone. Put a price on gratitude. I can’t. How much does it cost to tell the truth? What about making sure everyone is safe and well fed, that everyone can walk safely down the street, that people are paid fairly, that the rules apply equally to all, that, if you’re injured or become sick, you will be treated and not lose your house in the process?

It doesn’t seem like that should be so far out of reach.

There I go again. At the heart of every simplicity…

read Kerri’s blog post about 9 MILLION DOLLARS

Smile With Pete [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is a hot and humid morning as we sit to write. The sky is dark and rumbling. A storm is moving in. Dogga doesn’t like the thunder. He stays close. He studies our responses. Kerri jumped up to close the windows against the rain.

News of Pete’s passing came yesterday. And, although I have not seen him in a few years, it sucked the air from my lungs. His path through life was not easy. He was the first truly free spirit I met in my youth. I’d met lots of pretenders, cape-wearing artists that fancied themselves to be free. Angry activists. Pete was different. His protest against the Vietnam war meant that he simply refused to fight. Peace made him a criminal so he went where he could live as he believed, a hippie, living off the land and off the grid. He understood that his actions mattered. He understood that his choices impacted everyone so he was dedicated to making sustainable, non-violent life-choices. Pete was way ahead of his time.

He was a beekeeper and, occasionally, when he needed help, I rode in his old truck and helped him lift the heavy hives, moving them to the next field. He collected the honey for sale and made beeswax candles. If a puritan work ethic smashed into a Buddhist mindset, Pete was the result. He worked hard. He relaxed hard.

He believed in the illumination of human consciousness. He meditated and practiced presence. We talked endlessly about the nature of…nature and what it was to be of the earth and not on the earth.

One night, after a long drive and a long day of moving hives to a farmer’s field, too late to drive home over the passes, the farmer gave him permission to camp overnight. Pete rolled out his sleeping bag and fell asleep under the stars. Two county ditch riders, seeing a hippie in a farmer’s field, decided it would be great fun to run their truck over the hippie. Pete’s hair got caught in the bumper. He was drug behind the truck for a long, long way before his hair finally released from his head.

No one can explain how he survived. His body was broken, his brain was damaged, but his spirit was unharmed. I’ve never seen another human being go through so much, lose so much, and come out smiling. In my middle age, years after the “accident,” sitting with Pete at family picnics, I’d ask him how he was doing. “Greeeeaaaaat!” he’d say, smiling his famous smile, closing his eyes again, turning his face to feel the sun.

No one I’ve ever known had more reason to be bitter yet had less capacity for self-pity. A peace-lover who became a survivor of horrific violence, an independent spirit who became impossibly dependent, a man of nature who was rendered incapable of doing any more than looking at the mountains and the fields, and his response was to smile.

Pete was rendered present. He embraced a simple gratitude for every day of life. He was capable of being no where else and inhabited his limitation with appreciation.

Even in his wreckage he managed to live fully his convictions. Isn’t that the mark of a great person?

read Kerri’s blog post about GRASSES

Climb The Ladder [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Very few images are as potent as Tom Mck’s story of finding his 90 year old aunt Bunty on the roof of the farmhouse. There had been a storm. She’d hooked her cane on a rung and climbed the rickety ladder to make sure the shingles were intact, “Papa put a fine roof on this house,” she said, staring down at her alarmed nephew. Bunty was a farm woman. She saw no reason why she should not be on the roof. As the elder of the family, she was the keeper of the legacy. The house and ranch were the tangible creations of her ancestors and she was the steward.

Years later, when Bunty was gone and Tom was the ancestral steward, his task was untenable. The city was spreading like a fire, gobbling up farm land. He knew it was only a matter of time before the ranch was consumed. A Walmart was being built and he could almost see it from the porch. “What am I going to do?” he asked, knowing that he was the end of the line. His question was rhetorical. Sometimes the steward’s job is to close the door on an era. He knew what he had to do.

After Tom passed and the ranch was sold, I imagined him, like Bunty, standing on the roof of the farmhouse. He made sure that, as the land was lost, the legacy remained intact. He was strong, like Bunty. His ladder was rickety but he climbed it none-the-less. He made sure the shingles were intact. He met his task without self-pity.

I learned from him that life can forge you into strong metal or, if you choose, if you feel sorry for yourself, it can break you into tiny pieces. Jonathan told me that a tree must split its bark to grow and I understood that as a metaphor for aging. The bark splits because the spirit outgrows the body’s capacity to contain it. Beaky was like that. And, Dorothy. Mike. Grandma Sue. H. I admire them. Bodies break down. Aging hurts. Spirits, on the other hand, need not wither.

I’m told that, in her elderhood, Margaret stopped what she was doing each day to go out back and watch the sun set over the desert. She was made hardy by a hard life. She was made kind by how she chose to live within her hard life. Drying her hands, stepping out on the back porch, the sky electric with peach and pink, she met each sunset with gratitude. Intentional thankfulness for the day.

Gratitude is not a soft thing. It is an attribute of the strong. Hard won from a long life of choices. Bitterness is easy, a lazy thing. Climbing the ladder, standing on the roof, feeling the aches and the loses, facing the running sands with a smile and admiring the day’s end, celebrating the shingles that held fast through the storm and those who placed them, that takes grit. Courage. And, an understanding of the connected power and responsibility of standing in the long line of ancestry.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRONG WINGS

Pack The Cheese [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Let me state from the get-go that Bota Box wine should sponsor Joey Coconato. More than once in his back country hiking videos, to the delight of his hiking companions, he pulls a box from his back pack. There is general merriment all around, not to mention amazement: every ounce counts when you are carrying it on your back and a Bota Box is more than a few ounces. For a dedicated wine drinker like me, it is heroic. “I want to hike with Joey!” I exclaim, knowing that I don’t have the metal to hoof in a box of wine on top of everything else I’d be hauling.

In one of my favorite Joey moments, the Norwegian Xplorer and Joey are comparing the food that they’ve packed into the back country. The Norwegian Xplorer has space-like silver pouches of freeze-dried meals neatly displayed and organized for the camera. They look easy to carry. Easy to pack. Joey, on the other hand, shows us a dozen raw eggs in a collapsing carton, avocados, a bottle of sriracha sauce, a pack of brats, flour tortillas and the item that made me howl with appreciation: a full can of Parmesan cheese. “I was cleaning out my cooler,” Joey narrates as the camera pans his supplies. Huy Fong Sriracha and Kraft should consider sponsoring Joey, too. It takes some serious dedication to hump those luxuries into the land of grizzly bears and moose.

I think it is why we’ve become dedicated Joey followers. On every level – even to his food – he’s not doing life as he “should” do it. He’s doing life as he wants to do it. Comfort is not high on his list of organizing principles. Being fully alive is. How many people do you know who can claim that?

The rules on the margins are different than they are in the main. It is the hallmark of someone truly free.

His pants are ripped, his equipment is collapsing, his tent is on loan, he regularly breaks his cameras or loses lens caps, and yet he finds a way. What most of us would see as an obstacle, he simply rolls with. I mean, why shouldn’t you pack your backpack with a carton of raw eggs, a can of Parmesan cheese, and a Bota Box of wine? Joey tells those of us watching from comfort-land that, after the wine is gone, the box makes a good fire starter.

There are two things to note: he is generally surrounded by friends and supporters. When his equipment breaks, someone sends him a replacement for which he is always grateful. Not a little grateful, Not pretend grateful. Grateful. Second, no matter the condition of his clothes or equipment, no matter the weight in his pack, he never ceases to notice how gorgeous is the world, how breathtaking is this earth. Appreciation. He knows it is his privilege, for a time, to walk on it.

Gratitude. Appreciation.

And, at days end, sprinkle some cheese on it and wash it down with wine. No one living in a penthouse has the view that Joey has. The ridge is brilliant in the last rays of the day. No one lounging in a tower or afloat in their yacht is as carefree or as willing to walk away.

Open your pack and I’ll wager that there are more than a few “should-do’s” or “should-be’s.” Open Joey’s and you’ll find only what he needs to fully live another day. Maybe. But, if it’s not there, no problem. Something nourishing will certainly be found along the way.

read Kerri’s blog post about PARMESAN CHEESE

See The Good [on KS Friday]

“…the measure on ones mental health is the ability to see the good in everything. Perception is the key.” ~ Kristine Klussman, Connection

If I kept a gratitude journal, my entry yesterday would be that Bruce was happy. I could hear it in his voice. Although it had been seven years since we last spoke, we talked like we were picking up a conversation from yesterday. Life has changed dramatically for both of us.

It seems we have both reached the revelation of simple appreciation. No longer focused on the big stuff, we talked of the sweet moments, the moments that feed our souls. He asked me to describe my days and I was happily taken aback to tell the tale of walks on trails, beginning each day writing posts with Kerri, ending each day with a glass of wine. Drawing cartoons. A dog that runs enthusiastic circles. Good friends.

I am reminded again and again that goodness is not found in the world. It is brought to the world. We don’t perceive what is already “there,” we wrap what is “there” in a story-blanket. We give it meaning. And then we feel the impact of the meaning we give it. Viktor Frankel famously wrote that “Happiness ensues.” It follows. Despair ensues, too. Anger, too, if that is what is brought.

Earlier this year a friend asked how Kerri and I were doing amidst the job losses and broken wrists. I responded that our circumstance was dire. It was. It just didn’t feel that way, so full was our sense of appreciation. In the midst of a dire circumstance, we started our days writing. Good friends called. DogDog ran enthusiastic circles and made us laugh. We sipped a glass of wine at the end of each day and enjoyed our simple meals. Today, things are less dire and, although we are still standing on shaky ground, we start each day writing together. We hold hands and take walks. We breathe deeply the smell of coffee in the morning. Our gratitude for our days has not changed a bit. Good moments are everywhere.

And today, Bruce is back in touch. He is happy and his happiness, like all happiness, comes from a hard decision that took tremendous courage: he decided to see the good. To bring light. To be light. He is doing the work of savoring the good moments that he now sees all around himself.

good moments/this part of the journey is available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD MOMENTS

good moments/this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Don’t Tell 20 [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I do not take for granted that I live a few short blocks from Lake Michigan. It is a powerful presence with wildly changeable moods. Sometimes I lay awake at night and listen to the boom: the sound of the waves pounding the shore. Sometimes I stand on the rock wall marveling that it is glassy, barely moving. Some days, if you didn’t know better, you’d swear you were staring into the Atlantic Ocean. Lake Michigan is a shape-shifter. A trickster.

We used to walk the shore almost everyday. We’d circle the marina and, sometimes, we’d go further. To the band shell. Once we walked to the college. When the pandemic came, we moved our walks to the woods. Actually, we regularly walked the paths of Des Plains or Bristol Wood but since we encountered less people on the wooded paths, we stopped walking the lake altogether. Everything, even our walk-location-choices, were pressed through the weird calculus necessitated by COVID. They still are.

20 likes to tease Kerri. He knows that the assertion that “It’s cooler by the lake,” will be met by her New York style push back. She’s a detail girl so blanket assertions are always met by contrary statements, “It’s not ALWAYS cooler by the lake!” she counters, her Long Island indignation rising. 20 looks to me and asks, ” How do you live with this?” My standard answer is: “It’s why I drink.” She pinches his arm as if he was responsible for my answer, he feigns ferocious pain. We laugh. They are siblings by choice.

Like much of the country our temperatures have been too-hot-too-soon. After dinner, we decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. “Look at the fog!” Kerri exclaimed. It was rolling in, houses a few blocks away were disappearing like Avalon into the mist. We walked toward it, into it, and were immediately cooler. While Kerri took photos I turned to the west, the lake lapping at my back, and watched the sunset color the fog.

The foghorn began to call. The lake literally disappeared from sight. Orange and red fingers reached across the sky. “It’s magic,” I said.

“It’s also cooler,” Kerri smiled, “But don’t tell 20.”

read Kerri’s blog post about COOLER BY THE LAKE

Seek The Old Gods [on KS Friday]

I’m thinking a lot about gods and goddesses these day. No, it’s not a weird fixation. It’s a project, a story that involves the old gods and the new. The elemental and the angry. The unified and the divided. We make ourselves in the images of the god[s] we embrace. It’s a story about reaching back to the old gods, to a time before the worship of the great divide.

We took a walk along a trail just behind our airbnb. We were only in the mountains for a short time, long enough to have dinner and a day with our daughter and her beau. On the trail we turned and gasped. The mountain towered above all things. It reached to the sky. So majestic in its presence, it did not look real. “Now, there’s an old god,” I whispered to no one. It challenges one to know it, to climb it and participate in the beauty and the ascent – with no opinion at all about who might deem themselves chosen or not. It does not discern nor divide. It reminds. You are this. Climb and breathe the fresh air.

Kerri saw hypericum berries [“You say hypernicum, I say hypericum, let’s call the whole thing off…”] in the grocery store. “These would look lovely on our table!” she exclaimed. They came back to the airbnb with us and found themselves placed in a fine Ball jar sitting in a prime spot on the table. She was right. Lovely. We did a bit of research and discovered that 1) no one can agree on the spelling of the berry [or they’re two different things but we could not discern the difference], and 2) it is often used as a winter wedding flower. Winter’s daisy. Red on green giving its color and presence at unions. “Another old god!” I declared to no one. Elemental. Till death do us part where we will once again unite.

She wrote a note of gratitude and placed the corner beneath the Ball jar that held the hypericum. “Our host will love these!” she said. Gratitude adorned with beauty. We hated to leave but had run out of time. We had to hit the road. We stood at the door and breathed deeply of the mountain air. More gratitude. The blue sky ringing against the red rock of the western slope. Old gods everywhere.

“We’ll be back soon,” I said.

“Maybe we shouldn’t leave,” she whispered.

“But oh if we call the whole thing off then we must part,
And oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart.”

You say hypernicum. I say hypericum. Winter wedding. Both/And. Gratitude and mountains. Old gods. Old gods everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about HYPERICUM

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

Be The Miracle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“The infinity in the microscope is as dazzling as that of the cosmos.” ~ John O’Donohue

After my surgery, the doctor said, “You my friend are now a modern medical miracle.” It’s true. Had I been born in another century I would not have survived. In fact, had I been born in another century, I would have met the average life expectancy of 30-40 years. Each and every one of us, walking the streets with an expectation to live beyond our thirties, are modern medical miracles and indebted to the brave explorers of the microscopic cosmos.

Early in this pandemic, before it hit the shores of these divided-united-states, we watched the movie Contagion. So much of the world painted in the film was spot on. Pandemic deniers decrying the virus as a made-up assault on their freedom. Charlatans selling miracle cures and misinformation. Conspiracy theories run amok. The initial panic emptied shelves at the grocery store. Quarantine. An economy in tatters. A weary and anxious populace awaiting a vaccine that would stop the micro-assault. A microscopic threat vanquished by a microscopic man-made-miracle.

When we pulled into the abandoned-drive-through-bank to receive our vaccines, I felt that I was in the movie. We’d placed our names on a list to receive vaccines that would otherwise need to be discarded. The call came on a Friday afternoon, “Come now!” We jumped into the truck as the sun was setting on a frigid snowy day and raced to the given address: an abandoned bank turned into public health center. We were directed to stop at cone number 1. Nurses in snow pants, knit caps and mufflers came out to the truck. It was so cold that we had to open the door to communicate, the windows were frozen and would not roll down. A bit of paperwork, coats shed and arms exposed, and the vaccines were administered. Coats and gloves and hats were quickly donned again. We were asked to wait at cone number 1 for 15 minutes. They gave us a flag to wave if we needed help.

As we waited, engine running to beat back the bitter cold, we admired those amazing women who gave us our shots. They were absolutely delightful, upbeat, and incredibly kind. Pandemic. A blisteringly frigid day. They’d been giving vaccines since early in the morning, repeatedly taking off their gloves in frostbite conditions. We were the last two of the day. And there wasn’t a hint of exhaustion or suffering or complaining from the cold. “People can be amazing,” Kerri said. “It’s good to remember that sometimes.”

It was good to remember. Dedicated people selflessly serving others in the face of a deadly virus, enduring extreme cold, extreme misinformation, tip-toeing across ice and politics to bring big-heart-comfort and a bit of modern miracle to the dazzling cosmos called my body and yours. My health is your health. Intimately linked as we pass in the grocery store or on the street or trail, across the nation and the world. The microscopic world does not know us as individuals and cares not about our investments or beliefs or freedoms, imagined or not. All that I know is that I am, once again, a modern medical miracle, and owe a deep debt of gratitude to the men and women at the microscope and those that stand for hours in the cold.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACCINES

Witness The Generosity [on Merely A Thought Monday]

You know the ritual is over when the sacrifice is made. Sometimes the sacrifice is literal, an offering of thanks to the greater powers. A life given for life received. It’s the elemental story cycle with gratitude as the final act.

Sometimes the sacrifice is unconscious and, therefore…unconscious. Unseen. Not felt.

In the weeks before the holiday, the delivery trucks were ubiquitous, zipping this way and that. The deliverers-of-packages worked overtime to ensure all good things arrived on time. We tracked the good people hauling our packages to remote destinations, a luxury of the modern world. As I stroll down my street this week I see, post-holiday, the garbage collectors are working overtime, mechanical arms groaning and methodical, clearing the mountain of debris, boxes, empty bottles (I contributed my share), wrapping paper and remnants of our ritual. Our offering of thanks to the greater powers leaves a mighty litter trail.

The day after Christmas, at the mouth of the lot where we park to hike our trail, the discarded trees were already stacking up. Kerri speculated that the people who enjoyed the trees must certainly be going on travels. Why else would they discard their trees so fast? “Or,” she speculated, “maybe they’ve had them up since the first of November. Maybe they are ready to move on.”

The sacrifice is too easy. It’s piled on the curb. It’s hauled away.

Despite how this reads, it is more meditation than criticism. This holiday season was one of my favorite precisely because we could take nothing for granted. 2020 was brutal for us as it was for many. With our patterns blown to bits, with our security nowhere to be found, our community fragmenting, with no easy choices, we were – and are – conscious of every single step. We are grateful for every moment of heat in the house, for every kindness that has come our way, for every small kindness we’ve been able to offer. We imbue our meals with a deep thankfulness that we did not a scant one year ago.

Why is it that gratitude is so easy when everything else is hard – and why is gratitude merely lip-service when everything is easy? It is, I suspect, why our congress can’t move to help a struggling populace; they have it too easy to identify with the people they represent. We are too easily taken to the curb, to readily swept away.

It has been my role in this lifetime to walk the margins and look inward at the mechanics of my community. To see. It’s the role of the artist to see the patterns, the shapes and colors of their culture and reflect them back, to make conscious what is too easily ignored. To bring the heart, the eye and the mind to the ugly as well as the beautiful.

By the backdoor of our house are bags we’re filling with crackers and peanut butter, socks and sweatshirts. The bags are for the army of people appearing on our streets with signs that read “Homeless” or “Hungry.” It’s not that I am a fan of hard times, I am not, but I’m grateful for what these times are evoking in me – in us. It’s waking us up, helping us reach to others rather than push them away. It’s moving us to see and wildly appreciate our simple abundance.

In the early days of this new year, with the glitter all but swept up, the champagne bottles hauled away, I am moved to tears at the acts of generosity I’m experiencing and also seeing pop up all around me. The holiday is over, the sacrifices made, but the generosity-of-spirit continues. It’s rising in hard times. It’s there. It’s everywhere, if you care to see it.

read Kerri’s blog post about DISCARDS

Pursue The Quiet [on KS Friday]

If I were going to write an autobiography I’d call it IN PURSUIT OF QUIET. Drawing has always quieted my mind. The simple act of descending the stairs into my studio has the same effect. I’ve learned that it is not the picture on the page or the image on the canvas that I’m chasing, it is the quiet mind I enjoy.

When I was a teenager, Mahlon and I drove into the mountains, hiked through the snow and set up camp. It was so quiet, the cold wind whispering through the treetops, the only meaningful voice in the conversation.

During the first winter that Kerri and I spent together, the snow was a siren call. We had to go into it. More than once, late at night, we’d bundle up and walk and walk and walk. The sound of our feet crunching newly fallen snow, the wind off the lake – no words necessary.

I reread what I wrote on this day last year, the first day of the new year. I vilified the previous year. I spouted hope for a better year to come. I know better now. It’s best to be quiet. It’s best to reserve judgment, to stay far away from “should-be” or “might-have-been.” It’s best to stand on the back deck, face to the sky, feel the flakes hit my face, and appreciate…all of it. Every last bit of it.

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOW WHISPERS

find Kerri’s albums on iTunes