Gratitude & Gratification

Áan (Sun) came out to see us today. How brilliant he is, lighting the vast sky of my Indigenous homeland. Earlier this week it was cloudy, so we notice Áan more so than usual, appreciate Áan with greater enthusiasm. I spend more time outside, gratefully doing chores in the warm sun, sweeping the porch and walkway clear of the many maple leaves that have fallen. The leaves that shade my grandpa’s home are now done with their work overhead. Now they humbly await my broom or rake and prepare to drift into the orchard where they’ll break down and nourish apple trees.

Swish-crunch, swish-crunch, swish-crunch, the sound of sweeping dry leaves and walking on gravel path is a peaceful tune to my ears.

After a few minutes I look back and joyfully assess my progress. Don’t you love it when you see the results of your work instantly? Ah, gratification.

After I finish, I go inside and notice my dog has selected a cozy place to nap, soaking up sunshine coming through a south facing window. Ah, gratification. His comfort and joy are contagious.

Thank you for brightening our day, Áan.

Photo credit: “Maple Leaves on Ground” by Alexandria MN Tourism is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Auntie Way Writing Retreat December sessions start Friday, Dec. 4. Also check out the Writing Workshop Dec. 14-16! Register today!

Dancing Fog

This morning, while feeling a bit tired due to interrupted sleep, I occasionally looked out the window, taking momentary breaks from my task at hand. The natural focal points are tall hills, dark with evergreen trees who blanket them. No matter how many times I see these familiar hills and tress I still think they are beautiful, graceful, and strong. The next time I look out the window the hills are no where to be found. A thick fog rolled in–wow, how powerful that damp white air is, those bits of moisture hiding the hills, drastically remaking the landscape.

A bit later I look again and see fog has danced away; the familiar hills are back again. I tilt my head and look up, raising my eyebrows to see as much of Grandfather Sky as I can.

I see how the shades of white, gray, and even little wispy bits of light blue have rearranged themselves. They look different from a few moments ago. I’m amazed at how much change the sky can hold. Maybe I can, too.

I sit back in my chair and ponder what I’ve witnessed this morning. How much change and stability I’ve seen out my window.

A single bird, likely a crow, glides through the sky in the distance. “What’s the lesson, Crow?” I wonder.

I sit back and watch again. Fog gathers, just a little bit, making the air look hazy, like the hills are wearing a veil.

What wonderful teachers our More than Human Relations are. I feel blessed, comforted, and hopeful despite this time of fear and illness in so many communities, and the trying changes to schedules and routines; all of it is upheaval that often brings exhaustion and disorientation.

Perhaps this fog-time of life can teach us to see the beauty, movement, and new possibilities in ourselves and in our lives. As I write this, fog is dancing back up, showing me yet another view out my window. What a beautiful teacher, dancing gracefully in change.

Photo credit: “Mists and Magic” by priyam.n is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Enjoy more lessons from our More than Human Relations in Michelle’s latest book, Huckleberries & Coyotes.

Maple Tree of Life

The maple leaves are changing! How pretty they look, so many shades of orange and red. They gently bob in the breeze, so graceful. Their work providing shade for my loved ones during hot summer afternoons is now over for the year. Now the trees provide us with another gift, their leaves changing in a colorful fall time show. What generous neighbors they are.

I’m looking out a window facing west as I admire these leaves. I know behind me sun is beginning his journey climbing across the vast sky of my Indigenous homeland, warming Mother Earth and all of us.

I wonder what sun thinks of our current state, or settler nation-state I should say: the pain, fear, and confusion spread all across Turtle Island. Sun pities us, I think. I believe sun would urge us to look outside; imagine a collective as beautiful as countless leaves that are here to teach us and help keep us company. I think sun would want us to remember we all have branches to which we belong. We are not alone. Even in this turbulent time, we can find beauty and strength in our lives, if we look to the land, and our loved ones.

We can have that beautiful collective our soul is calling for. First we need to imagine it, reconnect with it. I believe our power to dream is greater than our fear.

What maple tree of life will you dream into being? Maybe I’ll be gently bobbing on the branch next to you.

Photo credit: Michelle M. Jacob

Write your dreams into being in The Auntie Way Writing Retreat! November sessions begin tomorrow, November 6. Register here.

Witnessing Blessings

Today I got to witness the sunrise over my Indigenous homeland. How pretty the wide, wide sky is, as expansive as the wisdom in our traditional teachings.

The cool fall air greets me on my morning walk. I notice frost here and there, letting me know winter is eager to visit.

Later I have Zoom meetings with wonderful people. The internet works. What a blessing. The women I meet with share their good ideas. In their work as educators and scholars they provide examples of radical hope and love.

After my morning meetings I treat myself to another walk. The crunch, crunch, crunch of my steps on a gravel road. The whispery soft sounds of my steps when the road turns to dirt. Mother Earth is dry and firm, as she usually is here. Strong enough to support me and my hopes and dreams. Strong enough to hold and nurture my people–since time immemorial.

I look up and see puffs of clouds moving gently across the sky. A chilly breeze from the mountains sends them East. I look to the source of the wind and see the snow-capped foothills of beautiful sacred Pátu (Mt. Adams). I’m so lucky to witness all of these ancient and eternal blessings, all in one contemporary day.

Photo credit: “Dirt Road Wheatfields Mt Adams 901 A” by jim.choate59 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Auntie Way Writing Retreat resumes Nov. 6. Register here.

Braiding Past, Present & Future

“Indigenous Peoples have long histories and even longer futures.” This was one of the wise ideas shared at a gathering of Indigenous educators I was fortunate to be a part of a couple weeks ago. At the gathering, we were asked to share our foundational beliefs around teaching and learning. There were so many beautiful ideas shared, too many to count, like hairs on my head. But this one I quoted above stays with me.

The respect for intergenerational connections and commitments is strong among Indigenous educators. Like how I often wear my hair, the past, present, and future are always braided together. Sometimes my thinking and actions are solid, secure, and well-prepared in living this vision of education. Sometimes less so. Like when I’m in a rush, holding a hair elastic in my mouth, head turned to the side so I can reach the back of my head and hurriedly work around tangled knots I should’ve brushed out, but instead I just live and let live with those tangles and now I’ve got three unequal sections of hair as I speed walk to my next meeting or destination while I braid, braid, braid those three strands, pulling as tight as I can to smooth over the tangled bumps but not so tight that the braid pulls on my head and causes a headache. When I feel I’m done I use the hair elastic and go round, round, round with it at the end of my braid. Sometimes in my rush to finish I pull too tightly on the elastic and snap! It breaks. Ugh. Now I have to walk around holding the end of my braid until I scrounge up another elastic circle. Be more gentle this time, I remind myself. Pay attention to what you’re doing.

As I walk around holding the end of my braid, I think of the people who teach me and support me. I have so many generous teachers. Sometimes my mother-in-law makes us Twelve Days of Christmas gifts–she uses 12 socks and puts decorated numbers on them and little gifts inside. Sometimes there’s a pack of hair elastics in one sock, a thoughtful gift for me. So I never worry too much about breaking these, as I usually get restocked in December. Sometimes I think of the buckskin hair ties my parents and aunties cut for me when I was younger. Those thin strips, so soft and strong. With these hair ties you want to crank them tightly in a knot so they don’t fall out. As I touch the soft tan strips I think of the deer and elk who gave their best so I could be dressed up, learning from the older generations: who we are, how we conduct ourselves, and yes, even how we wear our hair.

Braid, braid, braid. Yes, these lessons are for me. So I can learn and live the best life I can. And so I can be strong, bold, and loving in making space for Indigenous education for future generations of students.

How’s my braid today? Pretty good! No tangles. Like the other MJ, I feel I’m a smooth operator. Except not in a gross way. Rather, like the nice definition from the Urban Dictionary. If you look it up, you’ll see a synonym is “awesometaculor.”

How could I not be feeling good and doing well, with the spirits of deer, elk, and my Aunties all surrounding me with love, hope, and encouragement. Soon I’ll visit with my parents, and then my in-laws. These teachers, just one generation older than me, they know things. They show things. Will I be a good student? Will I pay attention? Yes. I’ll take the time to comb the tangles out before I braid my learning from the past, in the present, for the future.

What lessons will you braid together today? I hope that whatever you do, you are feeling good and doing well. Awesometaculor.

Photo credit: “Braided Scarf” by LollyKnit is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Auntie Way Writing Retreat November sessions begin November 6. Register here.

Daybreak

This morning I am thinking about breakfast. I remember one morning when my dad took me to breakfast when I was in college. My mom, a school bus driver, had to rise early each morning for her job. So when they’d visit me at college she’d decline the offer to eat breakfast at a restaurant, preferring instead the rare opportunity to sleep in.

I’d usually order oatmeal. If possible, with blueberries and brown sugar. My dad would order a heartier breakfast, some kind of bacon and eggs, “bacon crisp,” he’d request. Oh gosh, now I’m forgetting how he takes his eggs. I think over easy…I dig deeper into memories, trying to remember how mom cooks them. I think back to watching her in the kitchen when I was a child. I notice the small white bowl she kept on the stovetop–where she’d drain the bacon grease and later use it as a non-stick coating in her well-seasoned black cast iron pans handed down from my grandmother, who taught my mom to cook. I’m trying to remember how mom cooks dad’s eggs. I believe I can see her scooping out some hardened bacon grease and placing it into the pan; I see the white paste melt almost instantly in the heated pan. Then tap, tap, tap–she’s gently cracking eggs on the sharp ledge of the counter, then plop, adding each egg to the pan. I feel confident she’s cooking them over easy, keeping the yolk intact and just a bit runny. Dad can sop it up like gravy with his crisp sourdough toast.

Anyhow, when I was in college my dad and I would go out for breakfast when they visited. He’d sometimes order a meal called “Daybreak” with bacon, eggs, toast. There may have been sausage. Goodness I can’t remember if he prefers patties or links. I’d say links. I can imagine his shaking Tabasco all over his eggs and also making a line of red Tabasco dots down his sausage links.

So there we are, me perhaps 20 years old, my steaming bowl of oatmeal and a tiny pitcher of cold milk to pour on my hot cereal. I love those little vessels with dainty handles! Across the table there’s my dad with his Tabasco-dotted Daybreak.

Back in the present moment, I pause from my writing and look out the window. Officially, the sun doesn’t rise for 15 more minutes. Yet the sky is already light and bright, full of anticipation for the full new day ahead.

Little puffs of clouds are pinkish red, almost like dots of Tabasco.

I feel lucky I got to witness a beautiful Daybreak. Actually, I guess there were two.

Photo credit: “Organic Oatmeal & Organic Blueberries” by ☼☼Jo Zimny Photos☼☼ is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Auntie Way Writing Retreat October sessions begin October 9. Register today!

The Auntie Way Super Auntie Writing Contest entries due October 12. Enter today!

Birds & Bowling

I’ve been too busy lately, the dull ache in my head tells me. When this happens I know it’s time to sit outside and do nothing. Just observe. Let the knots of my mind untangle themselves with the help of my more than human relations. Today my special helpers are birds. I notice how they chatter and fly about. Diving from tall evergreens down into the grapevines below. Then up. Then down. Like the needle of a skilled embroiderer making a masterpiece inside their hoop.

The birds do not work in silence. I cannot even count how many bird voices I hear in the forest. And then there’s the “ha, ha, ha” of ducks at the neighbor’s–they remind me of the old men who sat in the balcony on The Muppet Show. “Ha, ha, ha,” they’d chorus after a good wisecrack, witty comment, or joke. I chuckle thinking of those old guys famous for their heckling, just like some of my beloved Elders.

I see one Twískaka (Robin). Now several are poised on the high branches of a nearby tree; their red chests are pretty in the golden autumn light. While I admire these little birds, I can’t help wonder where he is–the big Xwáshxway (Blue Jay) whom I think wants to be in charge of everything. Oh! There he is. He’s landed in the tree now, on a lower branch that can support his weight. He says nothing, for now. He’s such a big, showy bird. I always enjoy seeing him. Yesterday I looked out the window and to my surprise I saw three large Blue Jays together on the ground, pecking at the stone patio. How beautiful they looked in their bright blue attire. They seemed to me kind of classy and kind of fun. Like a cool bowling team with matching blue button down shirts. I can imagine admiring them when they stroll into the bowling alley. I think they have “The Blue Jays” embroidered on the back of their shirts, of course with their Ichishkíin name, Xwáshxway, sewn onto the front pocket.

Back at home, I see Á’a (Crow) gracefully glide by just overhead. Now there are two going past. Their “Caw!” when they flap their wings is so loud and clear. They never struggle to find their voice, it seems.

The birds in the forest are still singing, chirping, and chattering away. Robins gracefully go up and down, up and down, so quick and light in their movements.

I see Blue Jay fly from the grapevines up into the trees. He’s bigger and slower than the others, reminding me of an embroidery needle with thick yarn in it. Maybe Blue Jay will embroider a Kleenex box cover for you. You could admire it just before you blow your nose, or perhaps you’ll grab a spare tissue from it. Tuck it into the chest pocket of your pretty blue shirt before you head out to the bowling alley of life.

I hope there’s always a lane reserved just for you.

Photo credit: “Stellar’s Jay” by Crusty Da Klown is marked with CC0 1.0

Engage more lessons from our more than human relations in Huckleberries & Coyotes. Or write your own stories about your helpers! Join The Auntie Way Writing Retreat–October sessions begin October 9.

Keep Growing

It’s hard not to feel a sense of doom and gloom when you can’t see the sky. When you can’t go outside and breathe in a deep breath of fresh air. When precious Elders have trouble breathing in their own homes–the smoke has seeped in through cracks here and there.

Our needs are so basic and specific right now. We are praying for rain and no lightning. Rain to clear the air. Rain to help our beloved firefighters in their dangerous and impossible work.

I pause and look out my window. I focus on the few trees who are close enough to stand in front of the curtain of smoke.

These trees. Whose species-families have such a long and blessed relationship with Mother Earth. Who know about surviving, thriving, renewal. How precious they are. I pause and wait for the lesson from my Auntie-Uncle teacher trees. What message do they have for me today?

“This too shall pass,” I think they’re saying. I lean forward, really paying attention. They continue teaching. “Be like us, keep growing the best you can in the place you are.” The air is dead still. But their message reaches me. “This too shall pass,” they reaffirm.

What wisdom these trees have. Their deep roots reach the moisture far underground. Sure, the surface of the Earth is bone dry and flammable. But the trees know how to see beyond a curtain of smoke and a dusty patch of ground. Deep roots keep them nourished and balanced. They keep growing. And so can we.

I’m wishing you a day filled with peace and hope so that you may keep growing in the place you are.

Photo credit: “fog-forest” by JeremyOK is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Auntie Way Professional Development Course: End of Year Strategic Planning on September 21 is designed to help you keep growing and reaching your goals.

Got Auntie Stories?

I do! I wrote The Auntie Way to celebrate the love and lessons we learn and share from our Aunts.

Now I’m inviting you to write and share an Auntie story. Entries for The Auntie Way Super Auntie Writing Contest are being accepted until October 12.

Get those keyboards out and write a short story about one of your favorite aunts. Maybe you want to write about someone you’re actually related to, or maybe you have an “Auntie” you’ve chosen who is encouraging or inspiring in some way.

Youth and adult writers are welcome. Complete info and rules (and info about prizes!) are on my website.

Aunties are awesome!

Auntie loves planning for success. End 2020 feeling awesome about reaching your personal and professional goals. Join The Auntie Way Professional Development Course: End of Year Strategic Planning on September 21.

Renewal

When fires rage through beautiful Indigenous homeland, whether mine or someone else’s, I feel sad as I think of all the living beings–human and more than human–and the devastation of habitat loss.

It feels heavy and difficult. Kind of like how it feels trying to breath when enveloped with smoke.

Prayers to all those impacted by the fires. Blessings on the firefighters and their families. Blessings on the folx bringing back Indigenous ways of managing the land, and the wisdom of working with fire to prevent the devastation so many are witnessing now.

For those stuck inside due to hazardous air quality, why not spend some of your time writing? Write your truth. Write your way to a vision as clear as the sky you’re yearning for. Wrap yourself in a sunbeam of words that can heal your day and, I believe, the world.

I’m wishing you a day filled with the possibility of renewal.

Photo credit: “Fairy Bells are a hopeful contrast at Devils Rest Trail in the burned area May 3, 2018, photo by US Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Lillian Palmer.” by Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Need support and accountability for your writing? Join The Auntie Way Writing Retreat.