The Sky Watched

I don’t have the words to praise long enough and well enough what Linda LeGarde Grover has done in The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives (Red Mountain Press, 2015). How she so beautifully, realistically reflects the spirit of her people; how she bears witness to their experiences, their lives, past and present, their strengths and their vulnerabilities. Nor can one overstate the important and necessary way these poems testify about the Indian Boarding School era of American history, and about a people’s will to recover from that (and other) attempts at erasure.
sky watched

We know that one road to recovery –of oneself, of one’s people, of the world– is through the healing rhythms, repetitions, and reiterations of story, of memory. And LeGarde Grover is a marvelous and expert and trustworthy poet-teller and (even in painful places) a gentle, composed, and loving one.

With each telling of the story with each singing of the song
          we once again rise to break the surface and seek
          the finite beyond the grace of this merciful Earth
          the finite beyond the mercy of this graceful Earth
                    (from Redemption, the collection’s opening poem)


I am not new to reading fictional and non-fictional treatments of this unspeakable chapter of American (and Canadian) history which, of course, must be spoken about—loudly, and repeatedly, and especially by Native voices. (A number of favorite authors regularly address the subject of Indian Schools: Louise Erdrich, Kent Nerburn, Robin Wall Kimmerer among them. I encourage you to seek them out.)

But I had not experienced a sustained poetic treatment of the subject before; and LeGarde Grover’s The Sky Watched is a really profound one. Her Poems of Ojibwe Lives emerge in part from her own family’s experiences of boarding school and beyond (her grandmother, her aunties, other relatives, children and families they knew).

And let me tell you. The cumulative effect of multiple speakers, of bringing one voice after another to bear on a shared experience, is very powerful. Like any accumulation of voices (as in Our Town, for instance, or in a Spoon River-type anthology) each added voice, each story, each new telling fills in and layers onto what has been said. The combined effect is a truer truth than one over-arching narration could possibly provide, and a surer and more powerful knowing for the reader.

There are also poems in the collection that address another kind of erasure, which is what happens when the “gen-yew-whine” Indian Princess that is sought, commodified, and co-opted for a certain look, a style, a kind of spirituality is based on a hyper-romanticized version of Indian-ness.  “I know what you’re looking for / and that I’m not it,” the speaker insists. Her real reality is not only invisible, but undesired—not what is wanted at all.

But the prevailing iterations of this book are these: strength, the power of family, confidence in the natural world, and gratitude. The closing poem, Migwechiwendam Schaaganaashimowin, gives thanks for grandchildren “their sweet happy hearts” and for grandmothers, long gone but still “among us.” “And then I know I am blessed, a fortunate woman.”

Oh, how I hope you will read this collection! And be sure to read some of it out loud, including this postscript:

and today, Wazhashk, hear us breathe
a continuing song
a continuing song
long before the memory of mortals


Now Reading:

indian horse

I have just begun Richard Wagamese’s powerful novel, Indian Horse and at times I don’t dare / can’t bear to turn the page. I hold my breath, knowing another shoe will drop, and another, and another. I fear (rightly) that the varieties and levels of violence done to these young bodies (and minds and souls) at St. Jerome’s Indian ‘School’ have not yet been exhausted. But neither will I look away. None of us should look away — from inhumanity, from injustice, from atrocities past or present. Isn’t it the looking away (by those who are free to do so) that allows evil to continue?

If there’s rhubarb, it must be Spring!

rhubarb lake

What captures Spring’s sheer will to have sprung any better than those first rhubarb crowns busting through the soil, insisting on their right to be? Nothing speaks life’s stubborn determination to rise out of dormancy any better or signals any more certainly the end of winter’s sometimes over-long grip on the garden, on one’s spirit.

glory rhubarb

Rejoice for a moment. And then get to work. For rhubarb’s bounty will very soon catch you off guard, overwhelm you. And you will be praying for July 4th to hurry up and roll around; that’s the date after which you should cease harvesting rhubarb and let it go to seed and die back until next year. I sometimes think of rhubarb as Spring’s version of zucchini: what to do, what to do, what to do?!

rhubarb stalks

Ported Rhubarb is one of my go-to answers to that question. I found this recipe in a library book, ages ago. I believe it comes from the great Anne Willan. And yes, The Best Recipes: 2002-2003 is still available at IndieBound, and maybe at your public library.

best recipes

Ported Rhubarb

1-1/2 lbs. rhubarb, cut into 2” pieces (on the diagonal)

¾ – 1 C sugar (I like less)

¾ C ruby port (don’t substitute)

Zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350º.  Arrange rhubarb in a baking dish or rimmed sheet pan large enough to hold it in a single layer.  Sprinkle with the sugar to taste.  In a small bowl, mix the port and orange zest and drizzle over the rhubarb.  Bake until the rhubarb is just tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 – 30 minutes.  Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled — over ice cream, angel food cake, or cheese cake. I sometimes crumble gingersnaps on top. I sometimes swirl it into plain yogurt.

rhubarb trifle

Ported rhubarb freezes very well, if you have any left to freeze I mean.  I can’t wait to serve this to my Lit Lunchers on Friday!

Drawdown: Women and Girls

This is the second in a long series of posts inspired by Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken (Penguin Books, 2017).

girls reading

As a reminder, Drowdown presents the 80 most substantive solutions for reversing global warming, meticulously researched by leading scientists and policymakers from around the world. Project Drawdown’s global solutions are grouped by sector: Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, and Materials. And the solutions are ranked from 1 to 80, with #1 having the most bearing on greenhouse gases, expressed in the gigatons of carbon dioxide that would be removed between 2020 and 2050. You can find a more complete introduction to this series of posts here, where you will also find my Earth Day post, detailing Drawdown’s top 5 solutions.drawdown

Solutions #6 and #7 both come from the sector Women and Girls, which happens to be the smallest category in the collection, containing only 3 solutions (compared, for instance, to 20 in Energy, 17 in Food, and 15 in Buildings and Cities). And yet 2 of the 3 solutions in that small category, Women and Girls, fall into Drawdown’s top 10. This is partly because women and girls represent a majority of humanity, at 51%. But it is also because “climate change is not gender neutral” and “women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts, from Malala Yousafzai’sdisease to natural disaster.” At the same time, women and girls are “pivotal” to successfully addressing global warming and its impacts.


6. Educating Girls (Category, Women and Girls): The authors of drawdown believe that malaevery life “bubbles with innate potential” and “nurturing the promise of each girl can shape the future for all.” And they argue that study after study bears out the truth in Malala Yousafzai’s (the Pakistan-born activist for girls’ education) famous assertion, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.”

Project Drawdown’s conclusions about the benefits of educating girls are based in voluminous research showing that women with more years of education have fewer, healthier children and better manage their reproductive health. “The difference between a woman with no years of schooling and [one] with 12 years of schooling is almost four to five children per woman. And it is precisely those areas of the world where girls are having the hardest time getting educated that population growth is the fastest.” Educating girls is the “most powerful lever available for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth.” All of which inextricably links solution #6 Educating Girls to the solution ranked #7– Family Planning. The two solutions are so interwoven, in fact, that the authors present all their figures (costs, savings, carbon drawn down by 2050, etc.) in combination, attributing 50% to each solution.


7. Family Planning (Category, Women and Girls): The success of this solution lies in increasing women’s autonomy in decisions about when and how many children to have. The emphasis is on a reduced number of births, hence on a more stable and sustainable population which, subsequently, will reduce global resource demand. Of course, this raises red flags—not only in countries where women traditionally have few rights and less say about how early or when they bear children or how many, but also in first world countries where women’s reproductive autonomy has become a largely partisan issue.

Also, the authors are well aware that the mere hint of population “control” can raise hackles. But not only are draconian, Malthusian, or eugenicist solutions (forced sterilization, one-child limits, etc.) undesirable, they are unnecessary to encourage and maintain healthy population levels. Only more and better education is necessary and, of course, equal access to it. I hope we can all get behind that.


“This Year I’m Cutting Back”

Many of you know how much vegetable gardening means to me. How much I’ve loved every stage: from seed starting, to transplanting, to setting out, to mulching, watering, harvesting, putting by, cooking, eating, sharing. Heck, even weeding is okay by me. And oh how I love to be in the garden. I could putter endlessly. And I do. I like to express my  gratitude to the plants and even talk to the critters. The garden is my self-made habitat, and the perfect one for me. Whether my soul is soaring or aching or somewhere in between, the garden is exactly what I need.

garden bench

And yet, every year I say, “this year I will cut back.” Gardening the way I do is a tremendous amount of work, some light, much of it heavy and difficult; and with every passing year I feel a little more unequal to it. As you can imagine, it’s also a huge time commitment, one that lasts from seed starting in late February through harvesting in late September and clean-up in early October. Hence, most of my travel (which is another tip top priority) and all of my extended travel must happen between October and early February. These months aren’t optimal weather-wise, especially for someone who prefers road trips to flying. But I’ve made it work.


Despite my annual pronouncements, however, I never do cut back. Well once, in 2015. In February of that year my husband suffered a terrible stroke. I could easily have lost him. It was February 20th, as a matter of fact, a day that usually heralds my seed starting in earnest. And I can still see the seeds, and seed starting mix and trays lined up on the counter. And then the phone rang. It was a harrowing weekend, followed by a month in a stroke rehabilitation unit (together), followed by many more months of intense rehab and myriad adjustments at home. Gardening as I have always known it wasn’t even close to happening that year. And as it turned out, that wasn’t a bad thing.

The year got worse. On Sunday night July 12th, 2015, an 8-mile wide by 3-mile deep superstorm (with winds in excess of 110 mph) roared across our lake. When it was over, the gardens I would have planted (as well as the yard, the driveway, the house, the garage) were covered, and I mean covered, with 80-year-old cedars, 150-year-old white pines, and ancient oaks 36” or more in circumference.


I learned many, many things in 2015, about how everything can change in an instant and that people who love each other can make it through the worst shit life can throw them. I learned about resilience, buoyancy, what true strength is, how utterly precious is good health, and how to better honor the time you do have by being more present in it.

And this year, 2018, I really am going to cut back in the garden–not out of tragedy this time, but because I want to. And not even these darling artichoke seedlings will persuade me otherwise.


I want more time for writing this year. I want to read more and hit the road from time to time in good weather. But it’s also that my heart just doesn’t seem to be where it usually is this time of year. The long extended winter and the seriously delayed garden year has been tough on the seedlings under lights downstairs and on me too. Most of my plants are failing to thrive for one reason or another. Maybe we’ve all missed some window; maybe the wind’s been let out of all our sails. But gosh, those artichoke seedlings are troopers, aren’t they? Wish me luck.

My Earth Day Post: Drawdown’s Top 5

drawdownDrawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken (Penguin, 2017).

Drowdown presents 80 substantive solutions to reverse global warming. They are based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers from around the world. Project Drawdown’s global solutions are grouped by category: Energy, Food, Women and Girls, Buildings and Cities, Land Use, Transport, and Materials. And they are ranked from 1 to 80, with #1 having the most bearing on greenhouse gases, expressed in the gigatons(!) of carbon dioxide that would be removed between 2020 and 2050. And, in the section “Coming Soon,” another 20 forthcoming solutions are presented, some of which are very close at hand. There are also a handful of essays sprinkled throughout, by climate thinkers as various as Michael Pollen and Pope Francis.

The scientists, researchers, and policy-makers of Drawdown synthesized primary research from thousands of studies to determine the rankings of these solutions. And under each solution you’ll find plenty of details about what the problem is, how the solution works, the upsides and downsides, and the required financial investment or estimated savings.

This is not a book about ‘cap and trade’ or carbon credits or other band-aid type ‘solutions’ that allow us to go down the same wrong road, only at a slower pace. Rather, as in the military, drawdown here means a reduction and reversal strategy that changes the course itself. As hopeful as this book is in its arguments–that the reversal of global warming is still possible–it does not invite a “sigh of relief” or a Pollyanna-ish view that we will be “saved by technology.” Drawing down in this serious and determined way will take work, from every available set of hands—from national and international coalitions, from NGOs, from cities, towns, municipalities, and communities, from corporations and businesses and industries, from religious and tribal leaders, from educators, from farmers and ranchers, from individuals in their kitchens, their homes, their cars, their gardens. I hear it as a rallying cry and as an infusion of a much-needed sense of purpose. Drawdown does not dictate your personal role or roles; it does not tell individuals what they should do. But I will tell you, if you read this book—heck, if you read my postings about it– you will discover what your many contributions can be (maybe already are) to Project Drawdown.

Drawdown’s Top Five

1. Refrigeration (Category, Materials): The hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in 2airconrefrigeration and air conditioning have –gasp– a 1000 to 9000 times higher capacity to warm the environment than carbon dioxide. According to the Kigali agreement, a mandatory amendment to the Montreal protocol, HFCs are to be phased out beginning with high income countries by 2019 and in toto by 2028. Whether this can keep up with the fact that air-conditioning, once a luxury, is now commonplace worldwide is uncertain. But there are already alternatives to HFCs on the market, namely natural refrigerants like propane and ammonia. Dealing with refrigerants will be costly, but these costs are offset nine-fold, by solution #2’s net savings alone.

2. (Onshore) Wind Turbines (Category, Energy): Estimated to be the world’s cheapest energy source by 2030, wind has the potential to cleanly meet nearly all the world’s energy needs, particularly in conjunction with solar energy in areas of the world where wind is most variable and inconsistent.


3. Reduced Food Waste (Category, Food): It is estimated that as much as 30% of the global food supply is wasted, which means that 30% of all the resources (financial, human, and natural) spent in the production, distribution, and vending of food are also wasted. In poor countries food waste happens less on the individual level than from failures and inefficiencies at the level of transport, storage, and refrigeration. In high-income countries food waste is more a matter of vendor and consumer habit.

food waste

4. Plant-Rich Diet (Category, Food): Reducing meat consumption lowers methane emissions from cattle, reduces land use and the need to deforest additional land as pastures are worn out, shifts us away from a fossil-fuel heavy industry, and lowers water demand.

Healthy food in rustic wooden tray over grey background


5. Tropical Forests (Category, Land Use): I’ll summarize. Tropical forests are defined as those located within 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator. These forests have suffered extensive clearing, fragmentation, degradation and depletion. Their restoration (well in progress, both passively and by intention) is critical, since tropical forests have the world’s largest forest area and the highest carbon uptake. Likewise, when we lose forests, tropical or otherwise, high amounts of carbon dioxide are discharged into the atmosphere.  According to the World Resources Institute, 30% of the world’s forestland has been cleared completely, and another 20% degraded. Restoring these degraded forests, especially the tropical forests, is a crucial piece of drawing down.



What is my uptake from Project Drawdown’s top 5? What can I, Deborah, do to support these efforts?

  • I can plant trees, lots of them; and I can support those who do so on a larger scale, particularly organizations that work to restore tropical forests.
  • I can cut my food waste drastically; I know I can. And I can support local, community, commercial, educational, and national organizations who are committed to reducing food waste.
  • I can eat less meat. Definitely. And I can make sure the meat I do eat is local or grown in ways that are easier on the land, require less transport, don’t waste water.
  • I can keep my refrigerators and freezers up to date and properly dispose of broken or outdated appliances that use refrigerants. I believe I could live without air conditioning entirely. But my husband cannot. Still, I can turn that AC thermostat up a degree or two or three, in both the house and in the car. I can support and advocate for the organizations that are working to eliminate the refrigerants that increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • And I can be better educated about wind power, talk it up, promote it, support those who champion it and be more vocal to those in charge of energy subsidies which, at present, go almost exclusively to outdated and degrading forms of energy, namely coal and fossil fuels.

Wow. I guess there’s a lot I can do. And we’ve only gotten through the first five solutions. Stay tuned. I hope to talk about five Project Drawdown solutions each week or so.

Happy Earth Day. And, yes… I’ll say it. Why not make every day Earth Day?


Reading Notes: Mid April, 2018 (Part II)

Here is more of what I’ve been reading so far in April. If you missed Part I (Poetry and Nonfiction), you can find it here:

Fiction (Children’s): And my ongoing attempt to curate a collection of children’s books for my own library, no easy task in an age of excess. But the project comes with perks, like the joy of reading these four books. All of them, I am happy to say, are keepers:

This is a Poem That Heals Fish, by Jean-Pierre Simeon, Illustrated by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion Books, 2007). An absolute treasure of a story about a child trying to understand what a poem is. Every child, every poet, every lover of poetry should have this book. I first saw it reviewed here, on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. If you’ve never visited that site, you are in for a treat.

Bao Phi’s A Different Pond, Illustrated by Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers, 2017). A beautiful book by a Minnesota author and poet I admire. It’s the story of a little boy up early to fish with his dad and all he learns via that experience. He learns about that ‘different pond’ where his dad had fished with his own dad long ago in Vietnam, yes; but also about the world of work and labor, about providing food for a family that struggles to make ends meet, about parental sacrifice, about loving and being loved. Wonderful illustrations throughout.

On A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Allemagne (Harper, 2016). A fun and necessary book about a child who spends days glued to her gaming device, until she can’t…and all she ends up doing when there’s “nothing to do.” Darling.

A Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell (Fiewell & Friends, 2017). A Picture Book and the 2018 Caldecott winner. I’m always amazed at how well a story can be told entirely in pictures, in this case with a few whimpers, howls, huffs, and barks thrown in. And the illustrations (by the author) are delightful.


Fiction (Middle Grade): Ditto for Middle Grade fiction on the difficulties of curating in an age of excess. But here are two books that really stand out. Inside Out & Back Again, by Thhanha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011). This is the award winning immigration and transition story of 10-year-old Ha and her Vietnamese family, told by Ha in the form of a long poem. A beautiful and important narrative, delivered in a fun and compelling voice.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers) is exquisite in both story and writing. I can see why it has won so many awards, including the 2017 Newbury, and why it has been up for so many others. In keeping with Barnhill’s own understanding of the best middle-grade fiction, her novel is a “big tent” book where everyone is invited; and at 60+ I felt so. Beautiful characters, a gripping, well-paced story, and plenty of magic. A sheer delight.


Fiction (Adult): The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt (Random House, 1993). Three matissestories, each inspired by a Matisse sketch. These are lovely narratives told by a master storyteller. Each elevates daily life itself to art. This is another book I likely bought at least in part for the cover. And this is my second time around with it (to keep or not to keep). I loved The Matisse Stories more the first time, so I will let this little volume go (the original hardcover) to make room for a story collection I have my eye on. If anyone has a good home for it, speak up—otherwise to the library sale it goes.

life we buryThe Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street Books, 2015). Let me just say this: despite my misgivings about the level and graphic nature of the violence (for which I have a very low threshold), I had a hard time putting this book down. The story is both disturbing and tender and the telling is very, very good. I need to write more about this book and this reading experience and the questions it raised for me. Another day.




Reading Notes: Mid-April, 2018 (Part I)

Here is the first installment of Reading Notes, a monthly, perhaps even bi-monthly round-up of what I’ve been reading. What follows aren’t reviews in the conventional sense; there will be no thumbs up or down, no rating system, stars or otherwise. I rarely finish books I don’t enjoy and generally don’t say much about those. I am my mother’s daughter (“If you can’t say something nice…”); so, if books show up here I think they’re worth reading. Only brief notes, light commentary or annotations will accompany most titles, enough I hope to spark your interest, and you can take it from there. Each installment of Reading Notes will open, however, with a slightly longer look at a book I’d like to feature. I might have found it especially beautiful and appealing, as is the case today. Or maybe it loomed particularly important to our time. Or perhaps it helped me think through an idea, a situation, an issue that troubles, challenges, or inspires me.

deja vu

Déjà Vu: Poetry by Laura L. Hansen (Finishing Line Press, 2017)

Early April brought me back to Laura L. Hansen’s Déjà Vu, a slim but weighty volume which I bought before Christmas, when the poet signed books at our local arts center. At the time, I could only page through the collection; but I knew I’d come back in earnest when I could give it more attention.

From the opening poem, “Déjà vu,” through “The Truth Upon Waking,” “Her Body,” “The Mythology of Loneliness,” “A Cup of Sky,” and “Mitosis” (to name only a handful of favorites), to the closing poem, “Desire at 60,” I found Hansen’s poetry at once sating and stimulating, each poem like a bite of rich chocolate dessert—it completely satisfies but also sets you yearning for the next bite.

The poems I like best in Déjà Vu look inward, even as they reach out toward the reader, occasionally in spite of themselves (“Sometimes I Pray That You Won’t Talk to Me”); they are introverts, these poems, perfectly fine with their own company yet longing to be heard and appreciated. There is beauty in every poem, whether the subject be mundane or elevated, dark (“Testimony”) or pulsing with light (“Mitosis”); they are well-wrought with exquisite language that can stun or stifle (and more!) to appropriate effect. And flowing through it all is the river of Hansen’s awareness, so keen the reader just knows she is in excellent hands. pray me

Also in Poetry: Ellen Doré Watson’s Pray Me Stay Eager (Alice James Books, 2018). The title drew me in: that’s my kind of prayer. As did the book’s cover: I’m such a sucker for green, growing things. And now I’m just glad to have these astonishing, sometimes strange or surprising, often difficult poems in my life! Here’s snippet from “Women for the World” –one, of many favorites:

…Sharp- or honey-tongued, she / legals, loyals, triages, stops the superhighway. She sings / herself, and everyone. Flecked with paint or pain, knee- / deep in the way out or in. She drives. We women–elected, / reflecting, dissecting, refracting–ignition for the world. (56)


In Nonfiction: At the time of Ursula K. Le Guin’s death I was reading No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (HMH, 2017). This month I followed up with Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter: Writing About Life and Books, 2000-2016 (Small Beer Press, 2016). Individually or taken together, these two latest-in-life collections of essays, reviews, blogposts, journal entries and more (many not previously published) are a tour de force. They offer so much of what is needed right now: strong, unminced words, not just from someone who has been there, but from someone who cares deeply about the future– of words, of writing, the arts, women, humanity, the planet. These two volumes will hold pride of place in my library for a good long time

Attracted, as usual, by any title that involves a dinner table (be it literal or metaphorical), I found myself reading a book I likely would not otherwise have picked up– A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John bigger tablePavlovitz (WJK Press, 2017). I am here to tell you, that no matter where you are in your relationship (or lack of relationship) to religion or spirituality– institutional or otherwise, Christian or otherwise–there is a great deal you can take away from this book. If you are interested in fostering more truly inclusive community in these deeply divisive times; if you long to become more of a ‘big-table’ person in your personal life, I hope you will read this book. 

Coming soon~ Reading Notes, Part II: Fiction (Children’s Books, Middle Grade, Adult)