The Language of Trees #trees #nature #mindfulness

On days when the temperature is above frigid, I don’t protest the dogs’ favorite habit stopping to gnaw at every single stick they encounter during our noontime walks. Instead, while they ravage the broken arms of trees to top off their stomaches already filled with lunch, I study the language of trees.

Winter is the season of dormancy, but also of exposure. By mid-February only a few stubborn bunches of withered brown oak leaves hang lifeless from the trees that bore them. The floor of the forest has long been taken over by the element of water, suspending time in its frozen form in a mosaic of matter in various stages of life and death.

A winter mosaic from today’s walk

The artful practice of mindfulness is everywhere in winter, urging the walker to slow down. To breathe. To be still and observe the state of stasis. I love winter because of its offering to be still. The other three seasons can overwhelm the senses, but not winter. Winter pulls the mind inward and begs it to find the magic always held within.

The watchful eye of a hemlock

There are days when I think winter is ugly and dreary. It stretches time here in the northeast in a way that tries patience. Yet, when I look closer, while the dogs feast on their finds, I find the magic of stillness revealing itself. Lately, this magic has taken the form of the language of the trees.

In truth, it is not the language of the trees itself that I read, but the story of the insect life that feasts upon them. I am in awe of the patterns. When I stop to read their art, I marvel at how each one is unique. It is a language of pictographic script that only the insect scribe understands, in truth, but it doesn’t stop the wondering mind from making an attempt.

I Talk about Writing, Publishing & My Middle-Grade Series, Warriors of Light, with Barney Smith on his Story Comic Podcast #authorinterview #writinglife #storycomic

Watch the interview at storycomic.com

Last night I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Barney Smith of the Story Comic podcast. It was truly a fun-filled hour that flew by. We talked about the writing life, self-publishing, the emerging field of visionary fiction, and why I wrote the Warriors of Light series to empower today’s youth.

I’d be honored if you checked out the interview, which is also on YouTube. Barney interviews all sorts of creatives, and more of his podcasts can be found at Storycomic.com.

Gifts of Joy Sometimes Arrive in the Night #dreams #ghosts #dreammessages

Photo Credit: KELLEPICS of Pixabay

My grandmother is 94.5 yrs olds. It’s one of the few, consistent facts she remembers. It’s become quite clear as of late that she has turned a corner in her life’s journey. When I call her, I’m never quite sure what type of response I will get, if any.

A couple of weeks ago, I called to receive her announcement, “I dumped all my medications.”

I hesitated a moment before I asked, “You did? How are you feeling?”

“I feel great,” she declared as she went on to tell me how all her previous discomforts had now vanished.

Later, after we hung up there were a flurry of calls and messages that she didn’t know about to confirm facts and safety. As far as I know, though, Gram is still off her meds but is being closely monitored and cared for in the facility where she lives. My grandmother, you see, has wanted to die since my grandfather passed away two decades ago.

But she has lingered here in this life and often she wonders why. Nearly every time I call her, she brings up her daughter, my mother.

“Did you hear your mother called me and she’s coming to visit me?”

This announcement followed the heals of the one about her medications. It took me a little longer to react, and now no one I have spoken with is sure if it is true. More than a week has now passed and as far as I know my mother hasn’t left the state where she and I both reside to travel 3,000 miles across the country to say goodbye to her mother before she passes.

My feelings are mixed, but what matters is how my grandmother feels. She’s waited 30 yrs, as she tells me know each time I call, for this moment, and it is enough in her mind that a long awaited connection of peace was been made. I don’t care if that call was real. I care that it has brought my grandmother the peace she has been waiting for.

Stories of the elderly or terminally ill lingering longer than expected in life are not uncommon. And, quite often it is because of a desire to mend relationships or to say goodbye to those that one holds dear. I am so glad my grandmother got the call she has been waiting three decades for. A call where her beloved daughter told her she wants to let go of their wounded history. Whether it was real or not doesn’t really matter because it has brought my grandmother the joy and peace she has been waiting for.

Last night, my grandmother brought me the gift of joy. And, after a very challenging year, it was just what I needed. Joy, in the dream, arrived in the form of a magical room I didn’t know existed in my “house.” When I crossed the threshold of the door, my body lost the pull of gravity and flew, guided by the unseen presence of my grandmother. Each stop in the room, yielded a gift of love and symbol of joy for the four members of my family.

Whether my grandmother’s spirit actually visited me in my dreams, doesn’t really matter. It is not uncommon though, to hear of such occurrences when souls are preparing to transition. Because I have had more than a couple “spectral” visitations that have been aptly timed, unexpected, and with synchronistic messages for loved ones, I’d like to believe this one was real. Real enough, at the very least, to bring the gift of joy. And, for that I am grateful.

Turning into a New Year Focused on Self Care #selfcare #innertruth #writing

Photo Credit: Pixabay

It has now been more than a month since I have posted on my blog. I have allowed myself to be pulled elsewhere, but have not been idle when it comes to creating. Instead, I have decided to dig into the work of creation in every sense of the word in which I can define it.

Last year was a really tough year for me. It tested me in many ways, and what came out of this testing was a deep knowing that I need to return to myself. As completely as I can. I don’t think I’m alone. These divisive times call us individually and collectively to come home to ourselves, and in the process find what unites us to the web-of-life we are all a part of.

For me, self care has taken the form of no more substitute teaching as the stress far outweighed the benefits for me. Being underpaid and undervalued is a life pattern I am striving to release. It’s not easy to navigate back into the paying workforce when one consumes so much time into childcare, but I would not have changed focusing on my children and now teenagers as they grow into their selves.

Instead, I am realizing what I now have to offer the world and am finding unexplored paths to bring my creative energies into existence. In my writing life, I am moving into the third book in my middle-grade Warriors of Light fantasy series while a group of beta readers are going through the second book. I have decided self-publishing is not for me, so am exploring the somewhat more daunting world of finding a traditional publisher for the series.

I am also writing more poetry, after a bit of a lapse. I have collected a group of spiritual “yoga” poems in a file that are simmering in prospects as I also delve into the shadowland of the self to create from the raw material of pain that seeks voice. They are braver poems then I am used to writing, but I find them necessary and healing. It feels good to be bold where I have previously held myself back.

This boldness includes breaking into the world of podcasts and I am happy to announce I will be a guest on the first of what I hope will be several at the beginning of February. I will be sharing more on that later. In addition to guest podcasting, I am creating online workshops with a friend of mine. These endeavors have made it clear that I need to amp up my marketing game. Marketing, ironically is the field I was in before I had children. Not by choice so much as by default. The pay was good and I had a knack for the work.

I am finding marketing and marketing writing is much easier when it is not focused on yourself. This too is breaking me out of my comfort zone. There will be a shoot with a professional photographer soon, I hope. The scheduled session had to be canceled on her end because of COVID-like symptoms. I’ll need to channel some of my daughter’s confidence to do these, but they are necessary for the endeavors I am pursuing.

As I am going through this process of self care and delving into what I wish to bring forth into the world, I am noticing how freeing it is to release what is no longer serving me in a positive manner. This release opens the door for that “good” stuff to come in that feels true to the soul. I am reminded that the self, and the world we are a part of, is not served by staying small inside the confines of self-doubt and fear. The light comes in and goes out through the open door.

Help the Warriors Return the Light: Beta Readers Needed #betareaders #middlegradefantasy

Happy Solstice Everyone!

I was hoping to get this post out yesterday, but it ended up being a rather long and exhausting day. I was called in to sub at the middle school and the day stretched out from there without much time for blogging. So here I am now reaching out with a request to help the “Warriors of Light” repair the lines of light in Earth. I am looking for a handful of beta readers who are willing to journey (back) into The Labyrinth with my six young warriors as they continue their quest together in book two of the series.

I you have not The Labyrinth, no worries. It would be nice to get perspectives from both those who have, and those who have not. Here is a brief synopsis of the plot of the first book and the overall quest of the adventure trilogy:

A mysterious labyrinth appears to six teens, luring them into a magical maze of light broken by darkness. Here they discover they are the chosen ones, tasked to bring back the light in Earth. It is a seemingly impossible quest in a place where danger and otherworldly beings lurk in the shadows. The teens, though, have extraordinary gifts. They are shapeshifters, able to transform into their spirit animals and unleash their powers. It is both a gift and a curse, as the teens come to realize how much is at stake…

If you are willing to help me bring book two in the series into the world by becoming a beta reader, I would be very grateful. You can email me directly at aekehas@gmail.com or respond in the comments. The manuscript will be sent to you as a PDF file formatted to read like a book. At this stage I am looking for general feedback, but welcome typos if you happen to catch them. Many thanks in advance for those who are willing to help me out.

Subbing the Middle Grades: If in Doubt, Let Them Out #middleschool #subbing #mindfulness

Photo Credit: Pixabay

It was only a half day gig, but I was covering French. I know maybe five words of French so there would be no winging it if we ran out of things to do, which we did. The teacher left very limited assignments, which were accomplished in the first third of the class time, and it was a lovely day for December. Blue skies, a light wind, temps hovering around 50 degrees fahrenheit….

So we went outside, naturally. Apparently the French class never goes outside, but yesterday we did. I have learned that playgrounds are not limited by age, only the imagination. Who doesn’t like the weighty drop of a swing after the soar? Well they don’t have swings on the middle school playground in my town, but they do have a things to play on that integrated into the natural environment. There are wooden beams to balance on and hang from, ropes to navigate, and plenty of fields surrounded by trees that beg to be run through and explored. There are few things better than watching a middle schooler give away all cares and run with abandon outside. And, our work was done for the day. We had no excuses.

Nature is transformative. Before we went outside, clusters of middle schoolers were beginning to form to talk not about French, but each other. They were supposed to be practicing their vocabulary words in small groups, but the inevitable “Who do you like?” game quickly formed between two of the clusters. I observed for a while as I pretended to read.

“Okay, let’s go outside!”

The transformation was instant. Everything else forgotten, except who was going to get the football from the gym. If truth be told, I’d spend the whole day subbing outside. Weather permitting. Nothing beats Nature’s Classroom. The benefits are pretty much endless.

I often tell my yoga classes to “get outside” to ground their bare feet through Earth, which has a magnetic polarity just like our bodies do. We need that connection to feel balanced and well. Even if we have to wear shoes. We need the feel of the elements. The wind moving into our lungs, the sun activating joy and that essential nutrient called vitamin D…

I spent the first have of this past Saturday in a suicide prevention workshop and one of the issues we discussed was the high rate of suicides here in the Northeast where are winters are long and sunlight is limited. When we don’t get outside and receive that essential connection to Earth and the elements on a regular (daily) basis, we fall more easily into depression. As a substitute teacher of the middle grades, I care more about the wellbeing of my charges than I do their grades. I believe that’s my job. I can’t possibly know the ins-and-outs of each subject in each grade that I cover, nor can I know the performance record or learning habits of each student, but I can pay attention to their wellbeing.

With the exception of the underdressed (there are always a few who refuse to gather jackets), there is always reluctance to head back indoors after the allotted time outside is finished. That, to me, is a sign of time well spent. Before we went inside yesterday, I noticed that even the underdressed child with her arms tucked into her shirt had been singing for the entire ten minutes. There is nothing better.

A Black Bird Flies Over White Rocks #lospadres #sacredsites

When my sister-in-law told me she was taking us to a trail with white rocks, I was expecting boulders maybe the size of a car alongside a mountain trail. The drive from the center of Ojai to Piedra Blanca trailhead is only about thirty minutes. It winds through and up the Lost Padres to more than 3000 feet of elevation, offering spectacular views along the way. The only time we were happy to have rented our red Jeep was when we left the paved roads and navigated the gullies of the dirt road the parking lot. By then I was crying.

Only a hint of what awaited. A time when a photo does not come close to reality.

Well not exactly, but the mist of joy covered my eyes as I took in the wonder before me. I immediately thought of Montserrat in Spain. Who knew I would find the magic of limestone beings rocks in California a mere three months after reluctantly departing from our brief stay on that magical mountain in Spain? I had a feeling, somehow, Sue must had her wing hand in this one too. I don’t think I was wrong…

It didn’t take long for confirmation that we had arrived at somewhere sacred.

Another too-dry landscape awaited us as we stepped onto the trail and began walking towards the limestone rocks that looked more and more like the bleached bones of giants the closer we got. I was, naturally, in heaven. And I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only one enjoying the magic of the land.

Three of my hiking companions: My son, nephew and sister-in-law.

And then, suddenly, we had arrived at the playground of gods. An elephant loomed before us in the center. Genesha in white with folded ears and an impossibly long trunk sat above a resting camel in a valley of ghosts. Crevices beckoned eyes to peer; a perfect hideout from rattlesnakes, we kept away (with more than a bit of reluctance on my part) and continued our climb to towards the giants watching us.

Awe and wonder swirled with magic and joy that afternoon as we climbed and explored. We were all kids that day, ranged in age from 6 to 76 among the mountains of gods. Only time held us back from staying until the stars brought the secrets down from the sky. Oh, how I wished…

Still, I could imagine what once was and still could be again. I had no doubt it was once a place of ceremony, open to the sky, lifted from the body of Earth in seemingly impossible forms. Revered for the magic it held and opened to. A place that bore the tough of home. And there was one stone god, at the very least, I had to climb. Ganesha. And as I climbed, joined by my husband, Sue appeared.

It could only have been more perfect if there had been more time to explore, and perhaps a night to sleep under the opened sky. It was a feeling Sue would understand. A place she would have loved. A blessed day indeed.

Healing Waters: A Visual Journey #water #ocean #seacoast

During our recent family trip to California, we spent quite a bit of time on the coast. It was incredibly healing and rejuvenating for all of us. While the teenagers explored surfing, I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the sea, its life, and the feel of the tide against my feet. Here are some of the photos I took, which I hope evoke that healing and rejuvenating feeling:

Spirit Stones on the Back of a Dragon #thousandoaks #wildwoodpark #traveladventures

The next morning, my husband and I returned to the site of the dragon/lizard, leaving our two teenagers behind to sleep in. The night we arrived in California, the moon was full. Three days later, it had begun to wane but the morning held onto the image of its fading face as we set out into the dry, dusty landscape of Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks once again.

Morning Moon over Wildwood Park

This time we lingered at the junction of paths, debating whether to venture left towards Paradise Falls, or take a sharp right up the hill. The coyote from the day before was nowhere in sight, so we followed the tug of the hill and took the hand of chance. Actually, we both borrowed baseball-sized rocks from Earth, holding them in our palms just in case…before returning them on our descent.

There is an undeniably other-worldly feel to a dry desert, especially for someone used to living in a place with four seasons and plenty of rain.

The journey up the back of the dragon, although shorter in distance than the day before’s path, was quite strenuous. It didn’t take long for the heat to build inside us and soon we were both peeling off our outer layers to be tucked around our waists. We could not help but chuckle at the two hikers coming down the path in their matching pink windbreakers, zipped tight to the chins. “Must be locals,” we concluded.

The only visitors we encountered were two “pink ladies” (not photographed)

Aside from the the passing by of the two ladies in pink, our hike was almost eerily silent. No coyote. No snakes. Not even a raven…Somehow, like the prior day’s encounters, today’s lack of visitors seemed perfectly fitting. But I’m not being entirely honest either. There were the watching stones that filled the spine of the dragon, bringing the kind of discomfort that makes one turn to look over one’s shoulder. More than once.

But I’m okay with watching stones. I’d have been rather disappointed with the alternative. Watchers remind us of the living spirit(s) that embody the land. In such a place as we were, they are expected. No wonder the coyote had watched us the day before. Testing. Seeing if we were worthy of the climb.

The Watchers

I don’t know if we passed the test, but we were, at the very least, allowed to enter a space still bearing the imprint of magic. That, to me, is enough. I have learned the land’s secrets are not always revealed in one (or two) visits, if they are to be shared at all. Most often there is first a test (the coyote) before initial entry is allowed. And, sometimes the stories unfold in their own time. Imprinting the cells with a whisper before they dig into the marrow of magic.

What I did capture on camera: the image of an industrialized civilization below.

There was, though, at least a glimpse of what once was, and what could still be…In the distance, uncaptured by camera, I spotted the head of a second dragon. Miles away from the “Lizard Rock,” it jutted over a faraway valley, tracing the undulating length of the spine we had summeted. And I wondered, for a long moment, what it might be like to walk the entire length of the body…

Where the coyote lurked the day before held curious standing stones…guardians in their own right.

A Magical Walk with a dragon, a coyote, and a blackbird #thousandoaks #dragonlines #lizardrock

I’ve come to the conclusion the best magic is that which arises unbeckoned and fills the soul with joy. During a family trip to California over the Thanksgiving holiday week, I had the pleasure of encountering this type of magic more than once.

We took the path ahead, which leads to Lizard Rock. You can just make out its profile in the tiny peak to the left of the center of the distant hill.

On the second morning of our stay in Thousand Oaks, my husband, daughter ventured to a nearby system of trails and left my sleep son behind in the hotel. A mere ten minutes drive from where we were staying, we were afforded several paths to choose from for our morning hike. After debating between Paradise Falls (which likely had no water to offer) and Lizard Rock, we chose the trail leading to the head of the dragon. We could just make out its profile on the far horizon and it seemed to beckon us. I didn’t know Sue would be waiting for us there, but I wasn’t surprised when I saw her.

Once we reached the head of the lizard/dragon, Sue appeared in the form of a blackbird (possibly a crow) circling above

Call me crazy, if you will, but those who are willing to open their minds to wonder will likely nod their heads in knowing. Life is filled with magic, we simply need to recognize it for what it is. We need to respond to its subtle cue and open our minds to wonder to welcome it through the door. When we do, rarely are we met with disappointment.

The spine of the dragon was guarded by a lurking coyote, but the next morning it was not…

The land we traveled that morning, as all land is on this planet, is ancient. This land, unlike many other places that have been radically altered my humankind, still bears the memories of magic. There was little doubt in my mind that it was once, and perhaps still is, considered a sacred place. A place where people intimately connected to Life had called forth in the energies of the land and the sky to feed the dragon lines. The rocks still hold the stories. As rocks tend to do. They are the bones of Earth. The keepers of memories long stored, waiting to be awakened.

The head of the “lizard” is much larger than it appears here and overlooks the valley and distant hills.

The weather was near perfect, the sky that impossible blue that only comes in autumn. Yet, the ground below our feet was scorched and withered for want of rain. Over to our right, as we walked toward the head of the lizard, a coyote paced the hillside, watching us. If we had wanted to venture toward the spiny back of the lizard, today was clearly not the day to do so.

Not the best photo, but you can just make out the hint of the coyote in the tan speck at the bottom middle of the closest green mound.

It was a little jarring to have our animal guide lurking so close beside us, especially with the knowing that one coyote often belies a pack inwaiting. But it was approaching mid-day and there were other hikers roaming the trails with canine companions of their own. Even if we were being watched, we were safe enough. And the symbolism of the coyote, with the blackbird that awaited us, could not be more fitting for a place such as this.

Sitting on the head of the dragon/lizard rock it is easy to contemplate the vast expanse of Life.

Lizard rock is just over a mile from the parking lot of Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks, and when we arrived at its head we waited patiently for the hikers who proceeded us to take their photos. My daughter and I both wanted our turn, and as you can see, the view is well worth it. When a solitary blackbird appeared overheard circling above us I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt we had arrived at a special place. I could only imagine what it once must have been like to look upon nothing but wild wilderness and feel the rush of energy commence at the head of the dragon upon which I sat.

The honeybees on the few cati that were in bloom brought a glimmer of hope

Sadly, though, I could not ignore the feeling of neglect in its place. Southern California is suffering greatly from the effects of climate change and the land is so thirsty for water even the visiting body aches for it. I felt myself wishing I had the power of my Warriors of Light character, Dell, wishing I could sing the water back to water Earth.

The walls of the cave continued to fill, and Dell did not drown. She had becoming a part of the body of water. Together they moved against the structure of stone, softening its form and urging its pores open to fill hardened veins with life. Up they rose, higher and higher, as the water lifted the weight of time along its way to open air. 

And instead of fear, Dell felt only joy.