The Trees Knew

Snohomish River & Trees. photo by Mary Dessein
Walking along 1st Street recently, where I lived from age five until age twenty, I heard the huge cottonwoods and alders, before I really saw them. Yes, they are over a hundred feet tall, yet it is like driving along the freeway: I see the road surface but I pay minimal attention to it, and make no note of it.
One of my character defects is that when I see something enough times, like the clutter stacked on my love-seat, it becomes invisible.
I did not see the trees … until they called to me.

The “yes, yes, yes,” sound of thousands of their leaves whooshing in the breeze beckoned me. It was then that I turned and really looked at them. I heard the softest, shooshy whisper, “We knew you as a little girl.”

By golly, they did.
Oh, the street has changed – the section that was twenty plus feet below street level for those three blocks along 1st Street had been filled in sometime in the last thirty years. The three houses that were there forty years ago were now gone, replaced by an electric company, the City Public Works, a towing company, and a couple other large truck and construction businesses.

Yet the trees were still there along the edge of the river, as tall and strong as ever. Lush with late summer golden and orange leaves, rustling susurrous voices, gently soughing their song to me.
To the little girl I was, and had mostly forgotten.

Trees along River Trail. photo by Mary Dessein

Hearing the trees, I remembered how I sang to them when I was out in the backyard batting my tetherball around the pole my dad put up for me when I was in elementary school. I remembered sitting in their shade for the picnics on the blanket with my sister and our dolls. I remembered the great dollops of snow falling from their boughs when the sun warmed their branches after a storm.

And the trees remembered me.


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photo by Mary Dessein, allowed by Bowie
And Inspector Goatling will be checking. Is he adorable, or what? And Bowie’s twin brother, Gene, poking his inquisitive self right in there, too.

The wonder of animals, as they are so present in the moment. Who knew goats are affectionate and like to be cuddled? The dearest behavior, which I expect from my kitties and just melted me when hugging the goats, was that each goat put his head on my shoulder. Granted, it was for a few seconds, yet they did.

Present in the moment as well as letting go. I am famous for saying I raised my children with wings not strings. Okay fine, famous in my own mind, yet walking that talk is entirely another experience – an ongoing one to boot. My blog nearly three years ago about when my son stepped through the SeaTac airport door at 6 a.m. to go back to Tennessee, was when it felt like my heart was splintering off in shards. Especially when he acknowledged he didn’t want to leave. Didn’t want to leave home.

Home. We each have to find our homes. Most of us many times in life. I am again at that point: where is my home now? How do I find it? What opportunities will arise for me?

I watch my daughter and son-in-law, both remarkable, flexible, creative people, search for and find their home. Visiting them (and my grand-goats and grand-puppies!) is such a delight as I witness the struggles, joys, and rewards in the myriad of things they are doing as they work toward the vision they have of their future. And their home.

Looking back, my style at their age was much more of a ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants’ operating system. If it seemed like a good idea at the time, then, “Okay! I’m ready to go.” There is certainly a history to support that, yet lest I go into it now, suffice it to say it was my m.o. for decades. It took me even longer to recognize it as an m.o. I was not an Ennio Morricone or Meryl Streep who knew what they wanted to do at a young age and pursued it single-mindedly.

The term shoplifting is thought to be first documented as such in 1591 by British playwright, Robert Green. Originally called ‘lifting,’ it is obviously not a new phenomenon. Lifting is also raising to a higher position, or perhaps moving to a different position; I get that connection.

When I was with my kiddoes in a fabric store on Friday, the red and white warning sign to shoplifters was reversed in my mind at my first quick glance at it. Hhmm, I knew some prosecutors that could use some lifting back in the day when I worked in the legal system. I digress.

How do I find my home now? It involves the concept of trust. Dang, that is a hard one. To trust, don’t I need some control, some input, some history? This dance of trust and faith fascinates me, as I don’t have it figured out; it is a beautiful concept, yet how to live it. I’ll spend some time on this terpsichorean connection soon.

As to this moment with trust and faith, there is a saying we heard in the Program often, and in the counseling world, attributed to various sources, a prominent one is O.R. Melling, “When you come to the edge of all you know, you must believe one of two things: either ground will appear to stand on or you will learn to fly.”

Really? Trust in what? My intuition. Some message from the Universe. An ad in the personals. Well, two out of three’s pretty good.

So then will I lift or prosecute? Maybe both as prosecute also means continue on a course of action with a view to completion. I am definitely invested in finding where I belong at this chapter of my life… I plan on it containing occasional hugs from goatlings and grand-puppies.

“Life is a journey through a foreign land.” Another from O.R. Melling. That’s an understatement, right?


Bowie and I
And baby goats.

Driving by the local Les Schwab tire and automotive center last Sunday, I saw three teenage girls waving ‘Car Wash’ signs at passing traffic. On my way back from errands, I drove into Les Schwab, the girls gave me the thumbs up, and I waited behind a bright red Toyota Forerunner. Mercy, they were thorough: a man with a long-handled brush, two girls with hoses, and two more girls with rags and sponges. Having just completed an 850 mile drive to eastern Oregon to visit my daughter and son-in-law, their four dogs, mama goat, and two newborn baby goats, a car wash was definitely in order.

I was surprised by my eyes tearing up watching the car-washers bustle around the Toyota in front of me. A young lady walked up to my window.
“What are we raising money for?” I asked her.
“4-H,” she smiled broadly, and thanked me as I handed her my six dollars of cash. Young people doing something for good makes me cry? People doing things in community makes me cry? Me getting to peripherally help as I donated money to the cause makes me cry? Apparently so.

Oh yeah, forty years ago, I cried at the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethons. He did those until 2010 when he was 84. He and all those celebrities giving their time for free to raise money to help people.

This Les Schwab center frequently donates their space, and precious water, to help groups raise money for what they believe in. Les Schwab himself and his wife donated money to a local hospital to build a wing in honor of their son. A native Oregonian, Les was born in Bend and died in Prineville eleven years ago. A town I had not heard of until my young ones drove through there in June, looking for a place in Oregon to settle down with all their critters and call their own.

A place to call our own. A place where we belong. My daughter, Dorothy, is so happy in their new home: a town with a population of two hundred and fifty-three, with no grocery store, no police department, no laundry-mat, yet a strong sense of community. By their second day there, the mayor had stopped by to meet my young ones, as well as many of the townspeople; one bringing a loaf of fresh-baked blueberry lemon bread. Really? Yup.

“This is our place, Mom. We belong here,” Dorothy said to me several times. There was a doe on the doorstep of the motel when I went back to it Tuesday night. A guy driving by in an old pick-up truck stuck his arm out the window and waved at me as he saw me sitting on the edge of the kiddoes’ property, writing in my journal. Did I wave back? Sure did!

Idyllic? In many respects. Perfectly harmonious? No, people do people things. A woman was arrested for assaulting her boyfriend a few nights before I got there. The neighbors asked how they could help. Community.

The worldwide community. Jerry Lewis also worked with UNICEF, in the Civil Rights Movement, and ‘Jerry’s House’, a home for traumatized children in Melbourne, Australia.

“Leave the world better than you found it,” was a much repeated value in my home growing up, as was, “Give more than you take.” I certainly took those caveats to heart, working in a social services career for decades. Also tending to be an ‘over-responsible’ person, I have had trouble seeing what is my part and what is not. If I see something that needs to be done, and it is not being done, and since it must be done, then I better do it. Right? Good question. I certainly have a history of jumping in to help people, situations, and organizations. That is a juicy topic for another time.

Yet when people do things simply to help others, to be part of something, it shapes a community – be it a telethon, a hospital donation, a go-fund-me campaign, a neighborhood watch, or a meet-up group. When I see those things happen, it often moves me as I see the humanity in people, something that seems lacking in observing the world these days, whether local or international.

Or when I hold baby goats. The gentleness of them of them fills my heart. I totally enjoy kittens and puppies and baby rabbits. Yet there is something so tender about the baby goats which connected me to my own life, their new innocent lives, and the wonder of life itself.

Crying… and life. They’ve gone hand in hand many times for me as I look for where I belong.

A Harp and a Stone

Harp Camp photo by Mary Dessein
Harp Camp. Can you imagine such a divine experience – to be with twenty other harpists over a weekend to play together, to learn, to be supported in your music wherever your expertise is, without competition?

The event’s official name is the Puget Sound Folk Harp Society Annual Summer Harp Retreat. It was Harp Camp to me. Not only were my companions of kindred spirit, we were at Camp Casey on the west side of Whidbey Island, right on the beach, where I could wander and see the Port Townsend ferry going back and forth as I skipped rocks. Smooth, flat rocks like my dad showed me were the best to propel across the water.

Of the total twenty-four people there, I knew one person. And she knew one person there: me. So, compatriots.

This Harp Retreat has been going on for over twenty years, I was encouraged to attend it by my harp teacher a few times. I always had a reason I couldn’t go: timing, work, finances, kids – I was not very creative. The real reason being, of course, that I was afraid I wasn’t good enough and in such a situation, everyone would know!

The event was planned so well: we had two-hour breaks for meals which allowed us time for wandering, socializing, walking to the Admiral Head lighthouse, and/or jamming together. As I walked the beach, I kept a vigilant eye out for the flat, round, palm-of-my-hand sized skipping stones. I also saw tangles of cola-colored kelp, empty tan and orange crab shells with green algae growing on them, long strands of green quarter-inch wide seaweed all carried up onto the rocky beach in the calming soosh of the waves.

I was skipping along in my life, doing things I enjoyed, with a rather whimsical approach, not really knowing or planning where the skip would take me, yet enjoying the hopping along.

Certainly I had heard the various guides to success: make a five and ten year plan; focus on your goal; Action Changes Things. I read and enjoyed Steven Pressfield’s books on artistic endeavors, including ‘The War of Art’ and ‘Do the Work.’ I am a walking, talking example of the power of Resistance, Steven’s embodiment of the things that combine to sway us from our creativity.

Harp Camp got over late morning on Sunday. I visited with others, helped clean up, made a last walk to the nearby beach. Then launched toward home. My intuition guided me to the longest route; going straight home was not an option. I returned to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, then walked on the beach at Ebey’s Landing a couple hours, at Deception Pass Park another hour, and stopped on the Deception Pass Bridge for a while. The beauty, wonder, energy, insight, and honesty were swirling around inside me, forming words so I could understand the swirl.

I knew what I felt: wonder, excitement, connection to new friends, hope, humility and … a clearer knowing.

Smack-a-roo right in my face: I could be a better harpist and better musician. Why wasn’t I doing it? I knew clearly what I wanted: to make music, write books, teach along the way, and perform.

My friend Greg D., richly experienced and skilled guitar player and performer, has gotten on my case about using more harmony and options with my left hand. I processed this a few ways, including telling him once that I am a harpist not a guitarist. Yet, what I now see, one of the things he was pressing me to do was be better. And that he believed I could be.

Marianne Williamson’s words come back to me, words I have used often in teaching, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small does not serve the world.”

I can coast along and do fine. There are many things I am good at, thank you very much. Is fine good enough?

As my earthly clock is ticking much faster now, my mortality has become more real. Health concerns? Not significant ones, but I’ll never see 50 again. So…I must now dispel my denial that I will actually really die one day as well as my tendency to procrastinate doing creative things in order to do a myriad of other ‘important’ things. Yes, for other people or entities, hence the shadow.

Steven Pressfield identifies the ‘shadow career’ or ‘shadow life,’ as something I am good at, may even excel at, yet is not my passion or my talent, nor does it fulfill me the same way engaging in my creativity does. It is a shadow in that because I am successful doing the shadow activity, it fools me away from my passion; my ego may join forces with the shadow, “You’re good at this, don’t rock the boat.”

As I look back on Arthur Storch’s comment to Aaron Sorkin, “You have the capacity to be so much better than you are,” I admit I wanted to shine but have been afraid to shine too much. Some is okay but too many people noticing me? Nope, uh-uh, no way.

I am now seeing the limitations I have put on myself. The allowing myself to chase nearly every shiny thing I see has certainly brought me some interesting experiences (walking on the Great Wall of China, putting my hand on the pyramids at Chichen Itza, paddling a gondola in Venice, climbing the 284 stairs to the top of L’Arc de Triomphe to view the vista of Paris) and there is value there. Yet, I need to find the balance.

Yup, it is time to be honor my talents and step out. I will up my game. “… playing small does not serve the world” or me. As a child on the beach with my dad, there were times when I had just the right stooped-over-to-the-side posture, my stone hit the water at just the right angle, and I sailed a stone so that it skipped seven times in its dance across the water.

My skipping stones are now stepping stones.


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Peter Yarrow. 2018
Peter Yarrow had his 80th birthday a month ago. He wrote ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ fifty-seven years ago when he was in college, inspired by a poem written by Leonard Lipton, about children growing up and losing their belief in magic and wonder.

Last night at the Mount Baker Theater in Bellingham, Washington, Peter invited all the children in the audience up on stage to sing it with him as the closing song for the first set. Then considering the audience demographics, he added, “And if you’re a parent, or grandparent, come up with your child. Or if you’re a child at heart.” The audience chuckled. At least fifty people trickled up the steps to join him on stage, from pre-schoolers to elders.

I felt tears sliding down my cheek as he held the microphone to a 6-year-old boy who sang solo, “Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea, And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honahlee.” Then he held the mic to a little girl who sang it, to a middle-aged woman who sang it, then to a man in his thirties who sang it, and to several others who sang solo to the enraptured audience. And of course, for the rest of the song, the audience was singing with him. Peter encouraged that throughout the concert. “Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail.”

Peter Yarrow was himself. Calm, rich with experience, and experiences. He marched for civil rights in the March on Washington, D.C. in 1963; he was at the bedside of Pete Seeger in 2014 as he was dying; he founded Operation Respect to reduce violence and bullying in schools, and as part of the iconic trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, released something like thirty albums.

Calm, funny, relaxed, sincere, heart-touching, Peter made no attempt to break new ground. He sang what people loved and were moved by. Folks songs, songs by Hedy West, John Denver, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, as well as gems by he and Paul Stookey. He told stories nearly as much as he sang. He threw out invitations, and challenges, to build bridges and community. He was himself, doing what fulfills him.

This was about legacy. He no longer needs to prove anything to anyone. In his relaxed manner, his generosity seemed endless: he talked with scads of people, posed with countless folks for pictures, signed books and CDs. The concert went nearly three hours.

A legacy of the strength of music, of respecting diversity, of building community and relationships, of honoring our military personnel, and of speaking up for what’s right. A legacy of hope.

“Light one candle for all we believe in, That anger not tear us apart.”