A year of learning to listen
I stood at what seemed like the edge, but the truth was I couldn’t really tell where it ended or began. An expanse of pure white stretching from where I stood out to the hills I could just make out on the other side. Deceiving to think that beneath it all, the snow and the thick ice that carried the weight of trucks and ice fishing huts, was water...
This was our first introduction. I’d been here 7 months by then, but we had somehow never met. Sometimes that happens when you move to a new place. You have no idea what’s just under your nose until you lift your head and begin to look around.
I didn’t really know why I’d come there but I knew something inside of me wanted to go. And this was my year of learning to listen to that. That little intuitive voice I so often ignored in order to prioritize rational thinking, logic and reason. I’m too busy, there’s not enough time, I could be doing something more productive right now.
Shush. Time to quiet those thoughts. And listen.
When I left I didn’t anticipate how much would change by the time we saw each other again.
Change. In the seasons. In me. In the rest of the world too.
I spent those months of separation wandering the forests instead. I was lucky those trails were close to home and I could go in spite of everything else being shut down. It was those forests which brought me calm in the midst of anxiety and inspired me to write Thinking of Cedar.
But when I did make it back to that edge once again. The expanse of white stillness was gone. Replaced with glimmering sunlit motion, crashing waves spurred on by the wind.
And I listened once again. This time through the lens of a dragonfly emerging from its larval form. It took half an hour of pure vulnerability to wring itself out, until its wings were strong enough to carry it on its way. Another lesson here. Patience. Trust. Persistence. Transformation.
And as the world continued its upheaval, for each and every one of us globally, the isolation somehow also enabled moments of coming together.
And I continued to listen. This time to an idea that arrived at 3am one sleepless night.
Just tell stories. Because that’s what I do.
And a community was built around weekly storytelling livestreams, with listeners and storytellers joining from countries all over the world.
Along with a new group and virtual gatherings I dubbed Fireside Fridays, these storytelling gatherings brought a sense of community when I’d barely seen another human in weeks.
And as the river continued to swell with melting snow urged on by the summer heat, we all were forced to change too. Questions came pouring in to my email asking for advice and recommendations for shifting school outside, or starting up new outdoor programs.
And Black Lives Matter demanded we do better, be better, for each other. Urgently.
Just like the thawing spring ground ready for planting it seemed the world was ready to sow new ideas.
Still listening to the needs of community, as well as my own, I began to offer new online professional learning communities. To support one another to guide and create the changes we sought.
Inspired by the spring and summer seasons G.R.O.W. (Gatherings for Reflection, Observation, and shared Wisdom) enabled us to craft businesses based on values not just profit.
And some of us looked even deeper together to discuss our white privilege and what we must do to dismantle systems of oppression.
Which also requires listening.
Listening to the stories of others even when they counter, disrupt, and create discomfort in our own.
And carefully observing the stories we share too. What do we perpetuate without realizing we’re even doing it?
When the water was warm enough, or perhaps the air hot enough to make it feel that way, I swam in the river almost every single day. The banks were so shallow I could wade out almost half a kilometre and it would still only reach my knees. Sometimes in low tides I would just kneel down, and bury my legs in the river sand to enable the water to reach my chest.
The ducks and the geese swam by, and the herons and egrets waded, slowly, carefully in search of a meal beneath the surface.
In those shallow waters I could easily touch the bottom and would sometimes grab a fistful of sand. I am no stranger to sand, having grown up in Hawaii and lived 4 years in California. But this was so different from the sand I knew. It was finer, mixed with mud, and clay in some places.
It made me realize how little I knew about this place. And about the people this place is deeply entwined with. The Indigenous Algonquin People. Unceded Land. Neither surrendered nor a treaty signed. A history that cannot be disentangled despite the attempts to bury or ignore.
So when schools began to start up again in the autumn I felt pushed to contribute to the growing demand to be outdoors. But learned quickly this would not look like anything I’d imagined before. I learned it must start with getting to know the Land.
Keep listening. I’m getting much better at it now.
So when the leaves began to fall, and the frosts dusted the remaining twigs in sparkling crystals, and then eventually a dusting, followed by a dump of snow, the outside world began to go quiet.
Next to the river bank I’d now been visiting for months I watched a frog attempt its last half hearted jumps across newly formed ice. It was slow. It looked tired. And cold.
Rest it said. This time is critical. We cannot move and grow when energy is depleted and sunlight is sparse.
Rest now until the return of the light. This is integral to the cycles of life.
Take care of ourselves, so we may also nurture others.... and so a new community has been born, to bring us together in the new year to remind and support each other to listen. This time called R.E.S.T. (to Reflect, Encourage, and Share Together).
This year comes to a close now. And the light of my laptop dims as I gently close the lid. Dims like the setting sun that brought darkness earlier and earlier each day, until the pivotal point we wait for each year, the solstice.
And I know what I’ve learned most this year.
What is out there is also in here. In me. If I just make time to listen.
- With so much gratitude to Kichi Sibi (Ottawa River) for being my greatest teacher this year.