Reaching Out — One to One


                                                Reaching Out — One to One

                                                            by Neal Lemery

                                    (published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 1/8/2022

            I like the quiet of January.  All the holiday activity ends, the decorations are put away, and the social calendar slows to almost nothing.  There is clean, empty space, not only at home but in my life.  It is time to breathe.

            It is a time to be quiet, to connect with a friend, to have time for those serious and deep conversations that live deep in our hearts, to say what needs to be said and to put life in perspective.

            The last few weeks have been marked by those quiet, almost sacred moments with someone close, to give some thinking time to a recent experience, or just getting to know myself better.

            A friend who’d moved away a year ago unexpectedly showed up at a coffee shop where I catching up with another friend. He crashed my time with my other friend, yet he clearly needed to talk. Moving and retiring from a long, demanding career had been hard for him, giving him a much-needed space to rest and to find himself.  No longer identified by his job and his responsibilities, he was reconnecting with his wife and finding that he was enjoying life and putting together a new way of living.  He was discovering he liked himself, that he enjoyed his friends, and he had a new purpose.

            I listened, giving him space and time, being a friend. He needed to vent, to simply be heard. My time was a good present to offer him.

            A while ago, I picked up a young man getting out of prison.  He was making that life-changing drive from a prison cell to a half-way house.  Two years “inside” had nearly snuffed out his soul. It was a long drive through beautiful, wide-open country with no bars or walls. 

            We talked of many things, me trying to be quiet, to listen to someone who hadn’t had many people listen to him throughout his life. 

            We spotted a cormorant on a riverbank, drying its wings in the sunshine. He’d never seen a cormorant before and didn’t know about their lives. We talked about freedom then, the freedom to fly, to fish on the river.  Comfortable silences filled the rest of our trip, both of us finding our friendship quiet and easy. I thought of the healing power of solitude and nature, and the simple joy of sharing an experience with a friend.  

            I recently reconnected with a good friend, who reached out to me after one of her dear friends died by suicide. She had deep pain, and I was the ear she had sought. I listened; we cried. I gave the gift of listening, of not judging her friend, not advising her how to grieve, of not assuming or condemning. I held space for her, and acknowledged her pain.

            We reconnected after the funeral, she wanting to talk about death and life and the hereafter, the messy mystery of what she was feeling and not easily understanding. I gave her time and permission to feel.

            These quiet one on one conversations go both ways. Often, I need to be the talker and a friend be the listener. And, sometimes, it’s looking at the stars or the waves on the beach, or picking my guitar all by myself, but knowing I’m not really alone.

            I’m hoping I always have the time to reach out, or be the friend with the ready and willing ear and simply be there.

1/8/2022

Filling Up the New Calendar


                                    

                                                By Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 12/28/21

            The new calendar on the wall is fresh and clean. So far, there are only a few events are there. It is a fresh start to a new year. 

            The normal daily routine will return after all the winter holiday events come to an end.  Life will soon begin filling up all that empty space.  I’ll miss the blissfully quiet winter evenings of the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with shoes off, wrapped in a cozy blanket, with a good book and a cup of holiday tea. With the “to do” pre-holiday list mostly crossed off, I’m free to do what I darn well please, without a pressing agenda. It is a rare week of few expectations.

            January and a new year are always filled with great promise and opportunity.  I make a few resolutions, knowing that real change is possible, if I truly want to change and grow. I’m the one who gets to write on the calendar.  Traditions and agendas are mine to follow, or change.  It’s my call.

            I can grump and whine about the world and what our lives are like now. Or, I can do something about it. It starts with my attitude and where I decide to put my energy. That’s intention, and I’m in charge of that. I have to want to intend to change what I don’t like, and put myself into action.

            When I point a finger at something, three of my fingers point back at me. I have more than a little responsibility for how the next year unfolds for me. When I demand accountability from others, I need to be looking in the mirror, to look at where most of the fingers point.

“Be the change you want to see,” one of my inspiring role models, Mahatma Gandhi, said. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change who I am and how I live. I do have an impact on my little corner of the world. And in that, bigger changes can come. The work starts with me. That thought seems to be a universal truth.

            What do I really want to see in 2022? I need to figure that out, before I start to whine and mope about the world’s state of affairs. First, change my attitude, find my intention, then develop my plan for achieving my goals, and fill up the calendar with all of my good, positive actions.

            We live in community. Real change, real accomplishment only happens when there is a group that is engaged in that good work. Then there is engagement, ownership, and collective, community-focused achievement. Success comes from a collective effort, and is a community project, the energy coming from each of our individual intentions and acts, doing the work together.  

            One of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s favorite Zulu proverbs was Ubuntu. “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu — the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness … We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

            I need to put more of his wisdom and determination to better society, and that spirit of Ubuntu, into my life and the life of our community.

            The nearly empty calendar stares back at me, offering a challenge. I see opportunity and a challenge to move ahead in my life, and thereby change myself, my community, and the world, making it a more beautiful and creative place. There’s work to be done.

            What’s on your calendar? 

Unexpected Gifts: Giving From the Heart


                        Unexpected Gifts:  Giving From the Heart

                                                by Neal Lemery

            Putting aside the hubbub, the seemingly endless demands on us to be “in the holiday mode”, I find my purpose and comfort in the quiet of the winter, as I contemplate what are the best gifts to exchange.

            The birds quietly chatter their thanks as I fill their feeder. The rest of the yard sleeps, as a few leaves, still dressed in their fall colors, cling to the branches. These moments are gifts to my spirit, and are given freely, without expectation. 

            The chance encounters in life can offer the best experiences, the most rewarding gift giving of the season. 

            While on a welcome road trip last week, I stopped for lunch. While pouring my coffee, the waitress mentioned her struggle with her trembling hand.  I took the time to listen. I recently came across an article that talked about that condition and a new non-invasive and pain free treatment. In a few minutes, our phones connected and she had the link to the article and the contact for the competent, state of the art clinic that could ease her condition.

            “I didn’t know about this. And I so badly want to be able to paint and draw again,” she said. 

            She gave me a big smile as I left, her relief at finding a solution showing in her eyes, her gift to me.

            I’ve lost touch with a fellow guitar player.  While playing one of his favorite songs the other day, I decided he needed a gift. I’ve come across some unusual picks that suit my continuing journey to be a better guitar player.  I have a few extra picks, so I mailed them to him, with a note thanking him for his friendship over the years.

I’m sure the postal clerk wondered why I had a big smile as I mailed that package.

            Often, the best gifts to give are the gifts of listening and appreciation. There are so many opportunities to simply be present with someone, to listen with an open heart, and to suspend judgment and commentary. Most of us aren’t asking for advice; we simply want to be heard.

            “To be by their side,” a counselor friend told me the other day.  “It truly is the gift we can all give. All it takes is our time and being present with someone in need of a good ear.”

            We all have our story, but all too often, our story doesn’t get heard. That’s all too often the gift we need to receive, as well as to give.

            When we prepare for the holidays and wrap our presents, perhaps we should write a kind note to a friend, inviting them for a cup of coffee or a walk in a beautiful place.  Let us suspend our culture’s pressure to give material things. Instead, we can give the gift of ourselves and our open, loving hearts.

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 12/16/2021

Simple Gifts


                        (published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 11/29/21

                                                by Neal Lemery

            The holidays are upon us, with the usual seasonal barrage of promotions, sales, Black Friday, and an e-mail inbox overflowing with all of those special deals.  Bargains galore! A good part of me recoils and rebels from such marketing and promotion.  In reality, I really have quite enough “stuff”. And the real pleasures come from time with friends and some peaceful contemplation in the company of some candlelight.

            We recently visited a big box store, needing to replace a laptop that had finally died.  The aisles were overflowing with at least several hundred flat screen TVs that had somehow managed to get through the supply chain bottlenecks, so they could now effectively clutter up the aisles at the giant store.  

Surely there aren’t that many people who have that item at the top of their holiday wish list.  I wondered out loud if Americans really need even more flat screen TVs.  Can’t you only watch one at a time, and, by now, there have been enough TVs sold so people can have one in every room?  Not that I think that there’s all that much being broadcast or streamed that is all that worthy of my time and attention.  

            I’m reminded of the old hymn, Simple Gifts, its lyrics clearly calling us back to reflect on the “reason for the season”.  The song isn’t in the Christmas song books, but maybe it should be.  

“’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we will not be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.”

            This year, I’ve shortened my own “wish list”, realizing after all of our pandemic time of reducing the frenzy of modern life, that the simple things are really the best.  Quiet, reflective time, time over coffee with a good friend, a walk in the sunshine, or listening to the murmurs of rain on a walk in a peaceful place.  

            I’ve sorted through some of the stuff that often clutters up my life. I’m giving a cherished family heirloom to my niece, so she and her kids can retell the story of how the ancestors brought the chair over the Oregon Trail, tying it to the back of the covered wagon, and how it occupied my grandmother’s living room, in a place of honor and storytelling. I’ve retold that story enough now and it’s time for a new generation to have that pleasure. And I think Grandma would be happy with that.

            The added bonus with that gift giving is a road trip and family time, as well as the passing on of some memories to people who will appreciate it. 

            I’ll still write my Christmas cards and send out a newsy, perhaps hokey, letter to friends and family I connect with only a few times a year. I could substitute those sentiments via an e-mail or blog post, but don’t we enjoy holding a letter from a friend while enjoying a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon? And, I like the ritual of addressing the envelopes and sticking on the Santa stamps. I’ll probably stir up some Christmas fudge and a batch of cookies, savoring the memories of doing that with family who have long since departed this world, walking down memory lane with some time-worn recipes.  

            But I don’t need much more than that.  A few walks under the downtown Christmas lights, and a cheery concert or two of holiday classics will gladden my heart, without the need for dealing with the mobs on Black Friday. 

            It is a simple time, celebrating simple things, simple gifts like friendship, caring for others, and just enjoying the simple pleasures of the holidays.         

11/28/21

The Verdict in Kenosha


                                    By Neal Lemery

                                    —published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 11/20/2021

The recent trial and verdict in Wisconsin have brought about renewed discussion and argument on a number of hot topics in our country.  

            This widely publicized trial and media event has stirred up conversations about racism, classism, police violence, the role of guns, law and order, economic disparity, privilege, and the fairness of the criminal justice system. Like many, I feel a range of unsettling emotions and conflict. 

            On their own, these issues are challenging and call for looking at our checkered and often uncomfortable history. Stirred together and heated with our current distrust of respecting and discussing with others our viewpoints have led us to this uncomfortable time.

            Americans often assign our most difficult and challenging questions to our legal system, with the hope that judges and juries will sort it all out and provide us with justice.  Yet justice is a word we often argue about. Its definition is elusive. 

            Jury verdicts have been turning points in how we are governed.  They have helped us redefine and reform the law, and identified principles we should honor to better our society. We’ve always had deep and revealing discussions about the role of juries and the issues they try to resolve. 

            Oregon is the last state that allowed divided, non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. Today, we still wrestle with how to reconcile the relatively new national requirement that verdicts in criminal cases be unanimous with the ugly fact that defendants in those trials remain in prison.  Our state constitution was amended in the 1920s to allow for split verdicts, a law that is now seen as both racist and anti-Semitic. We can badmouth Wisconsin, but we have our own racism and bigotry to deal with. 

            Jurors are sworn to follow the law.  Experts in Wisconsin’s self-defense and gun laws opine that the Rittenhouse verdict was correct, given the complicated facts and the peculiarities of that state’s laws. https://www.npr.org/2021/11/19/1057422329/why-legal-experts-were-not-surprised-by-the-rittenhouse-jurys-decision-to-acquit

            I’m a former criminal law attorney and judge, so people have asked me what I would have decided. It would be equivalent to a wild guess for me to pass judgement on Mr. Rittenhouse’s conduct.  I didn’t hear every bit of the testimony, nor did I sit face to face with the witnesses. Isn’t that “eyeball test” a big factor in determining if someone is telling the truth? I didn’t hear the judge’s instructions on the law. And, I didn’t have the benefit of the discussion and wisdom of all of the jurors, who took four days to talk through their decision.  

            Jurors are a cornerstone of our democratic republic. We believe that ordinary common people, supplied with evidence that has been subjected to legal analysis for admissibility and to cross examination and argument, can collectively arrive at a just decision.

            We’ve also required the government to meet a very high burden of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty, in trying to convict a person of a crime. Jurors are the checks and balances to prosecutors and provide a “real life” perspective to difficult decisions. 

            We expect a lot from juries, and it is popular to second guess them. We also tend to make up our own minds relying upon short bursts of information and commentary from various media. We come up short in delving into long term, complex issues. 

            I’ve been involved in a lot of jury trials and I sometimes have disagreed with the decision. Yet, I’ve found jurors to be good citizens who take their job seriously and to err on the side of doing the right thing. I respect their hard and devoted work.

            Sometimes, my response to a verdict was to ask the Legislature to change the law. And, sometimes I voiced support for social change and educational reform. If I remained silent, I became part of the problem. 

            Part of any reform of our criminal justice system is having an educated pool of jurors who are critical thinkers and knowledgeable about America’s government and our often uncomfortable history of privilege and discrimination. Perhaps our response to the Rittenhouse verdict is to more fully understand all of the uncomfortable reasons that brought the shooter and his victims to those few awful and life-changing moments on the streets of Kenosha. 

Examining Our Strengths and Weaknesses


                                   

                                                            by Neal Lemery

“Whenever we come together to share strengths it breeds competition; whenever we come together sharing our weaknesses, it breeds community.” — Anonymous[1]

            We live in divisive times.  If one spends much time “catching up” on news or social media, or talking about politics and social trends with one’s friends, the common theme seems to focus on our divisions, our differences, and winning some argument or political event. We like to boast about our strengths and hide our weaknesses. 

But life isn’t about winning or losing, or “us vs them”. Our sporting events, which we support because we want something fun and wholesome for ourselves and our kids, often is analyzed in terms of win/lose. We like to measure strength and power. We keep score, and often that seems to be the primary reason for the activity and our attention we pay to it.  Even the supposedly non-partisan, individually focused “pure sport” Olympic Games are reported complete with scorecards of national medal awards. 

            Discussions and viewpoints on political and social issues are often laced with mean comments and foul language, often thinly disguised with code words.  We are encouraged to laugh with comedians who can make the most acidic standup routines, which we still refer to as comedy. 

Informed and well-reasoned political conversation and a willingness to look at another point of view often is not on most of our social agendas for the day. Some politicians seem to want to advance their careers by acting with meanness and spite. They act as destroyers, not leaders of social advancement.  

            If everyone is now keeping score and arguing only for the sake of arguing, rather that persuading or informing, what is the grand prize?  What are we attempting to gain? Is there a national championship for the loudest, most shrill argument?  Are there extra points to be gained for sheer meanness? Does the winner get invited to the White House and be able to scream their point of view to a national audience? Or have I missed the news of a parade down Broadway, with a tickertape parade of nasty vitriolic social media posts?  

            Such tactics don’t change anyone’s opinion, and, I suggest, not much learning occurs, nor do we advance the common welfare.  

            The gentle, collaborative model of social life is more fruitful. I do see a new feeling of cooperation, of coming together to advance both individual and social goodness.  I see volunteers everywhere, building up people, providing educational opportunities. There are small flickers of great and unselfish actions.  

My neighborhood now has several “educational pods” where parents and friends are providing private schooling for kids of all ages. There is laughter and enthusiasm, and the occasional gaggle of kids out for a jog between classes, satisfying their P.E. requirements for the day. Families are deeply involved in their kids’ education, with small classes and individual attention, coupled with virtual learning, allowing kids to benefit from a variety of learning styles and curriculum.  

            Small businesses are experimenting with a wide range of business models, and many workers are working from home, either part or full time, allowing them to be productive and have quality time with family, without the expense and exhaustion of a long commute to work. There is serious discussion about the role of our traditional routines of work and career models. 

            Virtual learning isn’t for all situations, but it has found a place in my life, allowing me to participate in and dabble in a variety of activities and experiences.  I’ve been able to benefit from a rich selection of broadcasted art performances and educational presentations. We still need the in person connections and the “juice” of one on one conversations and socializing, but there are some welcome advantages to this post-pandemic world.  

            The world now has amazing tools for communication and improving our lives. Miraculous innovations and discoveries are commonplace. We can accomplish so many tasks. Yet, humanity’s hunger for power, wealth, and status slows our efforts to improve the lives of all. Why we allow that to occur is an urgent question for all of us.

            I suggest this paradox between what we can accomplish and what is done is essentially an ethical and spiritual challenge. What is humankind’s purpose? What are we alive to do?

            In that quest, that work to answer these deep questions challenges our approaches to achieving a meaningful future. Coming together to take on our weaknesses builds our community. 

11/11/2021


[1]  anonymous, quoted by Dave Barnes, interview with Dave Hollis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V49YuvWN79Y

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer

The Shirt Off My Back


                                    published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 11/1/2021

                                                            by Neal Lemery

            A familiar phrase we often use is that someone would give the shirt off their back to help someone else. Last week, that became reality for me and a young man, as we drove away from the prison where he’d been the last two and a half years. Our destination was a halfway house, where he could restart his life, find a job, and be a productive citizen. He has big plans: vocational school, a job, long hikes in the woods, a family someday. 

            Some will argue that the hardships and obstacles facing a parolee is part of his “punishment”, that one shouldn’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Felons don’t deserve our kindnesses, and should be treated as the scum that they are.  They deserve their hardships, and it is their lot in life.

            I suppose those attitudes are easy to come by, and that the life of those getting out of prison is low on many people’s priorities and compassion.  Perhaps, until you get to know a person, and hear their story, until you match the face with the stories they tell of their lives.

            “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key” and the problem will go away.  Right?

            Well, those men and women will return to society, join the workforce, and will have family and friends, just like everyone else.  How they go about their lives, and the decisions they make, is fundamentally shaped by the resources they have when they walk out of the prison gates.  

            My young friend left prison the other morning with only a pair of pants, a sweatshirt, and shoes provided by the prison. No underwear, no socks, no coat, and no cash in his pocket.  His life savings, including the federal stimulus money (which we all received last year) was in a check.  Of course, he has no bank account, no ID except a prison issued ID card. His lost driver’s license hadn’t been replaced.

He has an Oregon Trail food stamp card, but of course, he needed a phone to activate that.  Yep, you guessed it. He had no phone. His family could have shipped him a phone that he could have picked up at his release that morning, but the prison never told them about that option. 

            The check for his money was $300 short.  The prison had decided to fine him for a rule infraction last week, and took away his inmate phone privileges on top of that. 

            We headed off to a city four hours away, to see his probation officer, and to check in at the halfway house.  But, he wasn’t sure where his new home was, or what it looked like.  

            He got out at dawn, when the sweatshirt kept him warm. Later on, it warmed up and he started to sweat.  He put on a determined face, not wanting to complain to me.  No one else had offered to pick him up and make the trip with him, so I was the only way to get him where he needed to go. 

            “Do you have anything else to wear?” I asked, knowing the answer as all his worldly possessions were loosely piled in a cardboard box in the back seat of my truck. 

            I’d needed to do an overnight trip to pick up my friend, due to the early morning release time, so I had a few clothes in my suitcase.  I dug out a shirt I’d bought for myself a few weeks ago, and gave it to him.  

            “Oh, no, I can’t take that,” he said.  

But I insisted and he managed a smile as he slipped it on.  It was soft, colorful and new, something he hadn’t experienced in the last few years. He looked away at the changing landscape, filled with fields, trees, far away mountains, and blue sky, things he hadn’t seen in his life for too long of a time. A tear rolled down his cheek, and I looked away, concentrating on my driving, and giving him some quiet time.  A tear fell onto my face, too, being reminded of simple things, and how so much in life I take for granted.

What I call Freedom Day is sacred space, where emotions often too intense to comprehend fill one’s heart. Often, there are no words, only tears and hugs.  

            We stopped along the way a few times — fabulous coffee in a small town’s only coffee shop, breathing fresh air at a roadside rest area overlooking a display of bright fall leaves and a river.  As we took in the serenity of the river, we found no words to speak.  He turned to me and embraced me, his hug saying it all.

            I parked outside of the probation office, waiting for my friend to complete his check in, and finding out where he was going to live.  I watched a drug deal go down across the street, and the parade of customers going to the nearby pot shop, some of whom had just left the probation office. 

            He settled into his new home, and the staff introduced themselves to me.  Good, deeply committed people, being kind and hospitable, as we settled my friend in, making his bed, finding out where the bathroom and the kitchen were.  

            “This will be fine,” he said.  “I’ll be OK.”

            He walked me to my truck.  It was time to say goodbye.  It had been a good day, good conversations, a trip of amazing natural beauty, and peace, a deepening friendship. And freedom.

            I slipped into Dad Mode, giving him one last hug, and a short sermon of Dad Advice, giving him one last dose of love, encouragement, and fatherly advice. 

            “I don’t have any money,” he reminded me, hesitation catching in his voice.  We’d had a talk earlier about his lack of funds, and I’d promised to spot him some cash, something to carry him through until he could get to the bank.  I apologized for forgetting my commitment, and dug out my wallet.  

            “That’s too much,” he said, but I wouldn’t take any back.  

            “Take yourself out for coffee,” I said, and added another twenty.

            “Here’s your shirt,” he said. He started to unbutton it.  

            “That’s your shirt now,” I said. “It’s part of our deal, part of what we needed to do today.”

            I got in my truck and drove down the street, lowering the window to give him one last wave. In the rearview mirror, I saw him wave back, and wipe away something on his face. A few tears wetted my face, and I gulped down what would have been a full-blown sob session.  

            The road home was quiet.  I was lost in my thoughts.  This wasn’t the first time I’d taken a young man from what we call “correctional institutions” to a fresh start.  Freedom Day, I call it.  And, sadly, the stories run together.  The lack of clothes, the cardboard box of possessions, the lack of financial care, the uncertainty of where they will spend the night and the next few months of their lives.  There’s the scarcity of family, too, and that points back to understanding why they were locked up to begin with.  

            I’ve read where the cost of housing one prisoner in our state prison system is close to $60,000 a year, and that mental health services, vocational training, and transitional housing are often the first to be cut.  My friend needs all of that. The system isn’t dealing with his depression, PTSD, and anxiety, not to mention his alcohol and drug issues, those necessities somehow not part of his life in prison, not part of his parole plan. 

            I gave him my shirt, and a few bucks for coffee.  And he gave me hugs, stories of his dreams, and, at the end of the day, a big smile. He filled my heart.  It was a good trade.

10/31/2021

Recharging


                                    published in the Tillamook County Pioneer

                                                By Neal Lemery

A rainy Sunday has turned into a time of recharging.  The cat is in her usual place, snoozing through the afternoon, replenishing herself for the evening forays and gearing up to remind us of her dinner time. She is, perhaps, our resident chaplain, leading us by example to recharge and renew ourselves.   

Batteries for several of my electronic devices sit in their chargers.  Tomorrow, the electric weedwhacker will be put to use, bringing order to my sister in law’s yard.  And, the camera battery will be tasked in photographing this fall’s amazing display of foliage. 

            The earth itself is recharging, after a hectic summer.  The lawn is slowly turning green from the welcome rain. Mushrooms are emerging where only a few weeks ago, the dead grass crunched and the ground was more like oven-fired clay. Even the raspberries have put out a new, unexpected crop, adding yet another layer of winter delights to the freezer. The final round of crops from the garden finish their ripening, spread around the house, as we all prepare for winter.  

            The garden cycle continues, as I add leaves, grass clippings and the kitchen compost bucket offerings to the compost maker. Its resident earthworms are happily overwhelmed with new-found abundance. 

I plant new garlic cloves, knowing that next summer will bring abundant fresh garlic to summer vegetable stir fries and pickles.  I enjoy the garlic growing to not only satisfy my love of garlic, but also because garlic is a rebel, wanting to be planted in fall and harvested in early summer, out of kilter with the other crops. A new crop in the garden, filling the spaces left open by harvest, is my celebration of hope for the future, and sparks the making of my new wish list for next year’s garden. 

            The neighboring farmers are recharging, too. They’ve finished their corn harvests, followed quickly by new harrowing and the planting of their winter grass crops.  What was once an experiment in planting has now turned into part of a year-round planting and harvesting cycle.  I’m told this variety of grass adds nitrogen, protects the soil from the pounding of the winter rains, and is another food source for cows.  I celebrate my neighbors’ curiosity and willingness to be innovative.  That spirit of curiosity, boldness, and scientific curiosity serves the community well, and inspires me to live more like a farmer. 

            The quiet morning stillness, and the first sounds of raindrops from the incoming front, offer me renewal, and space in my life for some gratitude and peace.  The natural cycles of this place call us out to pay attention, to take a breath and pause. As the earth recharges, as I recharge, I seek to follow that example, readying myself for new ideas, and new perspectives in this time of challenge and change.  

10/17/21

How’s the Family?


                                  

             “They are fine, thank God.  I can’t say that for my cousin, though, or my neighbor.”

            The line at the check stand fell silent, the clerk pausing in her work. 

            “That used to be such a casual question,” she said. “Something you just said to get a conversation going.  Now, that question goes to what’s in my heart today.”

            Her eyes watered, and she wiped away a tear. 

            “I’ve lost a few relatives, my neighbor, and a couple of co-workers here,” she said. “There’s a lot of people I’m worried about, too. 

            The lady behind me, the one on the asking side of the question, took a deep breath and nodded.

            “We’re in hard times, and I’m so grateful for my health,” she said. “But we don’t talk much about what we are all going through, with all the loss, all the uncertainty.”  

            “We have each other,” the clerk said.  “We need to care for each other, and talk about our pain, and the grief, and all the unknowing, the value of family and friends.”

            We looked at each other, nodding, smiling, sharing some deeply felt emotions that needed to be shared, realizing we were in sacred space and time. 

            The silence filled me up.  I felt comforted, connected with people just like me — scared, fearful, and lonely. I was with my tribe, my people, my community. Simply acknowledging all that jumble of feelings was what I had been needing. 

            The pandemic, the isolation, the sense of disconnectedness, it is all the elephant in our community living room.  We are all going through this together, and sometimes, you just need to put that into words, get it out there, and share our hearts with each other.  It is what community does the best, bringing us together in love and compassion.  

Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 10/6/2021

10/6/21— by Neal Lemery

Thoughts on Creating and Harvest


                                               

                                                                        –by Neal Lemery

            I’m feeling stuck. I haven’t thought I’ve been creative lately.  My blog lacks a new post, my writing tablet has no new sheets filled with my penciled writing, my guitar is gathering dust and is out of tune.  

            Despite my self-evaluation of my idleness, I realize the creative juices are still flowing, though, in different ways. I have been busy in the kitchen, turning apples from my trees into sweet packages of apple pie filling for the coming rainy days.  I’m slowly simmering the last of my tomato crop into sweet tangy sauce for hearty pasta dinners, topped off with warm apple crisp.  I am savoring the richness and abundance of harvest, in all its forms. 

            My hands play in the dirt as I plant tree seeds for my new bonsai project, and pot up the last of the geranium cuttings that took root this summer without my close attention.  The last cucumber from the garden is harvested, and the compost bin becomes filled with the remnants of the summer garden. 

There is the promise of future plantings and future abundance, and I dream of guitar chords and strumming patterns, and yearn for new ideas, new expressions to be explored. 

            The fall rains have begun and I sit under the eaves listening to the rain music, as snippets of poems yet to be born are caught in my journal.  There can be such richness in moments of silence and “just being”. 

            Coffee with a friend produces a rich conversation on serious topics, the few moments of silence over our cups offering fertile territory for new writings. We plow familiar ground, allowing the soil of our friendship to become fallow, preparing for a new season of fertility. 

            Like the season, it is a time of both harvest and of composting, turning spent plants and the last of the summer energies into the stuff that will bring forth spring explosions and summer abundance.  I am reminded that the winter ahead is simply a time of rest, renewal, and needed silence and contemplation.  Winter has its own noble purpose, its own role to play in the cycle of life. 

Everything has its time, its season. It is a time to be patient, to rest, and to observe. 

            I’m not really stuck, I’m stepping back, taking a much-needed rest, absorbing the beauty and solitude of autumn, this time of transition and rest. I take a deep breath, and simply observe. And, that is celebrating my creative spirit. 

            I’ve recently come across these nuggets of wisdom, and they need to sit with me, without an immediate response, as I listen to the rain replenishing the soil after the summer’s heat and drought. The falling rain is an act of renewal and faith, guiding me in my own creativity and work —

  • “Poetry is the art of overhearing things you didn’t know you knew.
  • “Whatever you are looking for is just beyond yourself.”

                                                — David Whyte (Anglo-Irish poet)

  • “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for one’s

                                                    –Ruth Bader Ginsburg

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer 9/30/21

            9/29/2021