MAPLE MUSINGS: THE STORIES WE TELL

NEWCOMERS! Welcome to Maple Musings,

The Cabin

The Cabin

my monthly letter. Some of us have been visiting here together for several years now. Maple Musings is a family of Kindred Spirits, so to speak, and a place and time to ponder where and how we humans fit into the scheme of things. More than ever, our cultures are taking us farther and farther from our natural roots. More than ever, the answer to so many of our deepest problems and sorrows lies in finding our way back to them. Let’s get started….

FEBRUARY 2009

One of several reasons I left the Rockies last August was to find a place where animal and nature stories could find me in my backyard. In the mountains, I lived in a beautiful little log cabin on over an acre of open ground, however the ground was right in the middle of an old subdivision. As the division had filled with little houses and cabins, the animals had moved on. Mostly, my visitors were birds. Other creatures moved through cautiously at night, leaving few telltale signs of their passing other than a rare foot print, or maybe a poop pile.

bqueI was hungering for more stories—not grand ones, mind you. Just perhaps some squirrel and ‘possum stories, and maybe a frog story, or one I could tell about a turtle. Carter and I chose well with this Indiana house: squirrels, deer, foxes, raccoons, frogs, snakes, exotic bugs, dazzling birds all find their way right past—or onto—our back deck.

Tuesday night, I watched excitedly as a small opossum scaled the hard maple tree right outside our living room window, clambered onto a platform birdfeeder, and gobbled up mouthfuls of cold chicken fat I’d left there for the woodpeckers. After his meal, Carter and I saw him tidy up his face and tail with his small, naked hands as our TV blared away and the dogs gazed, mesmerized from their beds by the window.

Now, I don’t know about you, but THAT, to me, is a STORY! I am easily dazzled by nature. It doesn’t take a bald eagle or a unicorn to get me all happy and warm inside. Simple visitors will do. Carter named the ‘possum “Nine-thirty,” because that’s about the time he has been returning each night.

Since moving, I am indeed gathering stories to share. Some about frogs, others about geodes, lots about our new puppy, MazelTov, and soon—soon!—some pretty grand stories about skunks. Talking over coffee in bed the other morning, Carter and I started delving into the nature and power of stories. Somehow, that was where we landed in the midst of a morning wake-up a dialogue about how religion and science ask the same questions (those being, “Who are we?” and “What are we doing here?”) but arrive at very different conclusions because of what I will call their “anchoring stories.”

The phrase “anchoring stories” didn’t show up in our conversation until we’d gotten about a half-hour into our ruminations, at least. And the word “anchoring” surfaced only because of another conversation—and another Maple Musing—in which I had pondered what was needed for one to endure, and mature, in the face of great changes. Anchors were needed, I had observed. My dog, Hannah, had shown me that (that’s another story, about two Musings back…). She showed me that we big hairy apes need anchors we can affix our minds and hearts to when the storm winds and riptides of change knock us breathless.

Anchoring stories, then, are stories that serve as our foundational underpinnings when our world starts to really rock. They are the stories of what we say to ourselves about ourselves. They are the stories about the world, about what we believe is absolute truth as we know it. Without those stories that are nestled into the crevices of our very bedrock, we sense we would dissolve away in a terrifying instant.

Of course, we would not, but the feeling of impending annihilation is more than most people are brave enough to sit with. And so we craft certain stories that are “heavier” than the stories we can tell about being wife, husband, child, auto-worker, yoga-teacher, cancer-survivor because we know in our minds that these stories are subject to change in any catastrophic moment. Those heavier stories—the ones we believe could never be changed—those are our anchoring stories.

Anchoring stories have an important function. They seem to allow us to keep our molecules together. At least the molecules of our brains. It is hard to live an entire life holding on to absolutely nothing. You have to be holy or crazy to live that way. Anchoring yourself to an idea or a personality has real benefits. And it has real costs. What I think I am saying here is that to survive in our human, physical bodies, we need a well-developed ego to hold us together psychologically in this confounding world, and we create our ego—in part—by the stories we tell ourselves and the anchoring stories we absolutely root ourselves in. Stories help to keep our existential fear bearable.

However, our anchoring stories also moor us. We are no longer free to slip into other ports. If our anchor is REALLY set tight, we can’t even drift to the left or right very much without hearing a very terrible creaking and groaning from inside us. If the sea beneath us suddenly surges up fast, we could sink beneath the swells and drown.

Going back to the priest and the scientist and taking our nice metaphor with us, let’s see how this might work. Suppose the scientist is presented with incontrovertible evidence that atoms do not exist. What if the priest is presented with the same about God and mystery? To the extent that they are anchored in their stories (“God exists.”
Atoms exist.”) and to the extent they have built a life on those stories, that is the degree to which they will suffer, implode, go mad…or grow.

I’m going to postulate here that keeping some flexibility in your anchor rope may be a healthy thing to do, most of the time.

So, you say, what does this have to do with ‘possums on your maple tree, and when can we go back to THOSE kinds of stories? Well, that ‘possum has me pondering about the stories I tell myself about myself and the world. Here is what I believe about that ‘possum: I believe that when I sent a request out to the universe to bring ‘possums and ‘coons to my deck four months ago, that ‘possum heard it. I think he’s been waiting, sort of getting his courage up to brave the lights, the TV, and our adoring eyes. I believe that opossums have a rugged, prehistoric dignity, and that they have secrets to share. I believe they are mysterious.

My “heavier” stories, my anchoring stories that would have some bearing on my ‘possum encounter would be these: I believe there is a mind in the universe, and—contrary to what I see around me sometimes—the universe is loving at its heart. I believe that we are sacred beings in a sacred place, surrounded by millions of other sacred beings, including ‘possums and snails. I believe in the notion of the sacred, although it is a word I can still not adequately define. I believe that evolution was not random. I believe that there is more to me and to everything than I can ever know. And I believe mystery is a living force.

I have some other anchoring stories that I am exploring these days. One of them is that I am a bad person. I don’t know the origin of this story, but it is rooted to my bedrock, and it is a story that affects everything I say and do in some way. I know other people have other anchor stories that hurt them. At their core, they may believe they are unworthy, unlovable, stupid, evil.

Years ago, a wonderful white-bearded, Don Quixote-looking fellow at a book signing of minejohnsusan1 said, “By their stories, ye shall know them.” I thought then, yes…yes. Of course. I can think of no better way to know yourself and grow yourself than by looking at your stories—the light ones, the medium ones, and the heavy ones (which can be darn hard to excavate).

Because in the end, Carter and I came to agree on this about stories: Stories are what make us human, and when you uncover a story of your own, ask yourself, “Am I a better, more whole human being for this story I tell myself and the world?” And if your answer is “no,” tell yourself a new story you can believe in.

And tell it here.

Aho, Mitaku Oyasin,
Susan

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34 Responses to MAPLE MUSINGS: THE STORIES WE TELL

  1. Ann Parker says:

    Lovely essay! Thank you for bringing me to a thoughtful place this morning. I’m looking forward to keeping up with your blog and see where you take us next.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hi Ann: Can you help me edit these??—Just kidding….actually, no, not really! My editor hat has been hanging idle too long, and bloopers assail me. So good to be in contact with you again! ^.^

  2. Cindy says:

    Susan…

    Yes, our stories heal, and our stories tell us where we need to overcome and re-write the ending too. In Clarissa Pinkola Estes book, “Women Who Run With The Wolves”, she teaches us that storytelling is good medicine. Stories speak directly to that within us we can’t even articulate yet, we just know when something resonates with us, and stories, from the backyard over-the-fence variety to the deep archetypal ones that heal on a core level, are a gift. Thank you for your stories Susan, they make me smile and fill me with quiet joy. I would like to tell sometime about a cardinal in my back yard last Spring. I shared this story with a friend and she named it, “The Parable of the Cardinal”, and so it remains. One Spring morning, as the wind blew and the sky threatened, a little cardinal held onto a branch and showed me how to hang on with grace, and when to let go and fly away. Powerful. The gift of this bird has helped me many times over the last year, and I would like to share more of it, if you would like.

    In gratitude…..Cindy

  3. Denise says:

    Looks what’s happening here!

    Susan you have opened the gates and we are all nodding in understanding that the experiences we are having are proof that we are all connected, worthy and meant to be.

    We are making new friends and learning from one another, fun!

    Thank you!
    Denise

    Hey, your little opossum loves canned cat food! 🙂

  4. Hello Susan, Your Maple Nusings is so timely! @ weeks ago my very dear and closest friend of 30 years completed her earthly journey of 80 years and crossed over.
    My anchors have been shakey and wind~swept. Your musing helped me to look at my critter friends in the birdfeeders, the yard and the deer among the drive I often take through the State Park here in Oregon….and I have Hope. In fact, when the men came to take her body from our home to the cremeatory, they came with a Denali pick~up with a camper attatched.(We often talked about going to Alaska). They apologized that for the 2 hour drive back they had to bring their dog…a yellow Lab.(we had 2 Yellow labs as pets) That 3 yr. old dog put her head on Jean’s body and rode that way all the way home. This was
    a clear message to me that Jean had crossed over and was
    safe! That was so perfect for me. So once again, animals teach and speak to our Hearts if we have our “Other ears on” Thank~you so much for your Maple Musings. You helped to remind me to be aware of all the signs of Sacred Life around and among us Thank~you

  5. Connie Bowen says:

    Susan: It warms my heart to see you so happy!!! Your musings are a testament to the outpouring of beauty that can only come from a heart, once cracked and broken, now truly healed and brimming over with love. Blessings, Connie

  6. Maureen says:

    Susan, thanks for your Maple Musings. Your books and now your website have offered me much peace. This one about anchors, is helpful.

    Right now there is so much change going on out and around me, I worry about finances and future & health. Yet here, right now, here where I live in Joshua Tree, CA, the high desert of So. Calif. we just returned from our daily walk with our 3 dogs. the stunning 360 degree view of eternity, the georgous desert floor. While walking we saw and have on our property cottontail rabbits, quail, jackrabbits, coyotes, woodpeckers, scotts orioles, lots and lots of hummingbirds (since we feed them). So you reminded me to be here now, look at my present moment. That often happens when I read your stuff. To come back to right now.

    Now it is fun to read other peoples stuff too in response. Thank you and have a lovely evening. Love and Blessings,
    PS. Happy Shiviratri to all!!
    Maureen

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Yes, Maureen: There is a lot out there that can distract and worry us. Anything that can help us anchor in the moment is a real treasure.

  7. Cindy says:

    All….

    This is what nature means to me, and I know you have all felt the same comfort and relief when communing with “the wild”.

    “When despair grows in me
    And I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting for their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free”.

    Wendell Berry

  8. Nancy Fuller says:

    Susan: Thank you so much for this thoughtful rhythm. I live in Los Angeles with two horses, two dogs and at least one feral cat (along with birds, coyotes, a mountain lion, snakes, geese, wild peacocks, and so forth) – yes Los Angeles. I have been following your musings for a while now and always am gentled by them. In today’s very emotional climate, it is helpful to me and all around me to have a place to go to remember what is important. My horses try to show me as do the dogs, but many times I can not listen. Silence is so precious (not much of it in L.A.) as is the magic and mystery of life.

    I love the Wendell Berry poem.

    And, Maureen, I just came back from visiting a friend of mine who lies in Joshua Tree – she left L.A. many years ago and moved into a cabin there.

    Thank you for this refuge.

    In peace –

    Nancy

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Nancy, If I were Queen of the World I would dedicate an entire country to stillness and silence—a place with no cars, no construction noise, and no flashing billboards. Then, I’d move there! ^.^

  9. Denise says:

    Responding to Susan’s nomination as “Queen”: 🙂

    Perhaps we can agree on a time that we spend each week for 15- 30 or so minutes that we sit in quiet silence and hold our thoughts for the well being of one another? An opportunity to reach out on our leading edge of thought and continue that kindred spirit we all feel so strongly.

    I would love to add that to my meditation time each week!

    Denise

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Denise, why don’t you be the “queen” of silent sit time? Suggest a regular day and time that feels right to you, and let us know when, okay?

  10. Ann says:

    Hello Susan,
    Just surfacing a bit to say *sure* anytime you need someone to obsess over words, punctuation, flow, etc. etc., just send it on. It’s so good to see your blog and on-line community blossoming here. 🙂
    (I’m freelancing as a writer/editor at a solar energy company these days… very cool, different technology. These people want to save the world, and I’m glad to be a part of it!)

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Parker, it is the duty of we crones (or is that “us crones”??) to be involved with the saving of the world. They are lucky to have you! And I’m lucky to still have you after all these years. To the group: Ann is my best friend from grade school, also now an author of an award-winning mystery series set in early Colorado.

  11. Denise says:

    O.k.! I’ve never been asked to raise a “challenge” but here goes…
    Would your “Musing” group agree to give the 1 st. Saturday morning of each month at 7:00am (each of your times) a 15-30 min. time frame to meditate on one another? To quiet ourselves and to reach a level of clarity.

    The intention would be to collectively visualize one another, lift our hopes, dreams and ideas. To sit in quiet consciousness and create love and well-being! Focus on healing if need be.

    Someone out there will no doubt be able to sum up my humble idea…send your revised thoughts and lets connect each and every beautiful 1st Saturday morning of the newest month!

    The Crones will no doubt peek their heads out and guide us…:)

    How does March 7th look for a start date? Then we can relate our meditation times via Susan and pull this together.

    Hugs,
    Denise

  12. Janet Colson says:

    Dear Susan

    Since I last emailed you my family and I have been back to New Zealand, bought a cottage near the sea and plan to move there from London early next year. Every time I come back to your musings I am enouraged on my path – a journey towards nature and knowing myself better through story telling. Your thoughts on stories as our anchor and reference and our evolving sense of a growing self, are profound. Thank you as always.

    I wrote a poem on the plane home from New Zealand which I think expresses the pull we can all feel between the many places we think of as home and the journeys we take ourselves on both physically and spiritually. I hope you all enjoy it:

    I fly back to winter

    I fly back to winter
    over long black sands at Kapiti
    and the madness of the toi tois,
    wild flaxen virgins of
    the rampant bush.

    I fly back to winter
    to wrap my heart in the
    snowy mantle of the mother land
    and make a nest in marble cornices
    of my beloved London,
    for a while.

    I watch the moon
    for a sign from the morepork
    to gather up my ghosts
    and, on the tailwind
    of the echoes of a thousand years,
    fly south.

    7 February 2009
    JCC

    With thanks

    Janet

  13. Cindy says:

    Janet…

    What an absolutely beautiful poem! You have a gift……

    Denise….

    I ‘m on board with the time you suggest, I think it would be most wonderful! Bid the crones to enter and they will….to bless, to guide, and to laugh (always to laugh)….and to heal!

    Peace and Namaste to all on this fine early Spring day!! The rain is falling and my garden is rejoicing as well!

  14. Janet says:

    I too will try to keep the mediation time on the first Saturday.

    Thank you for appreciating my latest poem from the heart. For those who don’t know – toi tois are tall, floppy, hairy-headed blonde grasses that grow all over the New Zealand bush in summer. And ‘morepork’ is their funny word for an owl!!! If you say it out loud it is supposed to sound like the hoot of that clever, magic bird.

  15. Denise says:

    Thanks to those who will be “connecting” the 1st Saturday of each month. Perhaps we could send a few “intentions” in the meantime the we are personally looking to focus on. That would help me at least to visualize your well-being.

    For me I’ve found myself caring for my mother; a person who until a few years ago was not really in my life and I’m now in my late 40’s!…I’m cooking, cleaning, making appointments and learning to let go of the privacy I’ve always known. I feel strongly that I am where I should be. I would like for your good energy to help me center myself so I remember to stay inspired for my own interests and stay gentle in my heart. Any thoughts on Grace?

    I’m in Northern Michigan. Its going to be 10 below tonight…beautiful up here, I am surrounded by 2 bays against a peninsula that feeds into Lake Michigan. Lots of wildlife and fresh water.

    The poem was wonderful!

    Grazie!

  16. Cindy says:

    Denise

    “Give us Grace for today”…….

    May you be filled, may you receive more then you can hold while letting the the rest flow out and into your days to come. What blesses one blesses all…….

    The UP of Michigan is a very special place for me and my family. We spend part of our summer on Lake Superior in a cabin, watching the wildlife move through our days and nights. Complete peace on earth.

    My personal intention is to give unconditional love to those I do not understand, to give up judgment and “see” beyond the differences.

    Cindy

  17. kathey quelland says:

    Susan Dear, What a wonderful Maple Musings offering. Thanks you for bringing us all together and I will gladly participate in the meditation next Saturday AM. I live in Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mts, have been sick this winter for 2 months, and am feeling very revived by reading your website and engaging with crone elements. AT 62, I am indeed appreciating this crone time in my life. Spring is showing herself openly now in this region with gatherings of birds, birdsongs erupting, plants peeking out of the earth, and the days are lengthening….all so restorative after a really cold winter here, and being inside for sooo long. My dear dog was so gentle and patient during my illness and she is such a puppy at 9 months usually. So I am very grateful to be in touch with you, Susan, and all of you nature loving, of-the-earth women. Let us all go in peace.

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Hi Kathey: This year, more than any other I can remember, I am so hungering for spring! It is so cold here, still, and I go out each day to look for buds and shoots with a sense of near desperation! Please spring—come see me!

  18. Denise says:

    Cindy,
    As intentions go, you could not have picked a better day to give me a lift! Thank you!

    (You) A upper eh?! You know that they dont even make passports for us!!!
    What do you think about the Grace we send to our elders?
    Hugs,
    Denise
    🙂

    Thank you again!

  19. Denise says:

    Susan,
    Many are agreeing to meditate for one another the 1st Saturday of the month starting in March!

    This event will no doubt be a powerful time for us and one that we will revisit each month.

    At this writing I feel the open hearts and the power we are wanting to spread. Please encourage this opportunity. And last but not least ask the Crones to guide this new experience.

    We are all seemingly aligned to honor and support one another, never had this broad expanse before.

    Northern Michigan, Saturday afternoon. Suns out, temps are frigid but for some reason the birds are singing like the biggest
    gospel choir ever?! My beloved dog Lola is showing signs of
    shedding (spring?) and the days are growing toward spring.

    As for me I am ready to start my herb garden! O.k. gals, glad to be a part of your day!

    Hugs,
    Denise

    • Susan McElroy says:

      Denise! Good job in setting all this in motion. I often think that the one true, pure thing we can do for the world and each other is to send energy and blessings. I also believe that each small gesture in that direction adds to all the others ever made and offered. Surely, we can get that “cosmic tipping point” tilting with our efforts! Crones, unite!

  20. Cindy says:

    Denise…..I think this thing called “Grace” comes to us in many forms, the perfect and the imperfect. Herein lies the freedom to make mistakes, to move through our day knowing we are accepted for the gloriously flawed beings that we are. Our elders, as they near the end of their lives, surely must look back and wonder if they did enough, if they were as good a parent as they could have, or might have been. Sending Grace to our elders (our teachers), whether they are still living or not, is a most loving gift we can give them, and ourselves. I do believe Grace comes when we love and accept the imperfection in a person as well as bless the good they’ve done. A gentle benediction upon a life well lived.

    May you be given the ease to move through your days with as much love and attention to yourself as your dear mother is receiving from you……..

    All is well……Cindy

  21. kathey says:

    Today the Serviceberries are reddening up along their branch tips and the darkest yellow of the crocuses are blooming. There are snowdrops in Charlottesville. Finches are back in the gardens and towhees on the ground. Canada Geese are mating and mockingbirds singng for a mate. Just too much! I am glad that it comes in doses for a while before the big bloom arrives. My body is trying to wake up now also. What a wonderful season is Lady Spring.

  22. Denise says:

    Yep! O.k. as u say Crones “unite”!

    Cindy, I know you’ve got my back! thank you! Tell me more of your UP times.

    I encourage the rest to commit to our 1st Saturday meditation.

    Again, can we speak on the grace of our elders?

    Today I saw the small birds, the tit mouse, the chick-a dee, and the nut hatch all singing great praise. I saw my Eagle and the Hawk? And not too leave my favorite guy out “Pete” the Porcupine! He loves to walk our nature path straight down the middle and head for the river. No one bugs Pete!

    Hugs to my new sisters!
    Denise

  23. Denise says:

    Friends!
    A reminder, if you are interested in being a part of our first of the month meditations; please mark your calendar for this Saturday March 7th 7:00am (your time zone).

    We will join together to honor one another, lift the balance of our lives and encourage our well-being. Please find your quiet space and open yourselves to welcome the creative intentions you will no doubt feel for our group!

    Remember to breath deeply within your spirit and enjoy your thoughts for one another. Perhaps when you feel the time is right you can share how this experience effected you. As for myself I will pull the Ruins and my Animal Medicine Cards prior.

    I look forward to your energy and am happy to send warmth to so many new friends.

    With kind regards,
    Denise

    Susan, thank you.

  24. Denise says:

    Good Morning,
    Hoping those that had the chance to share in the Saturday 7:00am meditation felt the presence of one another and the beauty of our world.

    I had several clear “sights” and was serenaded the entire time by a group of Crows in the treetop outside my window…

    Wishing you a thoughtful day.

    Denise

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