Wandering into Wonder – February 2021

Fire keeper.
a woman can’t survive

by her own breath


she must know

the voices of mountains

~ excerpt from the poem "Fire" by Joy Harjo

Towards the end of February, a full moon night, the girls and I headed out for our second monthly backpacking trip of the year. This would be Juniper’s first of 2021, her first of her eighth year (she turned 7 years old in early February) and her first time heading out in winter. With snowshoes on, heavy packs on our backs and me dragging a sled of firewood, we headed out. Up the canyon and then up a steep draw that we call “The Draw” (yes, very inventive). Part-way up The Draw I started post-holing in snowshoes and soon found myself pitching forward and falling on my face. With a 60 pound pack holding me down, I found it rather difficult to extract myself from the situation I found myself in. Somehow I got up but still had more of The Draw to climb up. Soon I found myself at a stand still between gravity pulling me back down and my desire to climb. That damn sled with firewood was just too much! Luckily, my 10 year old had already made it to the top, dropped her pack and came to my rescue. Awesome! She helped by pushing the sled from behind as I lumbered, more easily now, to the top of The Draw. Sweating, out of breath and oh so thankful for my daughter!

Looking back from whence we came

We camped under a lone pine tree that we call the Sheltering Tree. The ground was bare, even though there was snow all around. Lovely to feel bareground after a snowy winter. The girls played and sledded while I set up camp and cooked dinner. Afterwards, we wandered around in the moonlight and enjoyed the dance and play of moon and cloud. Two coyote yipped and bark-yipped (an alert call) from nearby. We saw their tracks the next morning, approximately 200 feet from camp. Sometime in the night, Canada geese woke me up honking as they flew by. Many others in our valley heard them as well. Must be migrating.

The cliffs in winter.

The next morning we awoke to bright, beautiful, warm sunshine on the tent. No fire needed to stay warm. The girls played and sledded more while I cleaned up and broke down camp. A fun and lively time for them, a calm and quiet time for me.

Here is the haiku I wrote on the trip. The feeling of having my daughter come back to help me get up a hill was one of extraordinary love and admiration. This is the first time something like this has happened. I look forward to the increasing ways and times that my daughters help me in this beautiful, weary world!

She drops her pack
helps push me up the hill
reach the top, sweating.

Wandering into Wonderment – January 2021

But the trail got rough
And it faded away—
Out in the open,
Everywhere to go.

-Gary Snyder (excerpt from the poem “The Trail is Not a Trail”)

What does one do when the trail gets rough or even when the trail disappears altogether? For many this past year as been rough, very rough and worse. And for those willing to admit it, this past year has shown that life as we have known it is over, the trail that has we’ve tread has faded away. What now, where do we go?

There is everywhere to go, any direction one chooses. In this spirit, there are many “everywheres” that I hope to go this year, that I am choosing to go. The first one, the one I want to share today, is an “everywhere” that my older daughter and I have chosen for 2021. We have set the intention of backpacking each month of the year, from January to December 2021.

So far we have made two trips, both up the canyon directly behind our house. Here I will share some photos and a haiku or two that I wrote on the trip. It occurred at the end of January, during a deeply snowy year here in the North Cascades, yet it rained during our trip. We went in a mile or two, camped along a tiny creek, in a spot that I shoveled out. There was the drip drip drip of rain falling through the trees, aspen and cottonwood, and the hoot hoot hoot of great horned owls, during their mating season.

Dinner = Mac-n-cheese with broccoli and bacon

Dessert = Pumpkin muffin and chocolate bar

Breakfast = Oatmeal and coffee


And here are some haiku I wrote on that trip:

Wet winter woods, wind
their way into my hard mind.
Soft, slushy snow-melt.

Softly falling rain
crackling fire, lightens the mood
of these slushy woods.

A father, daughter
out adventuring tonight
Where else should they be?

Firelight, creek song.
A snowy winter campsite
for a dad and his girl.

Lost and found

Mount Bigelow.
My feet are sloshing in my boots

My hands are cut

My brain is a knot

My lips are chapped

I slump into a camp chair
cool evening breeze
a robin song
a river song
nighthawks overhead

What is all the anxiety about?
Why all the worry?

I breathe deep and relax
for the first time all day
in a world just a minute ago
I was lost in.

Daydream Believer

Juniper feeding our Dexter cow, Babe.

Sometimes I am so far into a dream that I can’t tell that I am dreaming. Does that ever happen to you? Lately I realized that Kristin and I are deep into a dream, so deep that we have to stop ourselves and force lucid dreaming, otherwise we can’t recognize where we are.

The boys, “Ham” and “Bacon.” Seriously, this is what the girls named them.

Sometimes I can’t tell where dreams end and where “reality”, whatever that is, begins. Am I dream walking through the waking world or wake-walking through a dream world? And what difference is there really?

And sometimes, most times perhaps, it is impossible to tell where a dream really begins. Now I am talking about our so-called waking dreams, the intentions or foci of our lives, because our life these days is one such dream. We now have chickens, turkeys, rabbits, sheep, pigs, and cows.

What are we doing and where did this come from? When did each of us first want to be a farmer?

Our sheep, “Cookie”, “And” “Cream”, and their mobile A-frame.

I posed this question to Kristin recently and she said that she has wanted to be a farmer or a rancher since she was a child, living at that time in either New Mexico or eastern Montana. Makes sense. For me, I can’t really remember but it probably goes back several generations to when my Great-Grandfather, Benson LaFever, farmed the rocky hillsides of Delaware County, New York. Someone in our family has to farm and carry on, right?

What I do remember is being in graduate school with Kristin (studying Wildlife Science) and a seed being planted by a local organic farmer (Farmer Brad) and his young family that inspired me greatly, as well as Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

We were in graduate school 15 years ago or so and here we are realizing the dream of “The Old Home Place,” which is what we called our farmstead back then. It doesn’t have a new name yet and that one doesn’t seem to fit anymore, but the dream certainly does.

One of our “bunny tractors” (a mobile bunny hutch) with Juniper looking on.

I hope to provide regular updates and more descriptions of what we are doing. For now, I apologize for not getting the word out sooner about our incursion into farming but then again, we may be too busy these days living the dream (too exhausted more like) to spend time on the computer!

David and Kristin LaFever

Relax Completely

Sitting still
in a forest meadow
surrounded by fir and pine

Blowing wind
heard in the tree tops, first
then felt on the skin of my neck and face

Where does it come from?
Where is it going?

My dog lifts her nose sniffing intently
I do the same with a small, feeble nose
Catching nothing, understanding very little

A thousand yellow heads
Arnica nodding in rhythm 
with the wind as it passes through

Passing through what?
Passing through where?

The wind suddenly stops
bird song can be heard again
I lift my ear to the sound, listening

Intent on identification
looking for subtleties in 
rhythm, tone, inflection, pitch

Was that a vireo? 
Oh, a nuthatch but which one?

As sudden as it stopped
the wind returns, noisily
obscuring bird song and discernment

A thousand yellow heads nod
in unison, in rhythm with the wind
seeming to agree with what the wind says

Let go and relax completely.
You don't need to know everything.

by David LaFever

No Path to Here

There is no path that goes all the way.
Ancient words coming forth from Cold Mountain,
from so very long ago, like echoes in a canyon.
As I sit beneath an oddly bright gray sky
a breeze softly lifts the pages of this journal
while white-throated sparrows sing all around.
Clear notes and buzzy trills.
Meanwhile, high overhead a kestrel circles
announcing its place in the world with a voice its own.
Lik lik lik likliklik!
Leaving no trace across the sky.
What did Han Shan mean by no path goes all the way?
And what is this kestrel’s no-trace?
Is it possible for humans to leave no trace
and to travel the no-path path?
What about my desire to, in fact, leave a trace,
to have a positive impact on the world
and to leave my mark, something to be remembered by?
Can I leave no trace and still be remembered?
No-trace may be right for falcons but what about humans?
These questions and others bounce around
the canyons of my mind and heart
echoes from the past, returning to the present.
And suddenly, as if on the wind, Han Shan’s words come back.
There is no path that goes all the way.
Immediately I think, “ahh, yes, right.”
We leave the trail behind and continue on a pathless journey
creating no path as we go, leaving no trace.
We make our way, alone and sometimes forlorn
connected too and remembering that
the reflections we see
in cold clear lakes and in clouds
are the true shape of our own face.

by David LaFever

Beautiful Questions

What is the right way to live?
A big question right off the bat.
Anyone, absolutely anyone who says
the right way to live is....
Can't be believed, shouldn't be.
Just walk away from them, at an angle.
This question is unanswerable
leastwise in words and concepts,
the boxes and drawers of language.

But, and this is a big but, it must be lived
breath by breath, step by step
and strangely, word by word.
We must speak, but not speak of it
speaking around edges, the terra incognita
of what it means to be human, living right here, right now.
So we talk and we laugh, we cry and we howl,
and all the other utterances a human can make.
In whatever language, we understand deeply,
not by the ear but rather through the heart.

"And yet, and yet....," Issa said.
A world of utterances is a world, not of answers
as is falsely assumed but one of questions.
The trick then is to ask more beautiful questions.
So here we go --

Why is water wet?
Why are my tears salty?
Where does wind come from,
                    and where does it go?
What does it mean to be human?
What is it?

What is the right way to live,
and what is the right way to die?

by David LaFever

Where else could I be?

sagebrush buttercups
Slow down and just breathe
take a breath, in and out
then take another breath
in and out.

Calming, connecting, timeless
and right, right now.

Slow down and just bow
bow deep and low
to the mountain, the river
to the person in front of you.

Gratifying, grateful, humble
and right, right now.

Slow down and just notice
wonder, joyful and freely
about the buttercup right at your feet
and the clouds way up in the sky.

Compassionate, kind, beautiful
and right, right now.

Slow down and just feel
the body sitting here, still
the mind moving and swaying
like a fluttering aspen leaf.

Feelings, perceptions, sensations
right here, right now.

Where else could I be?

By David LaFever

Alright in all ways

I lay back on the hard ground
and pull a blanket of stars
over my cold body.
I shiver and then
lay back, still.
A warmth from deep within
I listen and hear
the creaky voices of frogs
singing a welcome song of spring.
I look and see
stars shooting across the sky
and satellites and a lone plane
blinking red
in the inky black
new-moon night.

I take a deep breath
and feel the earth move
beneath me.
I close my eyes, enveloped in
an ancient knowledge
unnoticeable most days,
most lives unnoticed.

I am, we are, going to be alright.
Always have been, although
we often don't think it.
Always will be, only not
in the ways we have been told
to think.

But yes, we are going to be alright.

In the steady ways
of a river.
And the swirling ways
of  wind.
In the sparkling ways
of fire.
And the dark ways
of night.
In the fleeting ways
of dreams.
And the mysterious ways
of the universe.
And in the deep, deep ways
of the earth.

by David LaFever

Be still. Listen.

An Imagined Letter from Corona to Humans

Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.
We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt
We will stop
the planes
the trains
the schools
the malls
the meetings
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our
single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.
We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news:
We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause.
Nor the typhoons in Africa,China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear:
We are not well.
Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy? How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?
Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness,
listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?
Notice if you are resisting.
Notice what you are resisting.
Ask why.
Stop. Just stop.
Be still.
Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.

– Kristin Flyntz