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Fertile: An Anthology of Earth Poems and Prose from the High Desert and Mountains of the Four Corners Region is a unique literary arts project, envisioned and midwifed by Sonja Horoshko, a journalist and visual artist from Cortez, Colorado. Twenty-three published writers, including yours truly, were invited to speak love to our memory of the topic––Earth in all her abundance and endangerment. The works in this volume, published in 2023 by Fourth Corner Press, are as diverse as the authors,  evidenced only in part by the occasional code-switching among English and other first languages, among them: Diné (Navajo), Haak'u (Acoma), Spanish, and Mvskoke, sometimes translated to English, sometimes left to the reader's understanding. As Sonja writes, "Collectively, the impact of reading the poems and prose slows down our comprehension rate on purpose to give the gift of contemplation to those who regard the natural elements as blessings."




About being part of Fertile, Michael Thompson (Mvskoke) relates: "Why I am so honored to be included in this collection is the amazing rigor and passion every writer brought to his or her contribution. Every human being has countless intimate memories of this earth. The natural world, in all of its splendid fecundity, has been our nursery, our school, our laboratory, our ceremonial ground, and ultimately, our home, regardless of whatever individual identity we might claim. If you ask empathetic writers to write of their love for earth, you should expect their best. That is the sort of work that Fertile celebrates."


Two excerpts from Thompson's "Sixty-nine Snapshots of Our Mother:" 




1954: Deep in the damp and fertile foliage of memory, I sometimes

recall the milky scent of my Mvskoke mother's brown breasts, the

shade of ripe pecans, and her voice humming a lullaby.


 1999: Just because I can't sing doesn't mean I won't sing. The mean-

ing of the inipi, for me, began with the songs. The songs gave me

strength, patience, humility. Songs, songs, songs, songs. Songs for

the directions, for the medicines, for the animals, for thanksgiving,

for honoring, for sorrowing, for healing, songs for the earth.




My longtime friend, former work colleague and Diné elder, Gloria Emerson, brought to the project a collection of stories and poems called "The Esthetics of Tsé Áwózí." Tsé Áwózí is a phrase that describes pebbles. Ever since I've known her and long before, Gloria has collected small rocks, and they find places all over her home.


Three excerpts:

Miniature Packages


I love the beauty of miniature packages––tsé áwózí, k'é, jish––

holding massive details of geophysical history, stories of our social

world, and guidance to our spiritual cosmos.




stones carry the history
of ancient pathways
of astrologic vomit
star power poking drops of light into the crevices
of geologic time
ancient stories light dim hallways of star charts (chatter)
falling to here, intergalactic motion,
planets forming mountains forming rivers forming




"Tsé áwózí is all we got. Can't farm. Don't know what to do with

all these rocks, they keep us from farming."

~ Betty Becenti, farmer, at farmers' meeting on January 25, 2001




My own work in Fertile is a nineteen-part meditation on "Tongues." Three excerpts:



My Mother Tongue is the US variety of English. I also heard Dutch

and Diné bizaad before I left my mother's womb. Dutch from my

father's parents and sometimes from my mother and father. Diné

bizaad from the Diné man who was my father's big brother, his

mentor, at Bible School, and especially from Ed's wife, Ella, who

talked more than Ed.



The church of my youth was not a shouting church. Members

scoffed at Pentecostal churches, where people spoke in tongues.

"Holy Rollers," they called them. Once, when I was ten years old, I

went to that kind of church with my friend. It was loud and mysteri-

ous, fervid. The worshippers were heirs of the bibilical apostles who

had tongues of fire land on their heads at Pentecost. All that emo-

tion scared me, but I sure hoped I would get to see tongues of fire.



The tongues we speak bring us the taste of words. The muscles wrap

themselves around teeth and cheeks and lips to make the sounds.

The tongues we speak also present us with lavish food flavors. From

US English, mac and cheese. When I am being Dutch-American, I

eat moes, a peasants' mix of mashed potaatoes or rice with bacon fat,

kale, and bacon pieces. At Christmas, my grandmother mailed us

the flaky, buttery, Dutch almond pastry, banket. In Diné bizaad, I can

never get enough dahdíníilghaazh––puffy golden fry bread and with

it, mutton stew. My friend Pita says my ris alamande, the Danish

Christmas rice pudding, made with almond slivers, whipped cream,

and cherries, is food from the gods. In Jewish homes, at Passover, I

eat brisket and matzoh ball soup, charoset, and bitter herbs.



I hope these excerpts have given you a taste of Fertile and whetted your apetite for more. Sonja says that the writers are the project. It is completely funded by our submission fees, and all profits from sales belong to us, the writers. The project was developed to support literary artists. Most of the distribution is done through us, the writers, at this time. You can purchase Fertile from me for $30.95 plus $4 shipping and handling in the US, for a total of $34.95. Contact me if you live outside the US to ask about shipping. If you're interested, and of course, I hope you are, contact me in your usual way, in the comments, or by going to the Contact page on this website. Holiday gift-giving time is coming soon!


Fertile is the second of a four part series on the four elements. Wet, produced in the same way and exploring the element Water, has been purchased from me by some of you. It is still available, although I will have to back order it, whereas I have copies of Fertile available now. Forthcoming will be volumes on Air and Fire respectively. 


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When I go into other people's homes or offices, if I can do it without seeming to pry, I love to browse their bookshelves. In 1985, three weeks after my daughter was born in Auckland, New Zealand, we moved into the far north of the North Island, to women's land where there were several houses on around 11 acres of paddock, gardens, an orchard, and a stream. There we joined in group projects, ate the occasional communal meal, and participated in game nights and saunas. In the main house's dining room there was a wall lined with bookshelves, and on one shelf I saw The Tao of Physics by physicist Fritjof Capra. I was drawn to the book, maybe because I'd already heard of it and planned to read it one day.
There was an overarching reason for my interest. In fact, it would've been more accurate to refer to that interest as "yearning" or "searching." If you've read my book, To Drink from the Silver Cup, or know me in other contexts, you know that I left the evangelical church of my youth as a young adult because there was no place for me when I came out as a lesbian. Absent the church, the impulse toward a spiritual life remained, although I didn't know how to give it form, so I entered a period of on-and-off exploration. I tried different spiritual practices, most deeply and consistently yoga and meditation.
I also wanted to know if there was a scientific basis for spirituality. The Tao of Physics seemed ready made to answer this question, as it explored the parallels between the Eastern spiritual tradition of Taoism and quantum physics. I read it eagerly, and would continue to be drawn to books and articles that described brain and body research on why individuals and peoples in cultures around the world are drawn to spiritual practice. Later, when I worked in a Native publishing house, I realized that Diné shamans had understood concepts of quantum physics for centuries, approaching the details through a spiritual lens.
Spirituality has been defined as the desire or practice of connecting with something larger than oneself. Having been deeply hurt by organized religion through the church, where I should have felt the safest and most supported, despite my continued deep attraction to things spiritual, I felt pretty cautious about turning my life over to something called "Higher Power" when I joined a Twelve Step program. I listened to how other people talked about the first three steps, which some call the "God Steps." One woman, who identified as an agnostic, said she initially made the group her Higher Power, because the group was bigger than her. I saw that people who came to the program in pain went to great lengths to engage their spirituality, in order to make the program work for them.
This simple definition of spirituality––the desire, the need, the practice, of connecting with something larger than oneself––is powerful in its simplicity. And the more I've read about the intersection of science and spirituality (just Google it, if it interests you––there's a ton of research out there), the more I accept it as something that's universal to the human experience, though it takes many diverse forms and is certainly not limited to religion. Much of the scientific research centers on the benefits of engaging in spiritual practice––reducing depression and anxiety, greater productivity, increased physical and mental health. In yoga practice it's referred to as "sadhana," anything that supports our wellbeing. What are seemingly unquantifiable are the benefits that can only be called spiritual––the ineffableness of the experience of connection––whether with other people, nature, the Whole that's been described as a virtually limitless organism, or what we call by many names, including "God."
The Christianity I grew up with and which is still very visible in our world today, holds to an exclusive claim on God; some are even skeptical of the word "spiritual." There's a great deal of evidence in the scientific research that God, that spirituality, is much larger than any one religion or practice. My yoga and meditation teacher in Sweden, Swami Janakananda, drew a diagram on the board one night, after a day of actual practice. In the center of a circle, he wrote the word "Rome." Then he drew spokes leading to the circle. He said, "Yes, all roads lead to Rome, but if you want to get to Rome, you must choose a road."


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There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life––including ourselves.
~ Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way


There is a Danish saying that translates, "A loved child has many names." We humans, around the globe, have many names for the creative force Cameron refers to––God, Higher Power, the Whole, the Source, Presence, Spirit––and those are just in English. Maybe it says something about the love and gratitude we feel for that underlying, indwelling force. Here, I mainly use the name "Creator," in part because this post is about creativity as spiritual practice and also to honor the way many Indigenous people refer to the force that infuses all of life.
All around us when we pay attention, we see creativity in action. As fall lengthens into winter, milkweed plants go brown and then creamy white. Their pods turn from spiky green to hard, thin shells and then open to scatter their silky parachutes, which are weighted down by small black seeds. They appear to have died, but in spring they come back, green again, evidence of the prolific creative force in nature. In summer it's easy to start taking creation for granted when there is such a profusion of growth; but what a miracle flourishes in the garden––the fact that a tiny, flat, yellow tomato seed becomes a ripe red tomato and not a curved, yellow squash; that a corn seed no bigger than the tip of a little finger becomes a tall stalk bearing several ears of corn, precious for nourishment of body and soul.
We humans, too, are part of creation. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, we are told that Creator formed us in Creator's own image. If we take that name––Creator––and think of ourselves as Creator's image bearers, then we, too, have been formed to create. Not creating, as Julia Cameron says in The Artist's Way, goes against our fundamental nature. It is a denial of the creative life force that infuses us.
I've often heard people say, "Oh, I'm not creative." They might believe that about themselves because they take a narrow view of what creativity is. They may think it's only about art or music or poetry. But we all have the creative force within us. Think of making a beautiful, nourishing meal. Of finding a unique solution to a knotty mechanical problem. Of figuring out a way to help a child who is having difficulty reading. I love watching physical therapists stand and ponder the best way to address a problem in the musculoskeletal system––creativity in action, there to observe.
Practice is an activity we engage in on a regular basis. The Artist's Way refers to a creative practice as one in which our focus is on the process of what we are doing, not the product. It is about being as present as possible, being in that moment, not some other moment.
For many years, I enjoyed cooking, but more recently, it has become a chore, something that has to be done regularly, if I'm to survive on more than peanut butter on a rice cake. However, even more recently, I began to look at cooking as an opportunity to be creative. I don't mean making some elaborate, extraordinary meal. I mean being present with the process. Attending to the brilliant orange of carrot discs, as I chop. Delighting in the contrasting colors, when I put together the green of a pepper, the red of a tomato, the white of a cucumber for a simple salad. Absorbing the smell of the lemon I'm squeezing over the salad.
When I pay attention, I'm often overcome by gratitude. Gratitude for these simple pleasures, for the smells and tastes and sights. Gratitude is one of the most genuine ways we connect with the indwelling force––saying thank you that we are graced to be part of it all. Just thank you. Medieval theologian Meister Eckhart wrote, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."
One aspect of spiritual practice is the regularity of it––something we do most days, maybe even several times a day. However, spiritual practice is not just a habit. It's something we do regularly to consciously connect with God, or whatever name we give to that Force that infuses us and all of Life. Pearl S. Buck, perhaps best known for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Good Earth, grew up with Presbyterian missionary parents in China. She did not stay in the church, but she remained deeply impressed by how her father spent several moments in silence before praying aloud, using those moments to establish conscious contact with God. His tradition emphasized the intellect; yet he also recognized the need for a deep, felt connection with Creator.
Creativity requires us to pay attention, to be present, to bring something to life––whether it's a solution to a problem; a beautifully woven rug; a fine squash blossom necklace; a painted mural; an embroidered pillowcase; an expressive dance; a lovingly, thoughtfully prepared meal. It's easy when we are creating to forget about the present moment, to think about the outcome we hope for. Entering into creativity as a spiritual practice enables us to discover the joy of the process; the product becomes secondary, which doesn't make it less meaningful or beautiful. But the process becomes a vehicle for knowing ourselves and the Source more deeply.
This entry was first published in The Gallup Independent on August 19, 2023 in slightly different form. Reprinted here with permission.

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Image courtesy morguefile.com

This entry was first published in The Gallup Independent on August 5, 2023. Reprinted with permission.



When I taught in an alternative middle school classroom, my high-risk students attended for half a day. My afternoons included supervising after-lunch detention, home visits, consultation with my supervisor and community resources, and planning. My classroom stood away from the main campus, across several fields, so the janitors almost never came to clean. Most days, when detention was over, and before I went out into the community, I cleaned the chalkboard and swept the floor. One afternoon, my supervisor called, and I told him I'd been sweeping the floor, so it had taken me a minute to get to the phone.
"Why are you sweeping the floor?" he asked. "Aren't the janitors coming out to clean your classroom?"
"Hardly ever. Maybe twice last semester. But I don't mind, really. It's quiet, and while I sweep, thoughts come to me about the morning and about what different students might need."
"Oh, you're collecting your thoughts while you collect the dirt." He laughed.
"Yes, and sometimes I'm collecting my internal dirt, too."
In Chaim Potok's novel, The Chosen, a character explains some of the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who is considered the 18th century founder of Hasidic Judaism, saying, "He taught them that the purpose of man is to make his life holy––every aspect of life: eating, drinking, praying, sleeping." I would add to that, "working."
Making a conscious connection with the Holy One is what spiritual practice is about. As I understand it, the Ba'al Shem Tov was saying that we can seek conscious contact with the Presence through every action in our daily lives. In the yoga school where I have taken courses, the work we did––in the kitchen, in the gardens, cleaning toilets, digging ditches to repair plumbing––was called "karma yoga." In Zen monasteries monks chop wood and carry water. And sweep floors.
My teacher taught that karma yoga is work done for the sake of the work itself. Not for someone's approval, not because it earns us money, not to get through it as quickly as possible. To do work for its own sake, it is necessary to be aware of what we're doing, to be present, to do it as well as possible, also knowing that it is a task we may have to do again the next day, and the next.
Another teacher at the yoga school also said that karma yoga is work done with love. To me that means love of the work itself, as well as love for the people who will benefit. The Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran wrote, "Work is love made visible."
I can't say that I always swept my classroom with complete awareness of what I was doing, and as I told my supervisor, it also became a time of reflection, of problem solving. But those are things that often happen when we make contact with the Holy One through the work we are doing or through prayer or meditation. Our awareness of the work itself may shift, as we are led to answers we need.
As I swept the floor, I can't say, either, that I was thinking loving thoughts or feeling love for my students. But the act itself was love made visible, especially if we think of love as action, rather than feeling. In creating a clean and orderly space for my students, I was loving them––making love visible.
A spiritual practice is something that is done regularly. Work, whether done at home, whether done out in the world voluntarily or for pay, can form a spiritual practice when it is done with consciousness. Today, I live in a place far from my homeland so I can be close to family, but I long so often for New Mexico. There are certain tasks, and they are often more physical than mental, that remind me that I am doing karma yoga. Watering plants is one of them. I check the needs of the plants, remove leaves that have died and thus sap energy from the plant, note if a plant might need a larger pot. I feel gratitude for the pleasure the plants' beauty brings me. In those moments of conscious work, I discover that I am content to be where I am, maybe because I'm fully present then––the essence of spiritual practice.


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