Celebrating Friendship

March was Women’s History Month, celebrated since the 1980s as a time to honor women and their influence on….well, everything!   Cleaning out old photo albums, reducing my collection of snap shot remembrances down to take up less space, and only keeping those which bring smiles, I’ve been thinking of the many women in my life, especially those I have some personal “history” with! Some are long gone, their life journeys taking them elsewhere. Many I see once in awhile, always an enjoyable connection, they are the ones whose lives take them in other directions but who are still carried in the heart.  Then there are the golden threads, friendships woven through 40+ years of life experiences, women I met when we were young and with whom I have ‘grown old’. The ones I’ve witnessed go through, and have often shared, birthings, deaths, marriages, divorces, broken hearts, graduations, kid’s lives, aging parents, our own aging.  Each came into my life, and I theirs, in different ways. There are, of course, outstanding women who are ‘newer’ friends, oh, maybe 25-30 years! And a few special friends I’ve had the pleasure and honor to meet in recent years. I’ve been blessed to know marvelous women, more than compensating for not having had a sister! Let me introduce you to a few.

Among the long-term ones is my friend Ke who I hired (sometime in the late 70s?) when she was a single mom, living in a log house (where she still lives), the teacher at the local pre-school. Needing a second job, she became the cook for the Senior Meals program at the Community Center where I was director. We quickly became friends, both with a weird sense of humor, we seemed made for one another. We became a comedic pair in the kitchen of the Community Center, if only to entertain ourselves. The laughter and wit bonded us in a friendship that has lasted through decades of personal challenges in each of our lives. It is a friendship that has at times drifted apart and yet over time grown deeper and closer.  Ke also does not have sisters (we each have two brothers), so we easily fill that role for one another, which includes not only love and support, but also the disagreements and differences that sisters have! Through it all, the laughter has held tight the bond.

Anne, who I met when she was pregnant with her daughter Kate, with Kate’s daughter.

Anne I met around the time she was pregnant with her second child (who became my god-daughter). Because her husband could potentially have been called to a forest fire at the time of the birthing, I became a birth-coach back up. Fortunately he did not have to be away, so my role was that of photographer, and baby-carrier as Anne was whisked from the operating room to make room for someone else (no birthing rooms ‘back then’!) That was the beginning of watching their family grow and grow up.  Anne and I gave moral support to one another when, fortunately at different times, we both went back to school and changed life courses.  My partner in many community schemes when I worked at the Community Center, our grandest venture together was organizing the first Community Fair, a tradition that has been carried on for decades since.  Our most meaningful collaboration was providing safe shelter and services for victims of domestic violence. She and Ke, both creative and talented, were my wedding party decoration committee!

Marsha and me at the Lavender Festival.

Marsha and I met when I first moved to the Olympic Peninsula and I owned a Jersey cow, one of many friends made through selling milk. Our friendship became closer when she moved into “town”, she being the only person I knew in “town” when I started to work there. Over lunch time visits, as her bookbinding business grew, we shared the changes and challenges we both were facing in our lives. Though she moved away for a period of years, life taking her on many different paths, Marsha, who still keeps in touch with her childhood Camp Fire girlfriends, easily rekindled ‘old’ friendships when she returned. Our mutual love of Nature, color, art, and history gives us much to talk about. She is a mentor and role model for aging with grace in a challenged body.

A rare visit a few years ago between two ‘soul sisters’.

Terra (Marsha’s cousin) also came into my life as a milk customer and neighbor. Soon we were both following the same spiritual ‘path’ and practice.  When I began a meditation group in 1979, she was my partner in getting the fledgling group going.  She was also my job replacement when I was out of work at the Community Center for months due to mononucleosis. A spiritual sister, though she moved away, our common life goals have kept us close through decades of life changes. Also ‘sisterless’, we bond not only as sisters with a deep sense of spirituality in our lives, but we both live with the challenges and benefits of ‘tallness’!

Shaun and I at my 50th birthday party, 2000.

The woman closest to being a biological sister to me (though with 3 sisters, she certainly wasn’t looking for a fourth!) is my friend and cousin Shaun, with whom I share half my genes! Shaun and I did not grow up on the same side of the country, she was just a toddler and I was 5 when my family moved from Washington. Though we visited her and her family in 1962 when we came to the Seattle World’s Fair, it wasn’t until we were in our late 20s  and I returned to Washington that we really ‘met’.  We quickly became close friends, maybe it’s in the genes! Our lives have followed different and diverse routes, yet having many shared values there is little we have not talked about over the years, from boy friends, jobs, family, politics, our passion and concern for Nature, our fears and joys. We’ve even played music together (see photo below!), she an accomplished fiddle player, me a novice ex-autoharpist! She was my last-minute bridesmaid, she was there two years ago when I had a mastectomy, she painted the faces of my other women friends at my 50th birthday celebration, she puts up with me talking too much on the phone! That is a sisterly quality!

I have tremendous admiration for these women.  All strong, intelligent, quick-witted women who do not suffer fools, have compassionate hearts, and are talented and creative. Women I’ve watched get broken-hearted, heal, grow. They are my mentors and teachers.

Carolynn

This is not the end of the list of remarkable women in my life, these are the ones found in my 40-year-old album! My friend Carolynn, (who also has two brothers, no sisters) is another spiritual ‘sister’ with whom I’ve shared many of life’s ups and downs over 25+ years, and who I admire for her strength under-fire. A strength that has been tested too many times.

My sisters-in-law, Linda and Ginny, are both woman I admire and love (among the good things about brothers is they give you sisters!) This post would be too long if I wrote of all the outstanding women I’ve been blessed to know. Most the older ones are gone from this earthly place, and though I’ve no daughters, my nieces and younger women friends fill my heart with joys and heartaches as I watch them grow and go through their own challenges and delights in life. A month is not long enough to celebrate women and all they have accomplished in the world, in our countries and communities, it certainly is not long enough for me to celebrate and write of all the exceptional women I have known! Who do you have history with?

(click photos to read captions)

Women, Bugs and Storytelling

“The Hexapods are funny folk who have six feet. That is they have six when they are grown up, though some of the children have none at all, and some have as many as twenty-two. You can tell from this that they are strange people, and you may call them fairies if you like!

They have wings, – the grown-up ones do, – wonderful wings of many shapes and colors. Luna’s wings are green, – pale, pale green, – and very lovely, with a purple border on them. Perhaps there is nothing more beautiful in the world than Luna’s wings. When Van flies, you can see the yellow edge of her brown wings; and when she alights – hesto! presto! you can see nothing at all; for she disappears from sight even though she is near enough to touch. Carol wears her wings neatly folded like a fan, except when she is using them. And Gryl, the little black minstrel – oh, Gryl fiddles with his wings.”

Photo from edithpatch.org, web site about Edith Patch, including list of her children’s books.

Thus begins the introduction to Hexapod Stories by Edith Marion Patch. Patch wrote a series of children’s books, (sadly now out of print, but older copies can be found) which were not written just as whimsical tales of make-believe characters, but as tales that educate, with scientifically accurate details and illustrations, about the natural world. Luna (a moth), Van (a butterfly), Carol (a grasshopper), and Gryl (a cricket), are the characters of three of the tales in Hexapod Stories. In each of their tales of adventure the reader learns about their lives, life cycles, habitats, etc.

Dr. Edith Marion Patch was first and foremost an entomologist. Growing up she studied water, bugs, birds and plants, but it was bugs that became her career, both as researcher and educator. Though women in the sciences were not common in her time, especially in entomology (they still aren’t), in 1904 Edith became the head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Maine, and in 1930 she was elected president of the Entomological Society of America. She was the first woman in both these positions.

In her lifetime she was known not only for her discoveries of species, but for her passion to educate the lay person about Nature. Besides her children’s books, written in the early 1930s, which sold well, in the mid 1930s she had a radio show focused on making the natural sciences interesting to the public.

In a speech she gave in 1936 at the meeting of the Entomological Society of America called, “Without Benefit of Insects,” Patch urged the protection of insects, predicting that by the year 2000, if the heavy use of pesticides was not curtailed, many species of birds and insect pollinators would decline, some becoming extinct. Sadly, her science-based warning was not heeded.

There is a good chance you never heard of Edith Marion Patch. In spite of her popularity in her life time, primarily due to her children’s books, and her prolific attempts to make the natural sciences popular, like many women in science, her reputation is known only to those in her field, and likely not even to all of them. Edith died in 1954.

Preceding Patch by a few centuries, there was Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), considered the founder of entomology and, by some, the first environmentalist.  Merian was the first to observe and understand insect metamorphosis. Her life story is remarkable, made more so by the era in which she lived, when not only were women not scientists, but science itself was suspect. Median’s influence on the general public’s knowledge of Nature was through her beautiful and detailed art.  Though she made many breakthrough discoveries in scientific research of insects, she is known mostly for her art.

A few detail paintings of insect life cycles by Maria Sibylla Merian. (Three articles on the life of Maria Merian – Christian Science Moniter, Botannical Artists, Brainpickings)

In reading about these women I reflect on a contemporary woman in science, botanist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, born in 1953, a year before Patch died. I imagine they would have enjoyed each other’s company, as Patch would of enjoyed Maria Merian (and undoubtedly knew of her!). I’ve been reading two of Kimmer’s books – Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. As a member of the Potawatomi Nation, Kimmer’s perspective and writings on Nature blend and reflect the cultural perspective and values of her tribe with her knowledge as a scientist. Her observations of Nature are delightfully detailed, her observations of the relationship between people and Nature poignant. She brings the same awe and passion to her observations and writings that Patch brought to her children’s stories, that Merian brought to her art. Her books are popular, her observations resonant with and educate readers.

There are other women of science who were, and are, remarkable in their contributions to scientific knowledge. What stands out as I read their stories is how many of them desired not just to learn and discover the mysteries of Nature, but to share those mysteries, to educate others.  They are story tellers.

“Dancing with Bugs”, from a series of flower doodle girls I made. Nothing scientific about it, but I like my bug! And I hope it tells a story of joy in Nature!

When I was growing up I wanted to be a botanist (also a historian!) but challenged by math comprehension in high school, I gave up that goal. As a child I had my little nature desk in the garage where I would collect and observe bits and pieces of the natural world, from a dead beetle or butterfly to an unusual rock or plant, a habit I’ve never outgrown! But my goal was not research, but education, to become a ranger or summer camp teacher to “turn on” other folks to the mysteries of Nature. Perhaps it’s a “woman’s thing”…..to teach and share Mother Nature. To be story tellers.  I wonder if I had known of Edith Patch or Maria Merian I would have been inspired and not given up my interest to learn more and share my love for the intricate wonders of nature.  Though they both faced obstacles even greater, in the 1960s girls were still not given much support for such endeavors. I had great science teachers, but math teachers simply told me I couldn’t do math, there was no extra support available, no calculators, and to advance in science, I had to advance in math. Or so I was told.

If you have a desire to pass on your love of nature to children or grandchildren, I encourage you to track down copies of Dr. Edith Patch’s books. They are available for download on-line and can be found in bookstores that carry old books.  Delightful and educational, they are stories for children and adults! Reading them to girls will send the message that bugs and birds are cool and becoming a scientist and studying them even cooler!

And if you have not read Kimmer’s books (many of you have likely read Sweetgrass), I highly recommend both. I’m grateful for her perspective and consider her one of the top contemporary Nature writers and a spokesperson for the environment……for the Earth.