Smoke permeates the air. You can see its path and how it spreads. There can be no place that is missed in a place where there is smoke. In so many ways, the smoke takes our hopes and desires and carries them away to be spread across the world. Given this, it’s not surprising that it has been used in spiritual and religious ceremonies around the world and across virtually all cultures. The first recorded use was with incense used by Egyptians as far back as 2500 BC, but it was also being developed in practices in China at the same time. Religious use of incense is prominent in Buddhist, Taoist, and Shinto shrines. These practices saw the burning of incense to be a way of purifying the surroundings and bringing forth Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Gods.
Upon arrival the Matthaei Botanical Gardens may seem a bit intimidating, with a barrage of rattlesnake warning signs posted along the long winding drive through the wild, prairie-like, bucolic setting. But once you pay for your parking at the self-pay port and enter the arboretum or gardens, you are transported to a happier place from within the deep recesses of your childhood memories. It is altogether beautiful, peaceful, and engaging. There are many display gardens and areas of interest, but this article focuses exclusively on the outdoor Medicinal Garden.
Clinical trial. Deductible. Dosing. Pre-op. Protocol. Blood work. If you are familiar with any of these terms, you’ve likely had some encounter with health care services in the United States. However, the traditional medical model – a condition-focused, interventional approach controlled by clinical providers – toward health and wellness has been challenged. In seeking recovery via alternative models, Americans are exploring options beyond the doctor’s office. The Ann Arbor area is a nexus for many of these resources, including Grass Lake Sanctuary, a nature-focused retreat space in Manchester that has served the region for over ten years.
With summer just around the corner and lots of gardening to be done, what could be better than a pretty warming pillow to soothe those sore muscles? Stuff the pillow with some dried lavender for soothing aromatherapy. To heat the pillow, place in the microwave for thirty seconds, pull it out and shake it, and heat it for another thirty seconds. You can also warm it in the oven by placing it in a cold oven on a cookie sheet. Turn oven on to 200 degrees. Shake pillow after five minutes, and put it back in the oven for another two to five minutes, checking it often to make sure that it is not too hot. Be cautious, it could burn you if you get it too hot. You can also try putting it in the freezer if you need a cool pack instead of a warming pack. Enjoy!
The concept of forest schools originated in Denmark in 1950. Children who attended Forest Kindergartens emerged with stronger social skills, higher self-esteem, and worked more effectively in group activities. The children were confident and behavioral problems were fewer. It soon became a permanent addition to Denmark’s early childhood curriculum. Not long after Denmark discovered the value of educating children outdoors, Sweden’s “Skogsmulle” concept was developed, a similar educational model that taught children about nature, water, mountains, and ecology. The outcomes were measurable and overwhelmingly positive, making nature and forest schools popular with teachers, children, and parents. The idea soon spread to other areas of Europe.
My relationship with natural building started in 1996 when I took a 3-week course from the Cob Cottage Company on the West coast. It was a life-shaping experience in living and building with others, filled with the use of natural materials harvested from the land, food from the garden, bread from the earth oven, evening music, and camping. I came back to Michigan with the advice of my teacher, Ianto, to build with strawbales in this cold climate. I met up with Fran Lee who lived on rural land outside Oxford with her brother and sister-in-law, and together we set out to create a structure that feels like a hug. Inspired by the books Places for the Soul by Christopher Day and Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, we set out on a journey that came to include Carolyn Koch, Gregie Mathews, volunteers, and experts as we practiced the ways of stone, wood, reed, straw bale, and earth. Strawbale Studio became the work of many hands and a labor of love created with much time and perseverance. A small building is a good place to start!
Many people today are attracted to the world’s indigenous cultures, sensing these ancient ways touch the enigma of the soul which is so fundamentally lacking in mainstream society. Yet there might be a blind spot in this approach to ancestral spirituality, one that became apparent to me while living alongside indigenous elders for many years. Helping to unite this gap between worlds has since become my life’s work.
My parents both traveled in Mexico when they were young. They hadn’t yet met and would not for a few years. A flock of butterflies accompanied the bus in which my mother crossed the border from Arizona. She said they were pale in color, not monarchs, like a scatter of flowers, a flock of mariposas on the wind’s breath, and for the Aztecs, a symbol of fire and soul.
Lifting the Spirit and Educating Well-Rounded Students —The Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor Comes of Age, and Expands
Since its inception in 1980, The Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor has flown mostly under the radar, but its popularity has also been steadily growing over the years. Named after German philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the school uses his philosophy of child development and ideas about well-rounded human beings to provide students with a holistic and age-specific education. One of over 1,000 Steiner-influenced “Waldorf schools” in 60 countries (there are 150 in North America), the schools are renowned for their emphasis on music and the arts, their original approach to the teaching of the sciences, and their celebration of nature, childhood play, and seasonal rituals.
I love seeing the flash of dark color against white snow when the chickadees come to eat at my birdfeeder. Chickadees are one of a handful of birds that stay in Michigan when the snow comes calling and their songs are sure to lift your spirits when the day is gray. This little chickadee pin looks deceitfully hard to make, but is really rather simple. It will make a great gift for a friend who needs a bit of a mid-winter cheer.
One of the many reasons people enjoy living in Michigan is our four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. The seasons can also be described as birth, growth, maturity, and death, or child, teen, adult, and elder. Four seasons gives a year rhythm, and yet we are better at some beats then others. Culturally, we praise awakening and increasing—spring and summer, childhood and teen—far more than we appreciate maturity and death, fall and winter, adulthood and elderhood.
ShuNahSii Rose is the creator of In Sacred Balance. Now in its 27th year, In Sacred Balance offers a model of a “sustained inter-generational feminist spiritual community” with deep Ann Arbor roots. The magic ShuNahSii creates is palpable and necessary, a healing balm for the soul of the world. I met her for coffee and to chat about her passion for restoring relations between humanity and other inhabitants of our world.
In my daily life, I have a rhythm that goes something like this: Wake up. Eat. Do some yoga. Work. Eat again. Work a bit more. Sleep. Repeat. There are some weeks where I am on autopilot, and miss the daily miracles and surprises. If my life becomes a rhythm of hour after hour, day after day, week after week of busyness like this, with no play and no time outdoors, I begin to lose perspective.
by Laura Cowan
I’m guessing you’ve never had a ram approach you like a puppy, because even if you are lucky enough to know one, that isn’t the sort of thing rams do — unless they have a reiki therapist like Dona Duke as a friend. Dona is an Usui Reiki Ryoho Reiki master, and the resident animal reiki therapist at the Humane Society animal shelter. She accepted my invitation as a locally based holistic living editor to interview her and see animals receiving reiki in a farm environment. Dona wanted me to bring you the experience of something beyond cat shelter or hospital reiki that is so often written about these days. I’m so glad reiki is written about enough to require the variety, and she was so right. Reiki on a farm is a world unto itself. Let me tell you about this ram at Fluffy Bottom Farms. Call him Ishmael.
Ishmael and his herd of sheep and cows at the Fluffy Bottom Farms farm and creamery in Chelsea, receive reiki from Dona on a weekly basis. I wish I had the data to prove to you that reiki improves the cheese they make, but suffice it to say it’s phenomenally delicious stuff, now sold at grocery stores and retailers all over Michigan. I tried the aged raw manchego, which went perfectly in a cherry spinach salad. Owners Kelli Conlin and Angie Martell were out of the house the day I visited. Dona brought treats for the turkeys and hens on the day she introduced me to the animals. The three tom turkeys were not so welcoming, but it was mating season and they were strutting their stuff, so I won’t hold it against them that they followed me around with fanned feathers and a serious attitude.
I was nervous. Why was I nervous? I have turkeys in my rural wooded yard daily so it wasn’t about being stalked by birds half my size. I used to belong to a dairy farm share myself, so I’m comfortable around herds of cows and sheep, and free-range birds. I am also trained as an animal reiki master. Was I nervous because I know I shouldn’t walk up to farm animals and assume they’re friendly when I enter their pen? Maybe, but this growing awareness of my own nerves led to a profound reiki-led epiphany in short order. Ishmael was climbing the gate of his pen to nuzzle Ms. Duke, and the other ram, Gabriel, accepted me into his pen to rub up against me for reiki and a pet. I was experiencing the effects of animal reiki before I even realized it. I’m used to giving reiki, you see, but I’m not used to receiving it from animals.
We entered the sheep pen in the barn, where a tall brown llama named Dali watched me attentively. He was gentle and protective, that much was obvious, but I didn’t expect what came next. Dali noticed I was nervous, Dona said, and as the protector of the herd against local coyotes, he was investigating why. Ah, that was the reason for the nerves. I had been considering a number of ways of applying reiki in my own life and career with animals, and I had expected to be more at ease. It hardly does to have an animal reiki master acting jittery around a flock of sheep. But by now, I should have known something else was afoot. This was animal reiki in action. It wasn’t magic. It was reciprocity.
Suddenly, it was just me and Dali, experiencing that connection of minds that comes from the unity consciousness of universal life energy flow. The llama was teaching me, not only to experience sacred space on the receiving end from an animal, but he was giving me a nudge. Suddenly I knew. I wasn’t meant to focus on animal reiki. With one glance, I understood. I should have figured, given what I know about reiki, that it would be the animals to give me that course correct on how to apply healing energies in my life and career. I wish I could tell you how this felt, but maybe if you have experienced reiki, you already know. Even getting a nudge of “no, not quite this path” is a profoundly healing experience. It was just that in this case, it was the llama receiving reiki that helped me as much as I helped him, if not more.
“You must approach them as equals,” Dona said. So true. Because they are. That’s where the reciprocity comes from, however you experience it. “It’s easy for me to work with animals, because I approach them as friends,” Dona tells me. Indeed. These animals dearly loved this woman, crowding her for treats — the largest behaving the most gently of all. The new lambs watched her with cocked faces from behind their mothers. The llama was at complete peace around her. The sheep readily decided to try to eat the buttons off my coat rather than ask too many questions about whether I belonged, since I came with recommendations from Dona. She was at home. This was her herd.
Dona used to have horses and rode dressage. “What you learn training horses is that if anything goes wrong, it’s not the horse’s fault,” she tells me, adding:
What is key in training horses is being present, being consistent, and in an emotionally good place, because you are literally sitting on a large animal’s nervous system. It’s the same thing with reiki. You need to communicate with their whole system. You have to learn to be quiet and be still, and work together.
This is true of human reiki, as well, and is particularly true of animals who live outdoors, as they are highly tuned in to their environment.
Dali the llama blinked with his long soft lashes. I felt the healing space around us. We were connected with everyone and everything, but we were also just the two of us. How odd. Sometimes a feeling of discomfort and nerves as you receive reiki is the message. There was nothing wrong with me. Healing in general often comes to us like this — wrapped up in the messages of anxiety and health problems and feelings that warn us of the importance of a change. There is nothing wrong with the message, and there is nothing wrong with our ability to receive the message. When we learn to listen and flow with the energy, the healing and growth naturally comes. Because that’s what reiki is. It’s just life, and life is growth, and healing, and creativity. Reiki is delightful, but sometimes upending. It is the never-ceasing river of powerful change that will help you align with your highest good if you simply allow it and flow with the process. Reiki had not too long ago swept me out of one life and into another set of new possibilities, and here I was. Llama-facilitated therapy. So much for humans being on top of the chain of consciousness! It simply isn’t so. The animals can teach you this, particularly through animal reiki.
We walked outside to the field, where Dona told me the herd often comes running to meet her. Sure enough, the remainder of the herd came at a full trot all the way from the next pasture. I have never seen more animals happy to see one person. Granted, she brings carrots, but even so. She allowed the animals to approach her for reiki. They stood next to her, quietly alert, until they were finished — usually about five to ten minutes per animal that approached her. They often seemed to wait their turn.
Ishmael ran to the back of his pen at the barn and climbed it like a goat.
“Get down,” Dona told him. “That isn’t safe for you.”
He pushed his hip up against the fence. “They show you where they want reiki,” Dona told me.
Sure enough, this was exactly what the other ram Gabriel had done with me. He had allowed me into his pen, sniffed my hand, and then pressed his side up to me and turned around. Like I said, not rammish at all. Reiki-ish. Not that there is anything wrong with a ram acting like a ram on an ordinary Tuesday, but these animals were co-creators in their healing. Phenomenal stuff. The air was thick with healing, like walking on air. I noticed this with my cat as well when I started practicing reiki on family members. She started sitting on my hands while I was working. Animals love reiki, because animals are very aligned with their natural selves and the balanced energies around them.
Inside the farmhouse, the dogs were waiting for treats and to be let out in the yard. A feral cat scrambled under the porch, while a black domestic pawed to be let in for food. A tiny lamb named Athena, who was born with a leg injury and rejected by her mother, was waiting for us in a pen wearing a diaper. She was only an armful of animal. Dona picked her up and bottle-fed her. Of all things I expected that day, it wasn’t to change a lamb’s diaper and have her cry after one of her surrogate moms. She rooted and arched her neck for Dona just like a human newborn
for its mother. She didn’t want me, and you have to understand animals often do. But there was nothing wrong. This was the message. This was the healing.
Dona told me more of the story of how she got into reiki, and just like my story, it was full of synchronicities and healing experiences, and meetings with amazing animals. I was deeply grateful she had opened up her life to me at all, as she is clearly at home with animals even more so than with humans. She was gracious and empathic while I trailed her around the farm, and like many reiki masters I know, she was also highly intuitive and could see straight through to people’s energy and feelings, just like she does with animals. She quickly spotted my connection with Dali, and how the other animals pushed me away almost in unison. This is more than impressive: it is an important skill for both animal and human reiki masters to be able to spot areas of tension and potential problems and possibilities when dealing with clients or rooms full of animals or people, even though the reiki will always go wherever it is needed anyway. Maybe that is what I love about reiki above all other healing properties. It isn’t just a healing energy flow. It is sacred space and witnessing the miracle of life. People who practice reiki, at least in my experience, are profoundly tuned in to universal healing energy flow and the feelings of those around them.
We went to say goodbye to the herd before we left. Dali approached me. I reached for his face.
“No,” Dona said. “He doesn’t need you to pet him. He is telling you you’re okay. He’s checked you out. You’re part of the herd.”
Already? And I was still trying to make friends. I put my hand down. Dali brought his soft wooly face right up next to mine and stood, touching cheek to cheek, for a good minute.
I closed my eyes. So did Dali. We stayed cheek to cheek, touching our chins.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Dona said. “They help us as much as we help them.”
Yes, they do, very much. Thank you, Dona and Ishmael. Thank you, Dali. Namaste. Thank you, reiki. And the path flows on.
Laura K. Cowan is the Kids in the Community Columnist and an editor for The Crazy Wisdom Journal. She is a green tech editor and magical realist author from Ann Arbor (Winding Road Magazine, Inhabitat). Ms. Cowan once ran her own green parenting blog 29Diapers, which gave her the dubious distinction of being the only mommy blogger in existence who could explain variable valve timing. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re from Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti, babywearing is delightfully ubiquitous, and so I’ll assume you’re on board with the idea of combining backpacks and babies. Come along on a fantastic hike around our babywearing culture in this mecca for babywearing folks and activities. Babywearing, or carrying babies in slings on your body instead of in strollers, has had a resurgence in popularity in the last decade, as attachment parenting has gone mainstream. According to Allison Valerio of Ann Arbor Babywearers, which meets in Ypsilanti, the last four years in particular has seen an explosion of new babywearing gear on the market, aimed at parents looking for more choices for baby gear even up into toddler-sized baby slings.
There are few places left in our area where we can find natural gems that are virtually unknown yet created for the public’s use and enjoyment. Michigan State University owned and operated Hidden Lake Gardens is just one of those spots in Southeast Michigan within a short and scenic forty-five-minute drive from Ann Arbor.
On the night before winter solstice in 2017, I was part of a small group that set out at dusk from the parking lot at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, carrying paper globes as we entered the adjacent woods on a footpath. Our guide, Ann Arbor artist and art teacher Cayla Samano, had distributed the lanterns beforehand. As darkness came down around us, the light-sensitive globes turned on, bright white orbs in the shadowy woods. Ice and snow crunched underfoot. We took our time, Cayla reminding us not to rush, asking us to slow our pace.
On a bitter cold and rainy day in late April, my husband and I were inspired to do our annual trek to HillTop Greenhouse and Farms to plot this year’s garden and bask in the warmth and stunning visuals contained within the expansive space.
An equinoctial night in 2016. It’s raining. The injured raptor birds, often used in educational programs, sleep in little wooden houses on the hillside. Community gardens and orchards await spring, leaves poised to unfurl and earth to be turned. It is the night of the salamander survey at Black Pond Woods.