Confluence Ceremonies

Marking Your Life's Important Moments

Tag: Community

What Remains

Over the last 5 weeks, our beautiful Methow Valley, located in North Central Washington State, has been through many serious trials. First came the extreme heat wave and high winds in early and mid-July, then the wildfires, then the flash floods, followed by the landslides. And now, the clean-up.

One person has died, suffering a heart attack while attempting to defend his home from the fires. Countless wild and farm animals were lost as well.  Families’ hard-earned life savings were decimated.  Dreams were dashed. We are all surrounded by endings.

First and foremost, fire destroyed more than 300 homes in our valley. Imagine your home, its rooms, its history, its presence. Then imagine it destroyed by fire, now surrounded by an unrecognizable moonscape of black tree trunks, layers of ash, and creeks and rivers running black. Many of these homes were farms, with barns and fields full of cattle, horses, goats, sheep. These were lost, too. It’s really too horrible to grasp.

Brave firefighters surely saved more homes than were lost, but the trauma of evacuating while your neighbors’ houses burned is etched on memory here. As you grab the few belongings you can think of (what would you take if you were given a short amount of time to leave your home?), you know time is ticking. You say goodbye as you drive—to where?—not knowing if you’ll ever see your property again, but grateful to be alive and hopefully with those you love.

Other losses suffered here are somewhat less tangible. They include the day-to-day life endings: business owners scrambling to make ends meet, down-towns temporarily quieted as they struggle to regroup. State highways, the arteries of our rural communities, shut down. Families making huge decisions about staying or leaving, rebuilding or selling. An entire summer lost to simply trying to recover.

And perhaps most serious of the losses caused by this summer’s trials are the assumptions we have held close: the belief in the permanence of the landscape, one’s way of life as enduring, Mother Nature as gentle, home as a safe place.

The lessons are thick in the air. We are all thinking about these. And they are not abstract concepts anymore. For one community, at least, these ideas are now front and center.

To such lessons I would add one more: change provides the opportunity for transformation. Destruction and devastation have long been seen as the road to renewal. And indeed, where the ash has lain for weeks in thick, choking layers, grass is now shooting up, boasting a bright vivid green against the ravaged landscape. Foresters tell us that come Spring, we will see young pines sprouting up everywhere.

And neighbors lean in toward each other, asking the question of the summer: How are you doing? Never before has that question been so common and yet so important.

As a celebrant, my interaction with life, death, and transformation keep these realities in front of me each day. These are the natural themes of our lives and they mark the arcs of our existences. We each suffer losses in life, and struggle to right ourselves, to learn how to move forward.

But how to move forward authentically? I know for certain we are right to mourn the losses we’ve suffered, to mark the endings of the lives we lived up until this horrible thing happened. And then, I know we can begin to turn with renewed energy toward the future.

With what remains—our compassion, our renewed values, and yes, our shared loss—we have the material we need to re-imagine our lives anew.

A community is a living thing, and like farmlands or Ponderosa pines or the white-tailed deer that share our valley, our community will regenerate, taking the opportunity misfortune has given to reassess and to transform our ways of life.

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Courtesy Reflected Light Photography

I look forward to the healing and growing to come!

Home Is Where Art and Nature Meet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow Celebrancy Supports Communities

Recently, I offered my celebrancy services to a local community art dedication. The ceremony was to mark the outdoor installation of a sculpture and commemorate the cooperative partnership that brought that art to life: the confluence of two organizations, one in the arts community and one in the fish restoration community, but both neighbors of our lovely Methow Valley in North Central Washington State.

The process that had taken us from a vision to a reality was complete, and a ceremony was in order. Everyone who had been involved in coordinating this project was in a jubilant mood! Both locals and curious vacationers gathered together. In all, about 30 people attended the dedication.

The June day was warm and bright. A cool breeze blew off the Twisp River, lightly rippling the ponds. The air was filled with the buzzing of bees and the rushing of water in the low falls between the ponds that provide nurturing habitat for endangered salmon.

As we stood in a clearing forming a circle around the new sculpture, we knew we were likewise surrounded by nesting birds, snakes, beaver, and young fawns; this is also their community. Come winter, the bears and coyotes and even cougars will call this habitat “home.” Painters, birdwatchers, elementary students, science professors, nature lovers, photographers, tourists, and everyday neighbors enjoy free access to and make use of this special space year round.

In describing to me their visions for the ceremony, both group’s directors had emphasized the importance of the positive impacts on the community of art and the local ponds that were built to help restore endangered fish runs. By placing art on paths around these ponds, the public is drawn both to the art and to the activity of care for endangered salmon. Within the environment of water, trees, river, and ponds enhanced by a rich flora and fauna across the site, the community, we hope, becomes invigorated by and reinvested in both art and nature.

In my opening remarks, I spoke about the power of art to create a “community of care” that we all, nature included, need in order to live healthy lives in healthy neighborhoods. The speakers, both groups’ directors and the artist, then filled us in on the process of bringing together this partnership and the process of creating a memorable work of art for the site.

The sculpture, titled Twisp, was created by Steve Love, a quiet man, uncomfortable speaking aloud and in front of people. He nevertheless shared his own vision of his work with us. And none of our country’s greatest orators ever uttered a more effective address. He told us of the method he uses to create art, often working in a “semi-conscious state” at first, so as to allow his pure creativity to control the work. Later, he returns to the work with a more critical eye to address structural, practical issues (how will a sculpture stand up? Can it withstand the elements?). Finally, he considers the subtext of the work, reaching deeply into it to better grasp its symbolic power and purpose.

In closing, I urged those present to see themselves as part of this community of care, an active group of neighbors whose investment in the ponds’ site and its art—and by extension the local community—makes them important partners of care and positive transformation.

Finally, my concluding blessing spoke of the timelessness of our gathering, the importance of bringing our children into this ethic of community care, and our need to be ever-mindful of our roles as neighbors of the world, part of an interconnected community of humanity and nature. Aware of art’s ability to inspire and nature’s ability to nurture us, we must reach out into our communities and actively support both.

ART DEDICATION: Twisp by Steve Love (sculpture)
June 28, 2014
Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation’s Twisp Ponds Site
Twisp, Washington

Sponsored by Methow Arts Alliance (methowarts.org) and Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation (methowsalmon.org)