A Call to Right

A plastic bag dangled from the door of our mailbox, a thin cardboard box raincoated against the drizzly, winter day. Suspecting the box contained a book I’d ordered, but not remembering which title I was awaiting, I walked briskly home, my yellow lab changing his trot to a sprint to keep up with me.

bookWhen I freed the box from the bag and tore it open, a thin, green volume slid out—Kim Stafford’s latest collection, The Flavor of Unity: Post-Election Poems. kimThe son of poet William Stafford, Kim greets the dawn each day as his father did, “writing the date, a few sentences about the previous day, then an ‘aphorism’ (a thought, a pattern observed, an idea…), and then a poem, half a poem, or notes for a poem.” While some of this writing eventually ends up as published poems, Kim finds that, “mostly, this custom allows me simply to settle my spiritual accounts for the day, and then to proceed with some modest added clarity to thread the needle of modern life by taking action.”

Like many of us, Kim especially sought clarity in the days following the 2016 election. So he leaned on his daily practice to consider a path toward healing the schisms that only deepened after the divisive election season. These considerations led to thirty poems about the work we all have to do if we’re “to be one people again.” The book’s title poem speaks to the source of our unity.

The Flavor of Unity
     El sabor que nos hace únicos.
                                ~ Inca Kola slogan

The flavor that makes us one cannot be bought
or sold, does not belong to a country, cannot
enrich the rich or be denied to the poor.

The flavor that makes us one emanates from the earth.
A butterfly can find it, a child in a house of grass, exiles
coming home at last to taste wind off the sea, rain
falling into the trees, mist rising from home ground.

The flavor that makes us one we must feed
to one another with songs, kind words, and
human glances across the silent square.

You can listen to Kim read this poem on a post by the PBS News Hour.


It’s rare for Kim to use rhyme, but in “Righter” he puts it to good use to issue a challenge—with humor.


When things go catawampus,
when silences abound,
when nations reel from troubles
and tyranny is crowned—
by writing, be the righter,
and see what can be found
for remedy and comfort
by writing stories down
of all our old connections,
then pass your blessings round —
for people long divided,
restore our common ground.

Kim’s “Citizen of a Troubled Nation” especially spoke to my feeling called to write.

   Citizen of a Troubled Nation

Vast your calling: Serve everyone.
Small your power: One voice.
Clear your path: Honest words
Certain your days: Struggle.
Vast your purpose: Make history.
Focused your goal: A mere footnote—
                                       That sings.

Kim writes at the beginning of his book that poems from it can be reprinted at will, as long as they include this acknowledgment:

Reprinted by permission of the author from The Flavor of Unity, by Kim Stafford (Portland, Oregon: Little Infinities, 2017)  www.kim-stafford.com.

Ever since I met Kim Stafford when he was guest faculty in my writing program, I’ve adopted his morning practice (usually a good bit after dawn) to begin the day with some small bit of clarity. Here’s something close to a poem that I wrote, the morning before the presidential inauguration:

The Pen is My Tool

to build bridges,
to tear down walls
of fear and hatred,
to open doors
and hearts.

My pen is a tool
I need to sharpen
and oil and set
firmly on pages
and put into others’ hands.

I hope that Kim’s poems I’ve included here speak to you. If so, it’s likely that the other twenty-seven in the book will as well, so I encourage you to purchase a copy for yourself, and perhaps a few extras to share with others. You’ll find ordering information by searching for “The Flavor of Unity: Second Edition” at www.lulu.com. When it arrives in your mailbox, open the package, make a cup of tea, and let the flavor of unity in these words fortify you to act.

Standing Up


A couple of weeks ago, an activist/writer friend prepared for hip replacement surgery. Just before she entered the hospital, she shared this insight:

“Today it occurred to me how important it is to me to STAND. To stand for something true and eternal. To stand up to lies and those who spread them. To stand with those who are being abused. Standing is deep in my language of integrity and courage and love. And I have not been able to physically stand for very long for quite a while! This is what my new hip will be for. Courage. And dancing.

So far, both of my hips are strong and support me to stand without pain or fatigue. Earlier this week, I gave them a test as I joined Friends of the San Juans to lobby, rally, and stand for the Salish Sea at the Washington State capitol in Olympia.

StateMap4The Salish Sea is 5500 square miles of inland waters that include Washington State’s Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands, as well as British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. Those waters swirl around my home on Lopez Island. The name, adopted in 2009 by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, recognizes and pays tribute to the first inhabitants of the region, the Coast Salish.

While politically the Salish Sea is governed by the US and Canada, the international boundary separating the two countries is invisible to marine fish and wildlife. Species listed as threatened or endangered under the US Endangered Species Act or the Canadian Species at Risk Act include Southern Resident killer whales (orcas). Additionally, some ecologically significant species of Pacific salmon cross the boundary daily.

So. Why does the Salish Sea need us to stand? And why now?

diluted bitumen –  Beacon Energy News

Oil transport between the US and Canada poses health and environmental risks to the Salish Sea and surrounding communities. Canada has approved expansion of the Kinder Morgan transmountain pipeline, which would deliver “dil bit,” diluted bitumen (sticky tar sands oil mixed with volatile organic diluents, including benzene), from Alberta, Canada to Burnaby, near Vancouver, B.C. Now that the US government has lifted a ban on crude oil shipments, some of the oil will also be delivered via an existing spur pipeline to the BP refinery at Cherry Point, near Bellingham, Washington, where the oil will be loaded onto tankers for export.

Oil tankers in Samish Bay near the San Juans Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times, 2014


Due to the pipeline expansion, it’s expected that crude oil tanker vessel traffic in these waters will increase sevenfold, with each tanker holding more than 25 million gallons of oil. With this rise in traffic, the likelihood of a spill will increase dramatically as well. A tar sands oil spill will be far worse than the Exxon Valdez or the Deepwater Horizon spills because diluted bitumen is a thick and viscous oil that sinks and thus cannot be cleaned up. Both the Coast Guard and the National Academy of Sciences have confirmed that oil spill response agencies lack the methods and technologies to adequately clean up tar sands oil and to protect first responders from toxic chemicals.

I’ve been on a steep learning curve about this issue, and the more I learn, the greater are my worries for public health/safety and environmental health. So worried I decided to stand up with 200 people (and a few whales and salmon) on the steps of the capitol.


meeting-with-kevinAnd meet with legislators like my own state senator, Kevin Ranker, to urge support of SB 5462 concerning oil transportation safety. Both Kevin and the bill’s sponsor, Senator Reuven Carlyle, are champions for the Salish Sea, recognizing its importance for Washington’s maritime economy, the endangered orcas and salmon, and the inadequate requirements for financial responsibility of oil transporters. State Representatives like Kelly Lytton understand these risks, too, and are working to pass safety measures in HB 1611. It appears that the wide range of standing up activities helped; Substitute HB 1611 was accepted by the House Environment Committee and will now proceed to the full House of Representatives. The Senate Energy Committee is expected to act later this month.

Writer and Salish Sea resident Gail Kretchmer was also in Olympia this week and blogged about lobbying to protect what you love:

“The environment is my current hot topic, but whatever it is you love—whether it’s killer whales, justice for immigrants, freedom for all, or something else entirely—there’s no better time than now to call, write, and/or visit your legislative representatives to tell your story and ask for their help. Trust me: you’ll be glad you did.

I am glad that I joined Gail and over 60 others from San Juan County for Salish Sea Stands. And I found it so invigorating and hope-building that I’ll return to Olympia next week for Quaker Lobby Day.

My friend with the new hip? She’s doing well; in between physical therapy and pain medication, she’s organizing and urging others to stand. For courage… and dancing.

*Salish Sea Stands photos by Katie Fleming, Friends of the San Juans


*Afterthought #59 – Moving Forward

Last night concluded Eileen Flanagan’s five-week online course, We Were Made for This Moment. Eileen has been working for environmental and social justice for nearly thirty years; the last five she’s focused on climate justice with Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), a group that combines smart strategy and spiritual grounding. I interviewed Eileen after reading her latest book, Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope. She brought all of her work and seeking to this course and also supported development of a community of over 100 participants (Quaker and non-Quaker) who, like me, now feel strengthened and heartened to discern and offer the skills and gifts we have to offer.course-flyer


If you’re seeking information about social change, clarity, and empowerment to move forward in this chaotic time, I recommend Elaine’s repeat of the course beginning February 12.


Until then, here are just a few of the resources I’m turning to as I move forward.

A Ten-Point Strategy to Stop Trump and Make Gains in Justice and Equality by George Lakey

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action by the Albert Einstein Institution

How to Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind by Mirah Curzer.


*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.

*Afterthought #57 – Hopeful Resources

Earlier this month in my post, Doing Hope, I described how “The Work That Reconnects” workshop transformed my despair about climate change and the outcome of the 2016 election. As a follow-up, the workshop sponsors sent information about organizations and activities that support active hope; I’ve added a few others that I turn to, as well as a QuakerSpeak video about some of the roots of activism among Friends. These are all good companions on the journey.


“We Were Made for This Moment” – http://eileenflanagan.com/we-were-made-for-this-moment/, an online course by author, teacher, and activist Eileen Flanagan to help participants work for a more just and loving world. The course will blend three types of teaching—social change theory, spiritual discernment, and personal empowerment. Classes meet online the five Mondays of January (January 2 to January 30) from 7:30 until 9:00 pm EST. Registration: $50 for five weeks, $30 if you register by December 6 or if you recruit a friend to take the course with you.


On Being –  http://www.onbeing.org, is a public radio conversation and podcast, a website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener. On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?



YES! Magazine – http://www.yesmagazine.org, reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions. Online and in print, we outline a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world.


Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) – https://www.fcnl.org, a nonpartisan organization founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) that follows values of integrity, simplicity, and peace to build relationships across political divides that will move policies forward.


25760-copy-qvs-banner2Quaker Voluntary Service (QVS) – www.Quakervoluntaryservice.org, fosters dynamic relationships of service, witness, and worship in a living Quaker faith. In a world oppressed by the powers of violence, domination, exclusion and fear, QVS empowers transformative partnerships in the work of liberation and justice.



http://songsforthegreatturning.net – Gretchen Sleicher is a singer, songpasser, songwriter and facilitator of The Work That Reconnects. She created the Songs For the Great Turning website to help spread songs that bring us together and sing us into a new life-sustaining society.



A Quaker Vision for Political Activism


*“Afterthoughts” are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, maybe even bumper stickers.