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.

Saving the Planet—One Scone at a Time


A little over a year ago, I blogged about Barn Owl Bakery, a locally owned, wood-fired oven bakery interiorbakery on Lopez Island, WA. The ritual of Saturday Bread that I wrote about then continues and evolves as owners Sage Dilts and Nathan Hodges refine and expand their products.

During the spring and summer, Sage and Nathan (and their two little ones, Eden and Skye) take their growing variety of Barn Owl breads and pastries to our local farmers’ market every week. They load the table

Steve Horn photo

with tordus, sandwich bread, artisan loaves (including gluten-free), scones, cinnamon rolls, focaccia, and rye thumbprint cookies, most made using locally-grown gains.

For the past two winters, Barn Owl has joined with other local producers to offer a Little Winter Market every other week, sometimes at Sunnyfield Farm (goat dairy), and much of this season at a local coffee roaster. Now, they also deliver their wild-leavened breads to three grocery stores and five restaurants/cafés, including some on nearby Orcas Island.

Receiving Barn Owl emails makes my mouth water with its list of baked goods available at upcoming markets. I respond quickly with my request so the bakery will hold them in case I don’t arrive before my favorites sell out. These posts also feed my mind and spirit with inspiring words from Sage and Nathan. The most recent one, though, had my brain spinning. Here’s how it began.

Ever wonder what wood-fired bakers are up to when there is no market?

Sage supplied a few photos of Nathan getting their bakery oven fuel together after they received two loads of logs from a clearing job at the island’s small airport. Then she asked:

Ever wonder how we make so much bread without having to fire our oven with mainland electricity or natural gas (the fracking !)?


They did some back-of-the-envelope calculations about the amount of energy required to turn those logs into about 9 cords of firewood.

To buck it all up with the chainsaw will take about 3 gallons of gasoline. Kilocalories in a gallon of gas are 31,500; kilocalories in a cord of Doug fir equal 6,657,140. So, for using 100,000 calories of fossil fuels, we’re getting 60,000,000 calories of wood energy for our oven.

This is when my temples started to ache. Words, I get. But numbers, well, they make my heart pump faster to push more blood to my cerebrum.

We use about a 10th of a cord of wood per bake. So, that’s roughly 1,000 calories of gas and 650,000 calories of wood to make about 300 loaves, or 400,000 calories of bread. 

 Now my pulse is really racing.

In contrast, a gas-fired deck oven, which is pretty much industry standard, consumes roughly 32,000 kilocalories of natural gas / hour / deck. We could probably bake 50 loaves of bread / hour / deck. So, for the same 300 loaves we’d be burning 192,000 kilocalories of fracked natural gas. Interesting!

P.S. Thank you to Chris Greacen who comes and magically chops our wood in trade for the exercise and bread.  You can’t imagine how helpful that is.

Interesting for sure, as I begin to think of the implications of the Barn Owl baking practices. Sage shared a few reflections on their approach.



I guess all things considered, we feel good about island wood as our energy source. It’s renewable and getting cut without our demand for it. However, there is something about standing on so many fallen trees and just feeling the impact of any amount of consumption and creation. We recently did a survey to find out how many planet Earths it would take for all people to live as our family does. We got a sobering score of 3.2 Earths! Really just because of where we live (America) and how much infrastructure and resources and things-to-buy we have access to. Despite eating locally and “shopping” at the dump, we still demand more than everyone in the world can have. That’s one of the reasons why keeping our bakery fueled with local wood and baking with local grain is such a priority for us; it keeps our footprint just a bit smaller.

I haven’t figured out my household’s carbon footprint yet, but I’m checking in to a couple of sites that provide tools for these calculations:



I have no doubt, though, that my lifestyle requires at least 3.2 Earths, and likely more.

I also haven’t added up how many calories of Barn Owl bread I’ve consumed since I first wrote about the bakery. I suspect I’d have to split and stack plenty of wood like Chris does to burn them off.

I’m grateful fbounty_coveror the kind of awareness and commitment that Sage and Nathan bring to their practices. Their values are shared by many of the other local producers featured in my latest book, BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, and are a step in the right direction to preserve the planet.

One scone at a time.


*Afterthought #60 – Snow Day

The next-to-the-last day of this month, snow fell once again on Lopez Island. It was 36° outside, yet the morning rain gradually turned to soggy flakes, then to sleet. Most of it melted as soon as it hit the ground, but for a place that typically sees snow only once a winter, this fourth round of snowfall stunned me.

In honor of our unusual weather, I’m ending this month with a link to a YouTube video from Moses Brown School­—a Quaker school in Providence, RI. Just as they did a year ago, they’ve made a new video, Can’t Stop the Feeling – School is Closed! The parody of Justin Timberlake’s hit song to announce a snow day will make you grin—and maybe wish for some flurries.



*“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.

Writer Island


I live on an island. Not a tropical isle, but one in the Pacific Northwest, with rocky, cold-sand beaches, bald eagles roosting in cedars, and great blue herons squawking as they skim the bay near my house. At least half a dozen times each day, I can see a Washington State ferry, our link to the mainland, coursing its way here.

Most mornings, I retreat to a small writing space that once was my son’s bedroom. My only company is my yellow lab/Shepherd, Buddy. It’s my own writer island. Why, then, would I board a ferry to a neighboring island to write?

The simple answer is evident in this poster:


Leaving the solitude of my home office gave me the chance to study again with my friend and writing mentor, Ana Maria Spagna. This time, she taught at Orcas Artsmith, leading a prose workshop, “Make It Move!” I was hoping for inspiration to make my pen move, and I wasn’t disappointed.

With our group of ten, Ana Maria reviewed how good stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, move—through the growth of characters, unfolding plotlines, shifting scenery, and emerging meanings. Additionally, good stories move readers when they strike a chord, stir emotions, and change us. Ana Maria then posed the question, “Is there something about a way a story moves that moves us?”

After we each read excerpts of writing that touches us, we generated a list of characteristics that move the story—and the reader:

  • Concrete details
  • Repetition of images and sound—like a heartbeat
  • Shifts and surprises
  • Honesty
  • A bit of humor blended with the grief of loss
  • Descriptions of acts of compassion
  • Juxtaposition of big concepts/ideas with the small.

korean-war-veterans-memorial-pThen we turned to our own writing, generating a list of scenes or moments that have moved us. When Ana Maria asked us to choose one, I circled my note about the day I visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, thinking of my father who had served as a Marine in that war.

For the rest of the morning, Ana Maria led us through a series of exercises using craft techniques that help carry readers from one emotional state to another:

  • Use active verbs (rather than forms of “to be”)
  • Note character gestures – the ways they touch and move
  • Look for a larger cultural context.
Kangaroo House – Orcas Island, WA

In the afternoon, we scattered to our own “writer islands” to work (or walk, nap, read) individually. After dinner, we gathered again at the inn that served as home base to have dessert and to read from our work.

The next morning, I left the workshop with the beginnings of an essay, a list of fourteen other moments that moved me that just might make their ways into my writing, and a few more tools in my writing toolbox. Could I have accomplished as much had I sequestered myself in my writer island office for a day? Perhaps. But I would have missed out on the wisdom of a gifted teacher, inspiration from other writers, and the luxury of a day free of the distractions that swirl around my desk.

And I would have missed the dessert.