In honor of Earth Day, Gratefulness.org is featuring a piece I wrote last year about Earth Altars as a practice for Grateful Living. You can find it on their home page this week and later it will be accessible here in their archives.
They also asked me to create a series of 5 Earth Altars eCards for their collection. Tens of thousands of people send free eCards through their site each year. The new Earth Altars cards are available in several categories: Thank You, Love & Friendship, Inspiration, and Get Well. Check them out! You can send as many as you wish for free!
In art, contrast occurs when placing opposite elements alongside each other. The contrast in color, texture, and pattern can make a design more interesting.
Polarities - polar opposites - are also important in art and in life. Without magnetic polarities, compasses wouldn't work and the earth wouldn't rotate. Polarities within and among ourselves - manifesting as conflicting beliefs, values, and understandings of the world - give us an opportunity to learn and grow.
This has been on my mind and in my heart a lot these days. What level of contrast, polarity, and conflict helps us discover a deeper truth? And what level of clashing leads to chaos or harm?
I know the value of taking a strong stand for that which we value and against that which we see as harmful. I also know the value of bridging difference and finding common ground. With this poem, I share my longing for - and appreciation of - the deeper, more nuanced ways of engaging as humans.
Poem: Common Ground
I want to elevate the debate
to a level where listening lives
where nuance is known
and we ask questions
with no easy answers
I want to meet where we know
that most perspectives
contain only partial truths
we risk our rightness
in service of a deeper wisdom
I want to release
the reoccurring ideology
wars that nobody wins
so we can drop
from head to heart
and produce a truce
Maybe down here
beneath all the noise
we will notice
that our feet
on common ground
- Laura Loescher
Salbabida (Tagalog) - “Salbabida” is derived from the Spanish “salvavida” which translates to “lifesaver.”
Loved creating this earth altar live at the First Friday art opening at Gambrel Gallery for the show “Salbabida: Art the keeps us afloat” featuring art created during the pandemic highlighting the diverse ways we create resilience.
INNER COMPASS features linden leaves & flowers, arbutus berries, arborvitae cones, poppy seed pods, and little fuzzy curly cues from another kind of tree. (Does anyone know what kind of tree those grow on?)
With the drought here, some leaves are turning earlier than usual. You may notice that the leaves range from greenest at the bottom to yellowest on the right side. If you look closely, you'll see that the cones similarly go clockwise from young/closed to open to weathered and old.
I created this Earth Altar after writing a poem of the same name, inspired by a prompt from my friend Tesa in yet another sacred writing container. I share the original poem below.
Poem: Inner Compass
When mysterious emotional winds spin me around
and leave me disoriented in unfamiliar territory
No amount of anxious searching, urgent sense-making,
or external asking will point me in the right direction
My true compass lies within
It’s always there, quietly offering pointers
but with more of my attention, it transmits at a higher volume
Unfamiliar territory offers aliveness & adventure
It presents the possibility of peace or shows me stories to explore and stones to turn
But only when I’m open to seeing, able to listen, willing to feel,
are the gifts laid bare, ready for me to breathe them in
- Laura Loescher, 2021
If you are interested in reading more of my poetry, please follow me on Facebook or Instagram. I share poems regularly there along with Earth Altars.
I don't know about you, but I seem to vacillate regularly between being wrapped up in the difficult details of living as a human in this wild world and broadening my perspective to take in the overwhelming beauty and wonder that is all around mein the plants and people and places I love. It's like jumping from a lower to a higher octave of life - and back again.
One of my go-to practices for up-leveling my awareness is creating Earth Altars!The entire process of gathering materials, allowing patterns to emerge, and beholding the finished pieces brings me such a feeling of wonder and delight. Then I snap a photo and attempt to share a bit of this delight with you! I've recently added some new Earth Altars to the gallery page on my website for you to enjoy!
At times, I also experience life's higher octaves through writing poetry within a sacred container. While my eco-art practice is most often a solo endeavor, I prefer to write in the company of others. On my birthday back in May, I invited 3 friends who live in other parts of the country to join me on Zoom to write together.
My amazing friend and poet Sage Cohen facilitated our little foursome in a process she calls "Poem Medicine." She read a couple of poems aloud for inspiration and then offered a few possible prompts to choose from for our own writing session. Then she set a 15 minute timer and off we went with pen and paper. Sage likes to say “We don’t live in our lives. We live the stories we tell about our lives.” Writing - and being witnessed - in a sacred container has helped me re-write my own life stories on many occasions.
I want to share one of the poems I wrote on my birthday, in the company of beloved friends.
Poem: Higher Octave
Some moments, days, and even weeks
I forget to cherish my singular and miraculous life
I find myself trapped in a groove
like a warped LP stuttering and repeating a sad old song
amplified through the scratchy speaker in my own head
The outdated tune with unholy lyrics
so out of synch with truth, with now,
with the glorious riotous goodness and grace enveloping my life
Some moments, days, and weeks though
I am moved to tears by the beauty and wonder of this life
the glorious chaotic beautiful horrible human experience
of being alive at this time, in this place,
with this set of issues, gifts and assignments
and this particular set of companions
Oh My God, I cherish my soul siblings
as we take turns reaching back to clasp the one another’s hands
gently guiding each other through a treacherous twist or turn
elevating our songs to a more life-giving octave
rewriting them into melodies of connection and curiosity
as we sing our way back home
~ by Laura Loescher, 2021
For the last few years, I have been an advisor to the Choosing Earth Project which supports people to deepen their understanding of the magnitude, speed, and depth of challenges confronting humanity at this time. Several months ago, they released Duane Elgin's book "Choosing Earth: Humanity's Great Transition to a Mature Planetary Civilization" - which they make available for free. More recently, they released Coleen LeDrew Elgin's 70-minute documentary that explores our planetary crisis and the opportunity to meet that crisis consciously - with eyes and hearts wide open.
The film illustrates global trends with local examples - including the story of the Almeda Fire which swept through my community in Southern Oregon last September. I make a brief appearance as part of that storyline. It was very meaningful to collaborate with local friends Katie Teague who filmed the fire aftermath and Marga Laube who was also a contributor and is the film's narrator. The documentary features Duane Elgin, Victoria Santos, Jack Kornfield, Joanna Macy, Been Sharma, Lynne Twist, and other beautiful humans sharing their wisdom.
You can learn more about the project, get connected to workshops, download a free copy of the book, and watch the film at choosingearth.org.
Many years ago I watched Star Trek Voyager, in which the borg Seven of Nine would periodically retreat to an alcove to plug in for a Regeneration Cycle. I remember thinking how cool that would be - to be able to just plug into a source of energy that would refill my batteries without needing to sleep. So I could keep going at a fast pace, being productive, making things happen. A lot of humans turn to a cup (or 3) ☕️ of coffee for this purpose. More often than I like to admit, I have relied on adrenaline to keep my engine chugging along. I know I'm not the only person who has fallen into this trap!
But temporary wired energy is not regenerative.
From years of seeking and experimentation, I finally learned that regeneration - at least for me - is much more about releasing and letting go than it is about filling up. Shedding unhelpful beliefs, softening stress, facing fears, releasing unrealistic expectations, and ultimately simplifying my life... these have served me well. My practice of creating earth altars emerged during a time of letting go - of big projects, of travel plans, of busyness, of life as I knew it.
Creating earth altars is one of my most effective regeneration methods! Being present, touching natural objects, and allowing patterns to emerge is deeply restorative for me. 🌺
The Magic of Spirals...
These four simple spirals were each created with a single type of flora.
FULL MOON is created solely from poppy seed pods, OAK GALL NAUTILUS is (to state the obvious) made of oak galls, SPIRALING TOWARD WELLBEING features arbutus (strawberry tree) berries, and you can probably guess what single ingredient went into ACORN LIFECYCLE.
Spirals are a beautiful symbol of regeneration.
Bringing ourselves, our communities, and our planet back to life.
I've just put together a special set of spiral note cards, available at the EarthAltarsGallery shop on Etsy.
What is regenerative for you? Let me know in the comments below ☺️
This altar is titled Kamloops 215. I created it in the woods last week after learning about the remains of 215 children excavated from an unmarked grave on the site of the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia.
It features rose petals, pine cones. lavendula. sweet pea flowers, lupine and a bunch of other flowers from Nina & Jacob's garden. All nestled into the base of an old oak tree.
I was so saddened by the news of this discovery.
As I sat with my grief, though, I realized I was not at all surprised. I did not learn about the brutal history of US and Canadian policies toward Indigenous peoples when I was in school. It's only as an adult that I've had my eyes opened to the systematic harm and trauma inflicted on Indigenous communities - in both the past and present.
Kamloops 215 is my memorial to all the children who were stolen from their parents and from the family of humanity.
Below, I share more context and offer resources for engagement. Much of this I gleaned from information shared by a Canadian friend Jodie Tonita. (Thank you Jodie!)
In late May, 2021, a mass grave with the remains of 215 children was discovered at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. 30 other similar graves have been found so far. More than 150,000 children were stolen from their homes by the Canadian government and taken to residential schools where they were subjected to abuse and violence by their teachers and administrators. Nearly one in four did not return home. The last school was closed in 1996.
Governments pursue these policies of cultural genocide because they wish to abdicate their legal and financial obligations to Indigenous people, and to gain control of their lands.
All of us non-Indigenous people are settlers. This is a history our lives are built upon. It’s important to learn, mourn and act. We can help transform systems and laws to ensure this never happens again.
To learn whose traditional territory you live on, visit the Native Land website.
Here is an article on the history of residential schools in Canada. Read here about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and its 94 Calls to Action.
For background on the United States’ engagement in a similar program - American Indian Residential Schools - please see this Wikipedia article.
Places where you can make a donation to support residential school survivors and their families:
• Indian Residential School Survivors Society - https://www.irsss.ca/donate
• Legacy of Hope Foundation - https://legacyofhope.ca/english/get-involved/donate
• Woodland Cultural Centre’s Save the Evidence campaign - https://woodlandculturalcentre.ca/the-campaign
• National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation - https://give.umanitoba.ca/
• First Nations Child & Family Caring Society - https://fncaringsociety.com/donate
• Reconciliation Canada - https://reconciliationcanada.ca/get-involved/donate/
• Indspire - https://indspire.ca/ways-to-give/donate
• Native Women’s Association of Canada - https://www.nwac.ca/donate
Please feel free to Share this Blog post and resource list with your friends, family and community, thank you!
This altar is titled Swimming Toward the Source. I created it last week for my 50th birthday. It features maple seeds, wisteria pods, catkins from black walnut and other trees, camellia petals, ornamental oregano flowers, acorns, rhododendron flowers, irises, spruce twigs, ranunculus, sunflower petals, and a bunch of purple and blue flowers! Oh yeah and some big green leaves that grow on a vine on the side of my house.
It was inspired by a video my friend Tesa sent me about zen-doodling. I decided to give it a try, but rather than using pens and paper to do it with natural materials! As you can see I created this indoors. I used a giant pizza pan and laid all the dried parts in the evening. The next day, on my birthday, I added in all the fresh flowers. Mostly from my yard, but also from a bouquet gifted to me by Deb! (Thank you Deb!)
My partner gave it the title, as he saw all those maple seeds and yellow petals looking like they were swimming toward the center of the design.
To live well at this time - as a compassionate and caring human - seems to require a certain kind of resilience. Radical Resilience. I mean radical in the sense of Foundational. Far-reaching. Deeply Rooted. To navigate the shifting sands, the striking polarities, the horrific tragedies, and the changing climate, we must care for ourselves ever more generously. I recently wrote in a post about how much strength I gather from old trees - with deep and wide roots, solid trunks, and branches that can sway in the storms.
I remember learning some years ago that the giant redwoods have relatively shallow roots, but they are strong and solid because their roots branch out wide and intertwine with the roots of other nearby trees. In a way, we could say that they get their strength and resilience from community support.
So do we. Thank you for being part of my community - may we support each other in developing the radical resilience needed our mutual thriving.
I love playing with words and things in nature to create impermanent nature art (earth altars) and poems. This blog is a place to share. I post more regularly on Instagram & Facebook - @lauraloescher.art.