Winter Solstice Bear Ritual

Molly rushed to get to the Community Center in time to help with the set up of the Solstice ritual, a little late for her role of backup for Ursula. She had been talking to the paper buyer about the lousy recycle market situation. When she walked in the door, the room was already well into the process of being transformed. Owen and Jay were standing on tables hanging the dark fabric to divide the large room into two sections. She could see people in the kitchen setting up serving tables, Marsha Quince looking very much in charge. Someone had moved the Women’s Club Christmas tree under the East windows.

“We need one more piece of fabric to really partition it off,” said Ursula bustling up. “Did you bring any new stuff?”

“The Goddess must have been whispering to me,” said Molly. “A big green one came in today and I had a feeling it would come in handy. Let me just unload these muffins in the kitchen and I’ll dig it out. I brought the extra lights you asked for too.“

“Where do you guys want the lights?” asked Mariposa flitting up behind her.

“We talked about the inside of the bear’s den being dark, so string them up along this entrance area. People can leave their give-aways under the tree here. We moved it from the other corner to have the festive feeling out here and not in the cave. Come see it,” she said turning back to Molly. “Can you help Pia and I sort out how the altar inside should look? We have different ideas and are pretty irritated with each other. She’s always so sure she’s right and I’m too scattered to focus very well. I’m not even sure why she’s helping, the folks from the class need to learn this….”

“OK, how ‘bout if you ground first,” suggested Molly reaching out to give her a hug.

“Oh, yeah right! I guess I am sort of out of my body. I still tend to do that when there’s so much going on, don’t I? I feel a particular responsibility to Bear with this one and the students that are looking to me…. It’s all making me cranky. It’s too much….” Ursula was close to tears.

“BREATHE,” commanded Molly firmly looking Ursula in the eye, belly to belly. Then more gently, “Breathe.”

They stood quietly together for a minute amidst the bustle, going deeper with each breath and imagining their cords going down into the earth from their second chakras.

“Aahh. Much better,” they both said at once.

“I love how we can do that for each other,” said Ursula. “My cord was brown today, of course. What color was yours?”

“Silver with little sparkles in it. Like Christmas lights,” she smiled. “Would you like me to do the altar with Pia? Then you could go sit quietly with your Bear mask for a while to get ready for the anchoring.”

“Actually, I think I’ll walk down to the beach to watch the sun go down. That always seems an important part of Solstice to me. It’s like if I don’t watch it go down it might decide not to come back up.”

“Oooh, radical move, Ursula! Good letting go! I could learn this from you,” Molly admired the shift Ursula was making.

“Well, I know if I don’t go I will be no good at anchoring and mess up the energy all around…”

 

By the time Charley walked in, others were arriving too. The place was dimly lit and mysterious. He’d been held up at the Conservancy Trust working some bugs out of the mailing list. It was great to have so many people helping with ritual these days. He could sit out a few out prep-wise. In fact, two young women he didn’t even know greeted him quietly. Ursula’s new ritual class was already proving fruitful. The taller one took his plate of deviled eggs into the kitchen. The other smudged him with cedar and sage, brushing the fragrant smoke with what looked like Ursula’s hawk feathers.

As always, the smudge instantly calmed and grounded him into a trancelike state. He felt a little buzz of anticipation as Owen, recognizable behind an Eagle mask they’d made together in the Men’s Medicine Circle, pulled aside a gauzy curtain and gestured him into what felt like a dark cave. A couple of parachutes were draped low from the ceiling representing Air, while a small fire cast a glow from the fireplace in the South. He could dimly see chairs and pillows in a circle on the wooden floor, many with people already in them. Candles twinkled on an altar at the west end. He couldn’t see what else nestled there, probably shells and a dish of ocean water for the West. He had a flash of the year they’d done a ritual around Sedna, the Kwakiutl seal goddess who was especially meaningful to the surfer part of him, with a handmade kayak filled with Christmas lights in the center. Tonight the room smelled of the cedar branches that had been placed around the outside of the circle. Earth.

All the elements were there. He always liked to check. Not that any would be forgotten. Maybe it was more like “checking in.” Calling his personal circle. Soon their individual hearts would intertwine like a Celtic knot to bring Spirit, the fifth sacred thing, into the Center. Would they remember to make that explicit as they called in the directions? “Stop it,” he chided himself gently. “They’ll do just fine and all the old hands are here to hold the space and provide the deep energy.” Always there was something new to surprise them and neither the “audience” nor the “celebrants” ever knew quite how it would appear as the distinctions between them blurred.

He found one of the pillowed floor seats with a comfy back and realized he had settled in between Gideon Terranova and Michael. Finch Terranova was on the other side of his dad. It was so great to have more men involved these days, especially young ones. For a long time Owen and he had been the only ones – or the only consistent ones anyway. It quickly became obvious that Michael was kind of fidgety. Charley patted the knees on either side of him in silent greeting, leaving a calming hand on Michael’s for a heartbeat or two until he felt the younger man take a deep calming breath. Charley knew Michael was not very into what he called spiritual fol-de-rol but was present for Uri’s sake.

A dark shape suddenly loomed followed by others. The Ritual was about to begin. Draped and masked figures took their places, two in each of the Directions, while two more stood slightly to the left of the altar. The silence deepened. Another figure in a mask – a bear mask – appeared and sat on the floor on the right side of the altar. On the bearskin that he hadn’t noticed before. Gordy’s bearskin. Ursula…. He settled in another degree into a meditative place and breathing deeply himself, sent grounding energy to his wife as one more figure holding a candle came into the Center with arms outstretched.

 

 

Ursula sat silent and still by the altar. It was good she couldn’t leap up to coach or nudge her students as they made their way through calling in the directions and the elements. She’d insisted they get over the hump of wanting to read their parts. It was always tempting for those new to ritual to script things out. They wanted get it “right.” As if there was a “right.” For her the strong power came when it was done intuitively, when space was left for Spirit to inhabit, inspire and shape the words. Written out it stayed in the literary, planning part of the brain, not nearly as connected to the Creative Source. In her experience Spirit needed a lot of open space. That’s what the first clearing was about – to allow breath in so there was room for inspiration. In-spire. To Breathe. Fern had done a great job of grounding and centering the group. Soon Thea in tandem with Rhea would be telling something of Bear and the intention for the ritual. It was Ursula’s job simply to be, to anchor. She imagined the splash of leaving the boat and sent her claws down deep.

Firmly rooted, yet barely able to see out of the mask even if there had been enough light, she slipped into a dreamy state…. Soon she couldn’t remember what the intention was.… Could people could see her there in the mask?…. It didn’t matter…. She was holding the deep space…. leading them under…. welcoming them there. Being Bear. Her consciousness stretched as she put out her hand to the stuffed head of the real bearskin underneath her. She thanked this particular bear for the gift of its presence in their midst, and felt him in the Spirit world…. lumbering through the woods…. plucking a salmon out of the rushing stream…. Felt his pleasure at finding a stump full of bees…. his sleepiness as this deepest point of winter was reached, the longest night of the year…. Wanting to snuggle with his She-Bear, yet feeling that before relaxing there were some important messages to convey to these two-leggeds gathering here in this Spirit Cave…. Not from themselves necessarily… they were just setting the space…. Being the conduits…

“Is that what Bear does??” thought Ursula and with that thought tuned into the circle again. She should probably be listening while people around the circle spoke of their experiences, what they had dreamt, but somehow she knew that the deeper part of her was hearing them…. Had that been the intention? She didn’t need to take care of those dreams or figure out how to make them real…. They were being felt deep in Bear’s heart. All she needed to do was be Bear…. What do Spirit bears dream about? What will Bear ask of me this night? Or of us all?

 

Molly was enjoying being gathered up in sacred space. To her the feeling was almost tangible – a soft mossy bubble wrap that enveloped them all. She was glad her informal part of grounding Ursula was over early and she had plenty of time to sink into the familiar glow. She had thought about her health issue for a second in the beginning and then successfully pushed it out of her mind. “Let Bear’s healing energy take care of things tonight.” Now the talking stick was being passed around and people were sharing their experiences from the visualization.

Tuning in she realized the person speaking now had a familiar ring that slowly formed an image in her mind…. Ariel.

“…. As Uriel’s voice led us into the forest, I found myself imagining being at the base of a giant Sitka. I could feel hemlock and cedar nearby. A circle of Old Ones told me they are exhausted and need some respite from the caretaking of this place. They were grumpy and frail. They said we’ve put ugly structures on most of their sacred spots and only a few of their tree friends are still standing. They told me I must be part of the change – part of opening the door – part of taking over as a Guardian of the Mountain and this place….”

Her voice trailed off in uncertainty and there was an almost audible hum as everyone absorbed this news.

“I received a similar message.” The voice was Owen’s and Molly’s heart warmed. “I was inside a cave in the Mountain – really, under the Mountain. I couldn’t actually see anybody but I felt a huge, impatient presence. They told me they’ve been watching…. that we are doing a good job stewarding places with the Conservancy Trust…. some of us as individuals as well….” Owen hesitated, trying to speak what had probably not come to him exactly in words. “There is no time to lose, we must find the… meanders…. the paths…. get through the blackberry bushes…. We must see… recognize…. the Old Ones and let them go…. They want to be thanked…. We must step up to the…. the plate…. the table….”

A young man spoke simply after a space of a few heartbeats. “It was all like a dream. I saw myself walking tall and moving forward with my work at the day care center. There are children there who need to be nurtured and taught about Bear and the Mountain and the Old Ones…. This will heal them…. I can do that.”

“I am to study herbs,” said a young voice. Flicker maybe? “There are people here to teach me.”

“The community is ready for what I know…” said Jasmine Terranova.

After each there was the silence of witness. The “how” conversation would come later after the circle was closed and they shared food and chose gifts from the unwrapped offerings under the tree, emerging again into the sparkle of the Holiday season or perhaps even later as things rounded into the New Year.

 

Drumming 1

Ursula was curled up on the couch happily ensconced in the newest Diana Gabaldon time traveling novel, when Charley came into the living room at full speed. “Are we going to drumming tonight?”

“Shit. I forgot. What time is it now? I’ll need to make something for the potluck.”

“It’s almost 5. We’ve got some potatoes and rosemary. How ‘bout scalloped potatoes. I actually liked it when you made it with rice milk recently.”

“You know, that takes a while and we’ll be at the beach. Let’s just roast the potatoes in foil in the fire.”

“Good idea.”

 

“Looks like the weather is good enough for drumming outside tonight,” said Pia happily to Raven gathering things for the evening from their own cozy kitchen. “I’m glad we have Sitka House as a backup but I’m looking forward to one more beach night.”

“Have you been weather witching again, girl?”

“A little – I just put it out there as a low key request. Nothing urgent. Owen did too. There might not be a connection but it looks to be a good night. So yay.”

“It’s a delicate balance knowing when to ask and when to plead and when to let it go, isn’t it? I guess we’re all getting better at that sort of thing.”

“Anyway, I’ve marinated potatoes, mushrooms and zukes for shish-ka-bob. I think Carlos is bringing lamb for the carnivores. So we’ll need to take the grill for the fire. Did you put the drums and my flute in the car?”

“Yep, we’re all set. Are we taking anybody?”

“Arlo said he’d hitch over and carpool with us. I suggested he invite Jay and Fern from here. Oh and their little one. I think we can fit them all in.”

“Here they come now.”

 

“I kinda wanna to the Full Moon drumming tonight,” Uri said to Michael who was working as usual on his laptop. The desk in the house they’d just moved into was already cluttered with papers.

“Mmmm,” responded Michael noncommitally.

“I know it’s not your thing, but I’m shy about going by myself. You know all those people and can help me connect in.”

“You don’t need me.”

“Yes, no, maybe, but I want to spend the evening with you and I’m getting that I need to do this. I’m feeling some important stirrings in the air this night. I’ve got my special vegetable curry rice all ready to go.”

“You and your stirrings. Okay. You know I’m skeptical of all that, but I know the music means a lot to you. Let me get to a stopping place with this report. There probably are some people there I ought to be talking to.”

 

“Golly, Miss Molly, I’m tired,” thought Molly eying the cold wood stove as she took off her work boots in her living room. “Should I really be going out to drum tonight? Yes. It will be good for me to move my body differently. I can pick up some chips at the store. I certainly don’t have the energy to fix anything.”

 

Owen carried an armload of kindling and newspapers down to the beach access just north of the fork in the road beyond Sitka house. The sky was gray but the rain was holding off. His and Pia’s conspiracy seemed to have worked. They were getting better at knowing when and how to judiciously use their weather juju. This had seemed like an important night to gather outside.

There were some burned bits of driftwood in a circle of rocks and he was soon able to scrounge up more. The pickings were slim this time of year after the summer hoards and before the winter storms brought more in. He started to worry whether others would bring some to add, but reminded himself firmly that he could go get more at the house if need be.

He knelt and built a teepee of kindling stuffed with newspaper, and with a prayer for just the right mix of harmony and edgy dissonance in the evening, set the match to it. He had to do a little blowing but it was soon burning merrily. He loved the act of building the fire to call others in.

As he sat by the growing blaze, he noticed an eagle cruising up the beach towards him. He watched it happily, and then his heart soared as it circled low over his head before heading up towards the Mountain.

“Thanks, Eagle, for the gift of your presence. Good happenings tonight, eh? Thank you, Mountain, for your continued…ummm…. sourcing of our process.” He didn’t know quite what he meant by the latter, but certainly the Mountain’s presence was a constant in their lives that brought the Medicine Circles good energy as well as challenges. Full Moon Drumming wasn’t necessarily a Medicine Circle function, but there was a definite overlap of folks who liked this kind of anarchistic hippie thunder drum music with those who were the healers and seekers of his soul tribe. Certainly the bonds forged at these gatherings, usually held at a different people’s homes, helped the community as a whole, both spiritually and with their sustainability “agenda.”

He turned from his musing as some folks he didn’t recognize came up behind him. Newcomers were often a little early, not sure of the protocol.

“Hi, I’m Owen Logan.” He held out his hand.

“We met at Bear Essentials recently,” said the woman. “We’re Jasmine and Gideon Terranova and this is our son, Finch. We don’t have any drums, but Ursula said….”

“There will be plenty,” Owen assured her.

As if in confirmation, Pia and Raven appeared over the dunes carrying a big conga and its stand, followed by Arlo with his djembe. Jay and Fern staggered in with a cooler of their beer between them. Little Anise followed lugging a bag of percussion instruments. Gabe brought two doumbeks and Alex another conga.

Soon there was a goodly crowd of all ages, glowing in the golden light of the magic hour. A table had been improvised on a relatively flat-topped log a little ways from the fire circle. A couple of people were already digging into Cali’s cookies. Pia added her veggie shish kabob sticks on a grill along side the ones Carlos had already laid down. Underneath were Charley’s potatoes pre-wrapped in foil with rosemary and a dollop of butter.

Ursula stood behind them, holding baby Menolly and cooing to the bright-eyed little one who was cooing right back. Pia stood up to admire her. “Such a sweet little Dragon Girl, isn’t she?”

“Always a miracle that she’s here,” Ursula whispered, knowing that Pia understood how much her granddaughter meant to her. Children and dogs raced around them in the sand, a few middle school aged teens wandered down the beach picking up trash, while groups of adults clustered in conversation.

“Pia, I hear from Charley that you’re cooling on the idea of doing the workshop and Re-Treat business,” said Ursula after she’d handed the baby back to Cali to nurse.

“I’m not cooling on the idea, but I realized after talking to you guys the other night that I just don’t have the right energy to do it. My body gives off unhappy vibes whenever I think of making the phone calls to get things rolling.”

“An important sign you need to listen to.” Ursula turned conversationally to the newcomers who were standing at her elbow.

“We’ve been wishing a long time for someone to set up what we’ve been calling a Re-Treat and Re-Creation program to do speaker gigs and workshops here. A form of eco-tourism we could live with. Yoga weekends or visiting shamans and healers who could teach us new stuff, or whatever.”

“It doesn’t even have to be outsiders,” added Pia. “Plenty of folks here might be coaxed into doing a workshop if details like regional PR were handled for them. My partner Raven and I were talking about organizing this effort but now don’t think we’re going to.”

“Where would the workshops be given and where would people stay?” asked Gideon. “There certainly aren’t any big lodges or conference centers here.”

“We think it would work to use places like the community centers in each of the towns and various meeting rooms here and there. The Art Center often has space, for instance, and so do some of the spas. Actually, the vacation rental agencies have the conference room facilities scoped out, but they don’t have time to book groups or handle logistics. Obviously places for people to stay are scattered about – rental houses plus B & B’s. There are several restaurants like Arachne’s Web who do side catering work.“

“Sounds intriguing to do it in a decentralized way,” said Jasmine. “I used to do retreats for a conference center back east. Where would we start if we were to do something like this?”

“Wow,” said Pia. “Not to jump all over you, but you might be the answer to our prayers. I’d be happy to fill you in on what we’ve been thinking. It’s perfect for an economic development grant since it can be pitched as taking advantage of our existing visitor population yet keeps us from filling with T-shirt shops.”

“I love it when you talk ‘dirty’ like this, Pia,” said Molly. “I can just hear those well-oiled wheels in your brain turning.”

“Takes one to know one,” laughed Pia. “I haven’t been able to think of any reason why it wouldn’t be viable…. besides my own lack of energy for it. My wheels aren’t rusty but they’re ready for a different kind of track….”

“Or something like that,” laughed Ursula.

“The Healers Guild will collaborate,” offered Charley who had come over to add his two cents. “That always appeals to funders.”

“Wouldn’t you need non-profit status?” asked Gideon.

“Maybe,” said Charley. “We just happen to have the Cedar ReSource Center’s 501c3 to sponsor projects that are….”

“….moving our River and Mountain community towards sustainability.” Molly and Ursula chanted this last bit in unison with Charley. “Don’t we sound like a grant proposal already?”

“We’re both on the Board,” Molly explained to the Terranovas. “Charley is staff.”

“I’ve been wondering what that was about,” Jasmine said. “It all sounds intriguing.”

“The Center helps pull pieces together for new projects. Dreaming. Conjuring. Networking. Manifesting. Even providing technical help sometimes like bookkeeping and grant writing. That’s how the Portland State Locus program landed here,” said Charley.

“Wow, I wonder if I could do this project and write too,” said Jasmine. “But maybe they would kind of feed each other. It would be cool to have the Harner people come to town. I’d really like to learn from such folks….”

“I worked with them training for Soul Retrieval work,” said Owen.

“We figured it could start with all the teachers each of us has had over the years,” said Molly.

“In fact, you could probably get a Locus intern right off the bat,” said Charley.

“It could be musicians too,” mused Finch who had been listening intently to all this.

“The ‘shishes are ready,” called Raven squatting by the fire. One of the young mothers, a two year old clutching her pant leg, began helping the bigger kids roast hot dogs on skewers.

“Let’s have tea together next week and I can give you names and contacts on the local end.”

Ursula and Pia gave each other high fives as the others turned toward the food. “Yesss!”

“I knew they were live ones!

Grounding at Illahee

School family in the spring

 Ursula walked down the hill through Sitka and hemlock, salal and fern to Illahee – the little alternative school where her kids had spent their formative elementary years, leaving to go to 9th grade in the public high school across the bay. She loved this long familiar path and took it often though usually she was headed on towards Mahonia and just gave a nod and a wink to the school as she passed. There was a road to the school also, of course, but she preferred this slightly more round-about route.

She and Charley had been part of starting the school, along with Pia, Owen, and Molly, and five or six other families almost 30 years ago, when their kids were all small. They had called it “parent run” though there had been much debate about what that actually meant. Probably there was still conversation about this, though the intervening years had laid down some patterns and traditions that could be followed…. or returned to….

Ursula was no longer directly involved but still got asked to stop in now and then, either for a special class or to help untangle some crisis or another. Wrangles were inevitable in such endeavors and institutions. Somehow the school seemed to have more than its share of upheaval but she always figured it was because people were extra touchy about their children – both around their individual child’s issues and about the curriculum, not to mention the direction of the school itself.

It had been a miracle every day it lasted in those early years. It was a miracle still. And now – “blessings on us all” – some of the children of the original students were attending. In fact, Owen’s daughter Robin was chairing the Board this year. “And soon,” she thought, shivers running along her spine, “My granddaughter Menolly will be coming.”

As she approached the schoolhouse tucked into tall alder and hemlock trees she thought back on the process of building it. The land was donated after they had been operating for a couple of seasons in people’s homes and garages. It only had an old stable on it and it took a loooong year of weekend work to turn that into two classrooms, an office and a commons area. In the interim they had rented a portable classroom trailer. Pia, who was the school secretary at the time, had her “head” office in the bathroom. Things were a little fancier now and at some point, long after her family was out, the parents had added another classroom.

There were still occasional conflicts about “academics” and the “3 R’s” vs. more elemental work and play, but at least at the moment, the parents seemed comfortable with a laid back approach. She thought perhaps it was because more of her children’s generation had experienced some sort of “free” school in their growing up, even if it wasn’t until attending colleges like Evergreen or Bennington and Hampshire. In her day only Pia had any direct experience at all of another way of going at it – she’d actually gone through progressive schools back east. Ursula and the rest had only been able to feel their way by instinct. At any rate, the kids heading off into public school still did just as well as they always had over the years.

She smiled at the multi-topped cedar that graced the entrance, thanking it for the protective presence it always seemed to provide. She patted the now fading totem pole that a parent from her day had helped the kids carve. The school’s name was a Chinook jargon word meaning something like “home place,” so the pole had always seemed appropriate even if it wasn’t part of the local native culture.

Ursula thought back to Halloween two years ago, the first time she was asked to come to school as its “resident witch.” She had arrived dressed for the part all in black, complete with the classic pointy hat. Studying natural cycles was integral to the school’s learning process so the kids immediately understood the compost she brought to connect them with the season’s energy of plants dying back. The cast iron cauldron she carried it in had been an added theatrical touch.

The children had told stories of their beloved dead – grandparents, pets and one father who had died the previous year – as they placed mementos on an impromptu altar to which she added a small animal skull and a photo of her uncle whose legacy had paid for the kiln they still used. She would never forget asking Flicker that day what he had in the largish box he lugged in from the carpool. “Grandma,” he’d said succinctly. “She died this summer.”

“Can…can I see her?” little August had asked. “Nope,” came the reply. “The box is sealed.”

When they gathered for Circle she’d told them how it was a witch’s job to be consciously in tune with the seasons of life and of the year. Once upon a time all people had felt connected to the sequences of birth, growth, dying back and rebirth, but gradually the job had become relegated to a special few. Then in a terrible development – part of a growing fear of and denial of death and nature in general – those few had been persecuted and even killed for their wisdom and role in the community.

Together Ursula and the children had brainstormed a list of remnants and reminders of the old wisdom that appear at Halloween – ghosts and ghouls and harvest pumpkins, witches characterized as warty crones, and the Hispanic culture’s Dia de los Muertos skeletons. Then exchanging her pointy hat for a crown of dried flowers, she had declared it time to celebrate all that they were learning of the old ways.

 

Today a lovely hum greeted her from the classrooms as she entered Commons. Was it just her imagination or did the children themselves seem calmer now than in her day?

Cindy was on the phone in the office so Ursula just waved a greeting. She could see evidence of Owen’s regular presence in the drawings of Oregon Grape and Oxalis on the walls. He came over often to be their naturalist expert.

“Oh goodie. It’s an Ursula day!” Otter Logan, Owen’s granddaughter, appearing from the bathroom, hugged her merrily. “Come see what I’m doing.”

Ursula allowed herself be led into the West Room where most of the ten older kids were absorbed in writing in their handmade books. Nestled in the corner, one of the older girls was reading aloud to August who was apparently visiting from the younger group. From the artifacts and the children’s own artwork spread about the classroom, it looked like the group was studying the Mayans. A partially built step pyramid was on the big worktable next to well-thumbed reference books opened to pictures of jungley ruins. Someone had been working a loom that was tied to a chair in another corner like those still used in Guatemala.

Ursula admired Otter’s illustrated report on the Mayan calendar, enjoying the “best guess” spelling that had “egul” for “eagle.” “A much more sensible way to spell it,” thought Ursula.

Celeste finished what she was doing with a new little girl that Ursula had never met before, and came up to give her a hug. “It will be perfect having you talk about grounding today,” she said quietly. “I’m feeling like we could all use a little of that, especially Sedona there, who is new to us. Her folks – Mom and Grandmother – just moved to Mahonia to open a B&B. I think she has a tendency to leave her body a lot – she kind of gets to bouncing off walls and doesn’t know how to choose a project and settle in.”

Celeste turned and raising her voice to teacherly firmness, said, “It’s time to finish up and gather for Circle. Otter, do you want to go tell the Youngers that Ursula is here? Flicker, can you offer Ursula a cup of tea? And who wants to see if she wants a cushion or a chair? Remember how we like to treat our Elders.”

Ursula chucked inwardly at the idea of being an Elder, especially as Celeste was older than she was and white-haired to boot. But the truth was she rather liked getting such royal treatment. It was a nice attempt on the part of the school to begin to honor the wisdom of those with a few more years under their belts. There was a lot more conversation generally in the world these days about the need to have the Elders stay vital parts of the community rather than the marginalization pattern that had emerged in previous generations.

Soon the sliding doors between the classrooms were pushed aside and the little ones from Rhea’s group in the East Room joined the circle on the floor in the wide doorway. Ursula was now ensconced on a purple cushion, appropriately decorated with a child-painted bear.

Some of the little ones were still squirmy and the new student looked at her self-consciously. Ursula reached out to pat Anise’s patched knee, the wiggler to her left, and smiled at Sedona on her other side.

“I really like that sweater you have on. Did someone make it for you?”

“My grandma,” Sedona answered shyly, though more at ease now that she had been noticed and acknowledged. “She lives with us.”

“Cool. I’d like to meet her one of these days,” said Ursula, making a mental note to ask Celeste what the grandma’s name was. She was probably no older than Ursula herself.

“Ok, kids, have any of you ever felt all wiggly and unable to focus?” Ursula began.

“My mom says I’m like a puppy sometimes,” said Otter.

“Sounds like you dash around a lot.”

“Yesterday I felt all twitchy and I had to go outside,” volunteered another child.

“I feel like that too sometimes,” said Ursula. “And sometimes that is exactly what I need to do. But today I’m going to teach you a process that will help when you need to concentrate or get your work done. It can help each of you on your own or when you all want to focus as a group. It’s called grounding.”

“My mom does that in her Medicine Circle,” said Otter.

“Does that mean like you touch the ground?” asked another child.

“Exactly. Good thinking. So I want you all to sit cross-legged, Indian style and settle your bottoms firmly on the floor.” More wiggling ensued for a moment, of course, and excited anticipation filled the air.

“Now take a deep breath….” said Ursula demonstrating. “And another…. Now pretend there’s a string in your tummy just below your belly button. It could be brown like a root or it could be gold or white…. Or any color. Red or blue.… Now imagine that string reaching down through your body into the floor…. See it going through the crawl space and into the dirt underneath. It goes past the earthworms and the bugs and other roots and the rocks…. lots of rocks and some water…. down, down. Deeeeeep into the Earth. Miles and miles. Feel it way down there, warm and cozy, settled in like a root does in the garden. Is it still the same color?” Ursula paused to let the potent image take hold.

“Take a deep breath, you’re not forgetting to breathe are you? Now leave the string rooted there and bring your awareness back up the string. Imagine yourself rising through the dirt and stones. Bring with it the settled, calm feeling you found down there. Bring that feeling and your consciousness up past the earthworms and out into the air under our building and up into your body again. Feel that warmth deep in your body. Feel yourself still connected with the Earth but back here in your body in this room sitting in a circle together.”

Ursula breathed quietly for a minute or two and the children did too, deeply grounded. “How did that feel?” she asked at last, turning to Anise. “Let’s go around the circle.”

“I feel like we’re all connected right now into the earth like trees in the forest.”

“Me too and I feel really calm.”

“My string was yellow and it liked going past the worms. I even saw a salamander.”

“The Earth said she liked me coming to visit like that and she hopes I do this more often.”

“I don’t feel like talking yet. Maybe I’ll draw you a picture later.”

“We could all do that after Ursula goes,” offered Celeste.

“I could feel my granny down there with me. It was like she was cuddling me on her lap,” said Flicker.

“It felt like I was swimming in the earth.”

“Wow. Out of the mouths of babes,” thought Ursula as she listened to their observations on around the circle. “Why am I not surprised? Maybe next time I’ll teach them about opening their pineal gland to connect to their Third Eye.”