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A Love Letter to the Best Dad I Never Had

Shout out to all the dads, stepdads, uncles, special friends, and men who choose to love and support a young child, whether they be his bloodline or not.

You are needed. You are doing something that matters.

Fathering is complicated AF for me. I’ve had many dads and no dad.

I’m thankful for all the dads that have been in my life, and to this day feel the lack of true fathering deeply.

Mom and Uncle Llwyd in about 2008. Two old hippies who lived out the history of and kept the hippie movement authentic.

Most precious to me is the one who was there when I was born, the legendary Llwyd Watson. My mom’s BFF. I called him Uncle.

Mom and Uncle Llwyd were both cab drivers at Taxi Unlimited, the famed anarchist taxi collective that served the East Bay in the 60’s and 70’s with psychedelic art cars and boasted regular clients such as Ursula Le Guin. Llwyd cared for me daily, as an infant, giving my single mom the respite new mothers so desperately need.

As I grew, he visited us wherever we lived. His visits were a highlight and I felt that special sacred masculine energy of protection and strength, guidance and love from him. In my little mind, he was Merlin the Magician. He’d show up at our doorstep with his backpack made of colorful patches and his walking staff with ruby eyes. From his pack, he’d draw his magical bag of treasures (the ubiquitous Crown Royale purple bag I’d come to recognize as an adult), into which each of us kids was allowed to slide our hand, feel around and pull out a mystery treasure.

Uncle Lloyd taught me so much and helped form me as the person I am today. I learned what it means to be an anarchist, pacifist, tax resistor and about the life’s work of his hero, Ammon Hennacy. He taught me who the Catholic Workers were, the sacred art of activist theater, what a Mobius is, how to roll a cigarette and how to read the Tarot.

He taught me about the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement, the legacy of the Vietnam War resistors, Kent State, and our history in Berkeley, my birthplace. From him, I learned of the stories of Indigenous resistance at Alcatraz and the American Indian Movement.

When we found a wounded hawk on our land at New Jeruselum Meadows, he and I cared for it until it recovered. Etched into my mind is the image of his hand in the leather weathered leather work glove he wore as we prepared to release the hawk into its freedom.

An anti-capitalist until he transitioned, Uncle Llwyd never owned a car the whole time I knew him, and his method of traveling the entire planet was hitchhiking. A legend in so many ways, his ability to hitchhike as a means of travel was genius. Notably, he hitched across 6 states with his momma dog, Gertie, and her 10 puppies. Even more amazing and fantasmical (a word this word genius loved), he hitchhiked to take in every solar eclipse in the world that happened in his later adulthood. Go ahead, puzzle on that one for a minute.

At the age of 5, I took my first hitchhiking trip with him to Cocolalla, Idaho. This photo of us, circa 1982 is one of my favorite photos and represents some of the happiest memories of my childhood.

Me (little Sweet Pea) and Uncle Llwyd

This photo isn’t of our first trip hitchhiking together. It was actually our last. Mom took this shot just before Llwyd, my 5-year-old brother Songtree and I headed out to hitchhike to the Rainbow Gathering in Idaho. I can see her smiling, the Cannon DSLR that she so loved held to her face as she snapped this photo and reminded me to be kind to my little brother. I was upset that he was going to be intruding on this special time. Memories of him on that trip are fuzzy, most notably, who took care of him as I galavanted all around the Rainbow Gathering grounds? What must have been going through my mom’s mind as she snapped this picture, sending her kids off into the wilderness of highways and unknown drivers who would transport us across the hundreds of miles that separated us on Barker Mountain from the forests that are known in colonialist American lexicon as the Trinity Mountains?

Dearest Uncle, you soothed me daily in Berkeley as a colicky baby and came right away to San Francisco to meet my firstborn. We had so many adventures in many lands along the way! Oh, the inappropriate stories I can tell of those three trips we took through the Pacific Northwest between my years of 5 and 9.

Remember on that first wild goose chase – as you always called them – when the sheriff stopped us as we walked down the streets of Sandpoint, Idaho, and asked me if I was ok and if I knew you? You had to shush me because I was so righteously indignant as I told him off, already knowing how dangerous cops were for us hippies and people who weren’t bought into “The System”. That part hasn’t changed much has it?

The last time I saw you in life we ran into each other in 2004 or so, in the streets of San Francisco amidst a sea of peace marchers, showing up in opposition to Cheney’s Iraq war. I had little Maggie with me and we were dressed in orange and pink, along with the rest of the Pussies for Peace contingent who had come from Santa Cruz on a chartered San Francisco party bus named Lola. A memory worthy of the splashes of technicolor you brought into my world.

I miss you Uncle. Happy Birthday season to a consummate Virgo vagabond. Thank you for everything you gave me in my life, most importantly a feeling of being held and loved by the strong, masculine arms of a protector.

Llwyd Watson, anarchist, activist, hitchhiker, solar eclipse junky, playwright, devotee of Ammon Hennacy and special uncle to me.

Bread is Life

Today is Lughnasadh, the ancient Celtic celebration honoring the first harvest. One of the 8 holy days in the Wheel of the Year. Today my loaves and bagels came out beautiful, despite my worries about my dough yesterday. For this harvest and the “dough” it will bring me, I give thanks. 

Today’s bagels and bread.

I’ve been participating in the process of wheat harvest and bread making my entire existence. Picking the rocks from the fields, watching the soil being tilled, tasting the gritty dust between my teeth, witnessing the wheat quietly grow under its blanket of snow on my winding path to the school bus on frosty  winter mornings. Sensing the energy of earthly excitement as the stalks shot up when the earth sprang forth from the deep sleep of winter and spring brought the warmth of the hot Okanogan Valley sun. The wind rustling through the golden shafts and the smell of desert rain as it fell in the dusty August days. Visions of my dad, kerchief tied around his face, while driving the combine harvester. Diving into the piles of grain, and feeling it slide into my jeans, the husks scratching my young body as I snuck out of the granaries we were forbidden from playing in to quietly pursue the new kittens the wild barn cats had just borne. The tractor was the first vehicle I steered in this world, and the sound of flour being milled,  smell of sharpie as my dad scratched “Hard Red Winter Wheat” onto a sack and hefted it onto the truck, will be forever in my memory.

Naturally leavened artisan bread, ready to bake.

In over 30 years I’ve baked hundreds, perhaps thousands of loaves of bread. While the warmth of the fresh loaf brought delight to all who could smell and taste it, slathered in rich creamy butter, I always felt like I was missing something… an elusive experience that I couldn’t get my finger on. As I branched out of the whole wheat bread my mom taught me to make and began experimenting with Italian country breads, sourdough English muffins, yeasted dinner rolls, rye, multigrain, soft white, milk bread and so many more, the ingredients and techniques became more elaborate and yet, while the results were delicious, that sense of something just out of reach pervaded. A few years ago, when I began (for the second time) to experiment with wild yeast and finally the long slow leaven process, I realized what I was searching for. The ancient technique of mixing flour and water and nursing along a colony of bacteria answered my need. The complexities of flavor that can come of this simple yet precise process are miles apart from that of a commercially grown dry yeast. Indeed it feels like magic to take that flour and water and, in a symbiotic fashion, create a beautiful bread. Every loaf is its own life form!

Wild yeast ready to begin the dough.

Prior to the pandemic, my friends would ask me to sell them bread but I always baked it to give it away because it brings me such joy to do so and it felt right to share the generosity of the organisms that I partner with, in this ongoing collaboration. And today, as I bake bread for sale, I can thank the Rona for bringing me this joyful way of turning this lifelong experience into one of the streams of money that feeds and houses my little family. We never really know where life will lead, but it seems that looking back, I can trace this path so clearly. 

Follow our micro-bakeshop on Instagram @wildheartbakeshop831 as we wind along on this journey and if you’d like to place an order, you can find us online at

My biggest bread fan.

Offering bread and bagels to local friends

Hi friends! Thanks so much for reading this.

I’m writing to announce that, after many requests from friends, neighbors and colleagues I have decided to start selling my bread locally to friends.

In truth, I love to bake this bread, it brings me great joy! However, I have not wanted to sell it in the past because it feels so good to gift it to people. I have baked countless loaves and delighted so much in delivering freshly baked bread to friends and neighbors, as birthday gifts, and indeed to people experiencing homelessness.

People tell me they love eating my bread and that love is what I make the bread with, it’s a collective effort that makes it so delicious!

At this time, I am facing financial insecurity as all of my clients have been forced to close (hopefully temporarily) and several have had to postpone our work together. As a self-employed person, it’s challenging to not know what my financial future might look like, as we continue to shelter in place.

To make ends meet, while socially distancing, I have decided to use the gifts my mom gave me, and answer the requests to offer my bread for sale. If you or someone you know is able to and wants to support a local parent and entrepreneur in getting through this time, feel free to share this with them.

About my bread:

My bread is made from a wild yeast starter I acquired from a friend in Portland. It has been living for about 16 years and flew on a plane to me in December of 2018. The starter is fed regularly with filtered water and organic hard red wheat flour. The final loaf of bread contains only flour, water and Himalayan pink salt (and every one of them feels like a miracle to me!) It takes about 30 hours to bake a loaf of bread from start to finish. 

The bagels are also made from my wild yeast, and also include a smidgeon of organic sugar along with the flour, water and Himalayan pink salt. To each bagel I also add a seasoning, all of which are organic, with the exception of the everything bagels (I am working on sourcing my own ingredients to create a fully organic everything bagel seasoning). It takes about 26 hours to bake a batch of bagels from start to finish.

About my baking:

It feels important to share that through growing up on an organic grain farm and being raised by a homesteading mother, I started baking at age 5. My mom made all the bread we ate. Her bread was legendary, and she entered it and won first prize at the county fair for many years. She made whole wheat bread from flour from the wheat my dad grew, leavened with commercial yeast and taught me this method (which she learned from the Tassajara Bread Book- the hippie bread bible). 

My mom loved “artisan” bread, and every time she would come to visit I would make sure to buy her a loaf from a local bakery. Over the years I branched out and began experimenting with breads and baking techniques from around the world. In 2017 I began working with wild yeast and as my skills grew, I was inspired to make the kind of bread my mom craved. I have now surpassed her bread baking skills and having risen to the level of master bread baker, I’m currently leveling up to beginner artisan baker.

Though she never got a chance to taste my bread, every loaf I make is influenced by my mother, and indeed, I feel her spirit encouraging me every time I put a flat loaf of dough in the oven, only to pull it out 40 minutes later amazed that it has become “real bread”! 

How to order:

To place an order, you can fill out this form. Orders placed by 11 am can be filled the following morning, in most cases, unless supplies are low. Orders will be picked up from my front patio, and when your order is ready I will text you to let you know that it is available for pick up. Most orders will be baked in the morning and available by 10 am.

Coronavirus concerns:

Production: My house and kitchen are disinfected 3 times per day, all of my utensils are sanitized after each use. I will not make bread if anyone in my house is knowingly exposed to someone with Coronavirus or if someone is my household begins to feel symptoms of any kind.

Pick up: I will disinfect between pickups, but we all need to participate in the health of our community and each one of us should follow the physical distancing and healthy hygiene recommendations. Please be careful and follow all health-related laws when picking up the bread.

As I add new offerings and iterate my order process, I will update this post and my order form. Thanks again for reading, sharing and for those inspired to order, thank you for your support!

Love, Iris

My heart is aching for these trees and for all of us.

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I have lived next to this grove of redwoods for the past 7.5 years. It’s one of those parts of the neighborhood that is in the background, always there and sometimes enters the conversation. “I live in Seabright, near the NHS headquarters. On so-and-so street.” “Oh, do you live on that street with the redwood grove?” “Yes! Isn’t that a lovely spot? A fairy ring right in Santa Cruz.”
I have no idea how long these trees have been here, but they have the potential of living longer than this city, indeed, longer than this nation. They are sentient beings who feel and communicate in ways we can’t even understand. They are remarkable in their robustness, able to withstand both heat and fog and in their majestic thrust to the sky, they house many other beings that I encounter daily in my life in this neighborhood. These great trees also bring us oxygen while recycling our CO2, they are an integral part of the health of this city.
I woke this morning with a broken heart upon learning that 5 of the trees in this grove would be cut down this week. Today they are removing the branches. These great life forms will live, broken and seeping and injured for the next week or so, until the crane can come in and remove the rest of their giant trunks. My heart aches, knowing that this happened because a foundation of a house or two, which most likely won’t stand more than a hundred years, is the cause of these beautiful beings having to die.
All life is sacred. I am no more important or less important than that tree, in some ways, in the natural order of things, that tree’s impact on this planet will be greater than mine. And yet, for humans, our lives feel so consequential that we can value the cement under a decades-old house over the life of a centuries-old being.
So now, through my process of mourning, I am turning toward transitioning to gratitude for all that these trees have brought for all the years they’ve been here. And all the years my family has lived under them. I am imagining what they will become and knowing that the life force that was in them will be released and just like my mom, will be free in the non-physical.
Dylan and I said goodbye and rode our bike throughout the neighborhood for one last glimpse of the canopy, to see how far away we could see them from. We saw them from Verve, Day’s Market, the Seabright Brewery, From Cayuga Street and Wyndham street and Seabright Avenue, and yes, the beautiful head-on view of them as we rode down Clinton. Our environment here in Seabright will never be the same, I wonder how many neighbors on other streets even knew that their ecosystem, their daily view, would be so altered?
I hope the houses stand for a long time.
I hope someone builds beautiful beauty out of the wood from these trees.
I hope the black squirrels that live in the trees, the hummingbirds that feed in them, the crows that perch in the highest branches all find a good home today.
I hope that humans can learn to live in harmony with Nature. She is our home. No matter how many buildings we build, we will always be beasts of the forests in our wild core.

Finding Joy in the Small Moments

Joy is in the rose gold glow of the clouds at sunrise. They whisper at first, then break into crescendos of colorful song as the sun’s rays playfully tickle their particles.

Joy is in the sea lapping at the shore. The ever-changing line where the waves meet Earth, joy flowing back and forth in the dance between the two.

Joy is in the bird, soaring on the wind. Feeling their body buoyant and coursing through the air.

Joy is in the sweet, tart burst of a sunny apricot as I bite into its flesh, my mouth watering with desire and reveling in the fulfillment.

Joy is in the pup as they run through the meadow. The wind against their face, the scents tantalizing their nose. They stop, tongue lolling, huge grin on their snout and then on again they go, playful and free.

Joy is in the leaves trembling in the sunlight. Soaking in the life-giving rays of the star, feeding the trunk which supports them.

Joy is in the taste of nectar as the butterfly alights on a flower and takes a long, slow sip.

Joy is in finally, after 47 years, learning to love myself.

Joy is in knowing we are all connected. All matter is part of the same. When particles touch, their energy is exchanged. We always have and always will be part of each other. We are stardust. We are golden.

Joy is in finding gratitude, even through loss and the ever-present ache of missing ones I love.

Joy is in the feeling of belonging I experience as I step into my coworking space, my beloved community, my second home for the past decade. Smiling faces greeting me, hugs exchanged, opportunities for connections that nourish and inspire me.

Joy is in the dance as the music courses through my cells, compelling my body to respond, all on her own. My hips moving to the rhythms felt deep in my being, my hands an expression of the sensuous energy exchange and love for the movement coursing through my veins.

Joy is in showing up 100% me. Vulnerable, without shame. The courage to be open, even in the knowing that I will feel pain.

Joy is in the sound of birds entering my awareness as I slowly come to consciousness on a summer morning.

Joy is in the sound of the waves pounding the shore on a cold winter night when I have awoken and hear the reassuring meter of crescendos through my bedroom window.

Joy is in waking up another day. Knowing I will feel, will breathe, will laugh, cry, sing, dance and love another day in this amazing body, a universe in itself.

Joy is feeling my heart, wide open and in Love, beating the rhythm which gives me life.

Joy is Gratitude. Gratitude is Love. Love is Joy.

The Power of Grit and Grace: What I’ve Learned From the Women in My Life

It’s impossible to accurately count the impact of women on my life. Yet I can look around me every moment of the day and see the influences of great women who have stood for big things, little things and so often made my world better through a small gesture such as an encouraging word, a knowing smile or a warm and welcoming hug.

I turn to women at every fork in my path, for guidance, companionship and for the reminder that I am not alone in my continued quest to be a good mother, friend, business owner, citizen, daughter, sister, volunteer, earth dweller, spiritual being and human. I am reminded of how to navigate the twists and turns, the moments of pure joy and the moments of panic, by watching the women in my life. One woman emulates the kind of entrepreneur I strive to be, another shows me what it means to be truly kind towards all. Women show me, by example, how to lead and how to follow their lead. They guide me through the surrender to being completely human and how to own my mistakes and how to forgive myself for my imperfections. Modeling unconditional love, joy, determination and an unstoppable will to proceed forward, no matter how many hurdles are in their path, the women of this world inspire me daily and fill me with gratitude.

On international women’s day I honor the two women who have shaped my life the most.

My mother.

My mom, who in 1971 decided to have and raise a child on her own, though she had no partner, no financial means and no support from family. She brought me into a world of intentional community and gave me the gift of understanding that I was a child of the village and that it takes a village to raise a child.

Though our relationship was fraught with struggle, as many mom daughter duos are, I have always recognized her for the amazing woman she is. She was a homesteader- rising early to milk the cow and feed the chickens, chopping wood to build a fire to bake bread and make yoghurt. Washing diapers by hand on a washboard in the front yard, sewing clothing and beading beautiful creations, stitching leathers slippers for my tiny feet and knitting mittens to keep my little paws warm through the harsh winters. Growing and harvesting and then canning, drying and freezing the food we ate, she made the best pickles I’ve ever had, to this day. While I suffered through treats made with honey and carob, homemade “pizza” with homemade refried beans as the topping and endless pots of brown rice, I learned the value of nutrition and making sure I was well fed, a tradition I carried into my own parenting.

As a global citizen, my mother taught me to take my place amongst the diverse people of the world.

She modeled citizenry like no one else in my world. A Democratic Party leader in her community, a community founder, a board member of All. The. Boards. she campaigned, cooked, phone banked, work partied and volunteered for nearly all the efforts my community built together.

She modeled entrepreneurship as a farmer and later as a non-profit business owner, turning her dream of making a difference into a reality, publishing, from my home, a newspaper and later a magazine which told the stories of the people and places no one else was reporting on. Covering the social justice beat in the 80’s was not a common job and yet my mother marched forward, despite all of the effects of extreme poverty and the marginalization of hippies in that time. She showed me that she could do the hard work of the less traveled road, and defy the naysayers and those who continuously “put in her place.”

Mom took on the responsibility of being a voice for those who were not represented, fiercely and gracefully defending people, forests, animals, mountains and watersheds. She stepped up, even in the face of bigotry and death threats. She defended, until death, our sacred earth home and taught me the power of grit, grace and empathy for all beings.

My mother taught me to be the kind of woman I am today. Thank you, Mom.

My best friend of nearly 30 years, Orla.

Orla has been my most shining example of the fact that we shape our own realities.

Growing up in extreme poverty, running the streets of Dublin as a child and struggling through a cultural history of tragedy, Orla has risen to be a gentle and sweet example of grit. The only person to graduate from college in her family, she took her experience as a troubled youth in Ireland, and with a heart as big as the moon, uses her experiences and her intelligences to help guide struggling youth on their own journeys towards healing and self-actualization. As a teacher and mother, friend and sister Orla models true selflessness, empathy, compassion and is always there for the people in her life, no matter what’s going on in hers.

We met as teens, and with our shaved heads and crazy pasts, we formed a bond that would grow through the years. We’ve seen each other through boyfriends, weddings, childbirth, parenting, divorce, more boyfriends and career hurdles, and successes. Through all those times we have turned to each other for support and encouragement and held each other accountable to our goals and for our mistakes. Now, in the middle of our lives, we recognize the special bond we have and the hard work of remaining close friends we have dedicated our time and energy towards.

Orla is my lemonade girl.

She taught me that we are the sum of our choices, that life is filled with joy when we look for it, that I don’t need to struggle all the time, that life is for the living. Orla has mirrored for me the accomplishments I have made and shown me my true value as a human. She’s my cheering squad, my wing girl and inspiration to be the best version of myself I can be. The most steady person in my life, Orla knows me in and out and has reminded me again and again of my value as a woman, mother, daughter, friend, and human. We walk this path together, as sisters, friends, and co-parents and have shown our children what it means to keep a relationship and friendship alive and thriving. Our children are better people for the examples we set.

Today, and every day, I honor all women of this world, past present and future. With humility and pride, I take my place amongst us as a leader and a follower while I acknowledge and celebrate all that women do every day.

Rethinking Suicide

Jesse Brisbane (1)

Happy birthday, Dad. I wish you were here but I know you’re in a better place now. Rest in peace.

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would be 73 years old, except that he took his own life in 1982 after a lifelong struggle with depression and loneliness.

Suicide is a complex and painful issue confronting our society in higher and higher numbers. The World Health Organization estimates that almost 800,000 people die by suicide globally each year. While suicide is often seen as a mental health issue, it is, in fact, a very complex problem with multiple variants and causes, including genetics, mental health, socio-economic status, physical health, and cultural identity. I want to take a moment to talk about suicide from the perspective of a survivor of someone who has lived through the loss of a suicide and as a person who has lived with the demons of depression and self-harm since adolescence.

My own story.

I’m committed to ending the stigma around suicide, mental illness and to raising awareness about the loneliness epidemic and the need for true human connection.  So, in the spirit of transparency, I’m gonna spill the beans here.

I didn’t really know my father, he was not in my life until I found him at the age of 9. We connected and began communicating and I had the opportunity to meet him at the age of 10. When I was 12 he took his life. The shock and horror and grief was not buffered by the lack of him in my early years, it was a devastating blow to my world and one that changed the course of my life.

I had so many questions, so much pain, and anguish. I was deeply hurt that he didn’t love me enough to stick around. I felt guilty that I couldn’t make his life good enough to stay alive. I was shattered at the idea that the father that I had finally found was gone forever. I was confused because I still had so much to learn about him and his family. And I was in the dark because no one in his world knew about me and I had to seek him out a second time when he stopped communication, only to find out from a stranger that he had died the year prior. All of this at the age of 13.

The grieving process led me down many twists and turns over the years. One path I found myself on was the path that disallowed anger. I found that I had so much compassion and empathy for his pain and suffering, that it was nearly impossible for me to be angry. I also found that the anger I did experience felt inappropriate (women are often taught that anger is inappropriate for us to feel, so I’m guessing there’s more on this topic than this one instance) and I worked hard to get to the bottom of the feeling of not being able to experience anger, employing my spirituality as a means of understanding more deeply what I was processing. More on this in a minute…

Let’s take a step back in time. I began to experience depression around the age of 11. By 12 it was in full force. I had suicidal tendencies, made two (thankfully) unsuccessful attempts and practiced self-harm for most of my teens. I was a troubled teen without a healthy network of support and there was no information about mental health available where I lived, nor did anyone think to check into why I was “sleeping” all the time. When I got the news of my dad’s suicide I was jolted into a decision. While I had empathy for his decision, the pain I experienced as a result of that led me to understand how much it hurts to be left behind and I decided I couldn’t do that to my family or friends.

That decision I made was a good one but it didn’t end the cycle of self-harm I was engaged in. While I was committed to life, I was still dealing with depression and low self-esteem and a lack of resources to help. My head is a lonely place to be, I’m guessing yours is too. But I didn’t have the courage, nor the understanding to realize that reaching out for help would mean relief, rather than increased stigma. After all, the responses I got to the admission that my father had taken his life led me to understand how much stigma there was around suicide.

Fast forward to 2003, when I went through a very tough divorce and subsequently found myself out of work for 9 months, causing my daughter and me to spend 6 months without a home, couch surfing and relying on the kindness of friends to get us through. During this period I had daily thoughts about ending my life. Yes, you read that correctly, at the age of 31 I considered killing myself every day, even with a precious 3-year-old depending on me. I’m telling you this because I think it’s important to understand that suicidal thoughts are not confined to people who act on them. Nor are they a sign of weakness. I was committed to life and refused to act on those thoughts, but I was in so much pain emotionally and the feelings of failure and despair were so intense that I wanted to escape them and there was nowhere to escape.

I think that’s the key. The feelings we have when we consider ending our life are the feelings of despair or pain (including chronic physical pain) so overwhelming that it’s not possible to see any way out, except ending our life. End of life = end of pain.

Because of my own personal journey and lived experience with both surviving my father’s suicide and experiencing my own suicidation, my feelings on this topic have evolved.

I’ve never shared this extremely private story except with my most trusted friends and family. Why share it now?

Because we have a literal epidemic of suicide in this country, and for me, this is the perfect day to help change the way people think about suicide in general.

First, I think it’s important to recognize the normal feelings that arise in the people who lose someone to suicide. The survivors are often overwhelmed by guilt and feelings of responsibility – the feeling that they could have, should have done more. There is a deep sadness and sense of waste – wasted opportunities, wasted life, wasted chances. Sometimes anger arises – anger at the person who took their own life, anger at the situation, anger at one’s self for failing to stop the suicide or see the risk factors in time to intervene. Many more emotions arise in the process of acceptance – shock, denial, confusion, blame, shame, despair, betrayal, and even relief. All of these emotions are normal reactions to a traumatic event and when experienced should be understood as such and the person who experiences them needs to have access to support and resources that help them parse and understand these feelings while processing their grief.

The stigma surrounding suicide muddies the conversation around the underlying causes and can lead to confusion in how to prevent suicide. This is a complex issue; there is never an easy answer as to why someone takes their own life. We need to have more education and open discussions around the multiple factors involved in suicidation.

There are many misconceptions about someone who attempts or completes suicide. Let’s dive into a few:

  • Weak. Often people who have died by suicide or have attempted to take their own life are seen as weaker than those who do not. This is false. Choosing to take one’s life is not a symptom of weakness, it is due to overwhelming pain, mental anguish, fear or despair that a person cannot solve effectively. This can be brought on by mental illness but it can also be a result of trauma such as abuse, an accident, sexual assault or deep loss.
  • Mental illness. I have already pointed out that there are many factors involved in the decision to take one’s life, and while mental illness increases the risk factors for suicide, not all mentally ill people take their lives and not all people who die by suicide are mentally ill. Seeing suicide as a single factor issue impedes us from understanding the truth around suicide and the risk factors involved.
  • Surprise. In most cases, people who take their own life show signs before doing so. There are the anomalies, but there are often indicators that are not seen or heard prior to the person attempting or completing suicide. Understanding the signs and risk factors of someone who is considering or planning to take their life can help prevent death by suicide.
  • Myths and education. There are many myths surrounding suicide. These myths do harm through reinforcing the misconceptions around suicidation and reinforcing the stigma of suicide, thus making it more difficult to progress in prevention.

In addition to misconceptions, the topic of suicide is considered taboo in many homes and cultures. The lack of public awareness around the causes and prevention strategies of suicide creates a challenge in developing effective preventions.

It is imperative that we change the narrative around suicidation in order to make progress in preventing suicide.

As an example of how complex, confusing and devastating suicide is to the loved ones left behind, even after experiencing tremendous loss as a result of suicide, I offer the following perspective:

I believe that in some cases, suicide is an intensely personal decision made by those who can no longer bear suffering and pain.

Whoa. I know, you’re confused. I’m talking about prevention and then I just made that statement? WTF? Here’s the thing. I don’t ever want to lose another person to suicide. I want to prevent people from taking their own life, I want to ease the sense of despair or pain that drives people to end their pain through suicide and I actively work on doing so.

But here’s where my perspective has evolved:

Each person’s lived experience is unique, we develop diseases that shorten our lives or lessen our quality of life. Some of us develop cancer or another chronic disease, other of us develop mental illness. Still others live with chronic pain, emotional and physical. Thus, my question becomes “If, as a society, we are moving toward acceptance of a person with end-stage disease choosing when they die, can we also move toward this idea for people with chronic pain or despair?”

I know this is a big and shocking question.  I’ll go back to my dad to look at this further.

From the age of 9, when his mother died suddenly, my father experienced deep emotional and physical trauma that left him emotionally and physically scarred. With a family history of mental illness and alcoholism, he faced a world where trauma was a daily occurrence and he did not have the support to navigate the trauma in a healthy way. As an adult, he failed time and again to develop long-term emotional ties to people. He also failed to find “success” in the typical measure. He was an artist and was unable to find financial stability. By the time he made the decision to take his own life, he had several failed business attempts under his belt, many burned bridges and was destitute and starving.

My father had done his best, everything he could do, to pull himself up by his bootstraps (which is a concept that deserves further consideration, but that’s another post, on another day), to find healing and to find happiness and financial success. He was never able to achieve these goals and the scars from his unhealed trauma tortured him. So rather than feel anger at my father for killing himself, I developed a sense that his death was his only option. That he deserved the right to choose to end his life when he found there were no other answers. Much like I would defend a terminal cancer patient in dying with dignity, I learned to see my father, and many like him, as having an incurable illness- the weight and pain of which only they could understand.

I don’t advocate suicide, and I continue to work to prevent it, especially in children and teens. But I think it’s important to have a full and honest discussion about suicide and its effect on our world, which for me includes the idea that some people may opt out and that is their choice- and if they have made that choice, there may be very little you can or could have done to stop them. Like Amy Bleuel, who gave the world the gift of Project Semicolon, before finally taking her life after a long battle with trauma and subsequent mental illness.

Amy’s gift to the world has saved many lives, my father’s gift to me saved my life.

Today, on my dad’s birthday, I write all of this in an effort to alleviate the horrendous guilt that weighs heavily on those left behind after a suicide. Each person’s life is their own journey, and ultimately they own that journey, no matter how much we want the truth to be otherwise.

So the next time you think of suicide or are confronted with its tragic reality, consider taking a moment to educate yourself on the complexity of the issue and on ways to offer support and help. In a hyper-connected world, we should be able to make sure everyone feels a sense of belonging and connection and that everyone has the opportunity to find the support and resources needed to be able to choose life every day. Below are some simple steps you can take today to help prevent suicide. (Credit to Project Semicolon for these ideas)

  • Pay more attention to mental health and well-being and encourage it in others.
  • Support a loved one/friend/colleague who is living with a mental health issue or illness, who is going through a difficult time, is struggling with suicidal thoughts or has lost a loved one to suicide.
  • Refrain from using the phrase ‘commit suicide’ or successful suicide and instead say ‘died by suicide’ or ‘suicided’
  • Encourage people that it’s ok to talk about suicide.
  • Take a suicide alertness or intervention training such as SafeTALK or ASIST or Mental Health First Aid. Just like we learn physical first aid skills we can also learn emotional first aid skills. Encourage families, friends, co-workers, faith groups, coaches to take training in your community. Raise funds and host one!
  • Host a Project Semicolon event in your community if one does not already exist

Thank you for reading this. How does it sit with you? How do you feel about the idea of suicide being a choice or the only option for some people?

And don’t forget to take a peek at the resources listed below, they just might help you save a life.

US national suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
US national suicide crisis textline: text TALK to 741741

Project Semicolon
Suicide risk factors and warning signs
Statistics on suicide in the US
World Health Organization fact sheet on suicide
Resources from Check Yo Mate to help make connections with people and end the stigma around mental health

I’m voting for her.


So many people came and sang for mom in her last days, she delighted in the music and the melodies. This song was especially poignant for me as I have been listening to this voice my whole life, and the comfort it brings me is akin to a warm bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day.

My mom’s close friend (and my Auntie), Sandy wrote this song, inspired by a conversation with Mom about how The Work is not always done in one’s lifetime. Mom passed on from the world, leaving her latest project, restoring the Similkameen River, to her husband and community. Leaving her Work was very hard for Mom, but knowing she was a link in a chain of action allowed her to feel that she could rest, even though she worked right up until her brain could no longer function enough to write an article, or critically follow a conversation thread.

As I sat on Election night of 2016, with my mom and sister on the phone, looking at a bleak future, all I could think of was the 40 years of Work that Mom and the rest of the environmental community had done, all of the sacrifices the families of those doing The Work had made and the gains we had received as a society, were in jeopardy.

My mom’s legacy was in jeopardy.

For all of the links in the long long chain, and all of the future generations, for my mom and those like her who have served this country, this world, and The Work, for Mother Earth, who gives us all life, I’m voting for Her next week.

May we gain a representational leadership that protects the ability of future generations to live and love freely, rather than the monied interests of corporations and billionaires.

Thank you, Auntie. This song warms my heart.

Stone by Stone: Burying an activist, community builder, wife and mother.

We buried mom on Thursday

Thor’s Day, God of Thunder

Ruled by Jupiter and Sagittarius

Fitting for the Warrior she was

Dragon Lady

Defender of Earth

Her body, dressed in the splendid purple silk Autumn bought her years ago and

Unpolluted by fluids meant to preserve her flesh

Laid to rest in a simple pine casket

Handcrafted by a Colville man

Lined with a Pendleton blanket

A cedar filled pillow for her beautiful brain to rest on

Tucked into her time capsule were special stones

Her feather and staff and

The dragon box she cherished, filled with farewell notes of love and gratitude


Her community gathered

Friends, allies and

Hearts filled with gratitude for her tireless optimism in the fight for Justice

They spoke of her journalism

Her quest for Truth

Her penchant for framing conversations in a way that can be heard by those in power

Her commitment to Community, also

Barter Fair committees, the Tonasket Co-op, the Tonasket Community Cultural Center, Annual International Mother’s Day March for Peace

The list goes on: co-founder, board member, advocate, volunteer, ally

They spoke of her commitment to our Earth and

How she inspired them to take up action, that

Each citizen of the planet can make an impact, that

Everyone shares responsibility to keep our home for the next generation

She was honored by the Similkameen People of Canada for her dedication in

Helping restore ceremonial rights on the River

For helping them understand how to fight the Okanogan PUD in the US in

Their corrupt bid to build a new damn and

Destroy the sacred salmon run

This honor is great, as

Mom deeply respected the Indigenous Peoples, and yet

The white environmental community has historically not

Aligned with the needs or ways of

Indigenous Peoples

She was honored in song by the Hyde Family and

Upon Mom’s request, everyone sang Amazing Grace

I was overwhelmed by, and also grounded in,


The women, my Aunties

Those who had grown the food,

Made the birthdays and weddings and so many parties, and

Rituals of Life happen, they

Came together and made the wake, funeral, and meal afterward happen

The men, my Uncles, they

Carried the casket, set the site, made the prayers and

Many quoted her in saying

“It takes a village” and

All honored Mom

Builder of Community


James did the rope science and tied the knots and

That way we didn’t need a machine so

We hoisted her into her Beloved Earth

By hand

Clutching the ropes tightly

Bracing our legs, we

Gently touched her down into that 10 foot hole

We shoveled the dirt

The huge mountain of dirt

So much dirt on top of Mom

Forcing myself to shovel and

Knowing it was only her husk, still

Fighting every moment to not yell

“Stop! She’s gonna suffocate in there!”

I continued to shovel with my brothers and my dad and sister and

As we slowly made our way home

I kept the panic at bay

No, we hadn’t forgotten Mom under all that dirt

That’s now her Forever Home


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust


Friday morning dawned bleakly, what

Would I do with myself now that 7am wasn’t the time to get mom up and dressed?

I binge watched Netflix

“She’s Gotta Have it”

While drinking pots and pots of tea

At 4:30 am


I worried most about Rick

Lover, Partner, Husband, Coparent, and Ally of 35 years

Inseparable from almost the first day they met, together he and Mom

Raised children, founded and published a magazine for 20-plus years, made bread, stopped a mine and saved a mountain and a watershed, grew food, sued the Army Corp of Engineers and won, canned pickles, taught on the Colville Reservation, cared for and nursed many loved ones through death, volunteered in the community and

Loved each other passionately

Now, still young and healthy at 79

He mourns the love of his life

A love few are blessed enough to know

He is the strongest kind of man there is

The embodiment of feminism and

True Equality for All

A male who supports the females in his life

Not just with words, but actions and

Supported Mom in all ways, including

Nursing her during her six year battle against cancer and

Finally death

Always protecting her right to make her own choices


Mom’s love of and study of geology went far beyond

Simply learning how to read an Environmental Impact Statement

Everywhere we traveled by car Mom would explain and

Recite the geological formations and processes of the local landscape

She was enamored with stones and

Collected a few thousand pounds of rocks

During her 34 years in Chesaw

Delighting in the geology everywhere she went, she

Surrounded herself with stones and

People gifted her with stones and

Her favorite stone, a granite erratic boulder

Uncovered during a backyard excavation project

She had placed upon the hill behind her house

Her Sitting Stone

She chose it for her Headstone


Friday, after rising

All in a daze

We made plans to clean and decorate Mom’s grave

We collected some of her stones and

Headed back to the cemetery

In tears we raked and built a mound of the remaining dirt

Brainstorming how to make her gravesite

Insisting that it had to last a couple of hundred years I

Wanted Mom’s descendants to know who she was

When they came looking for their ancestor

Chris took the biggest of stones and began digging them in

Building a rock fortress around her edges


We worked at it for four days

Collecting rocks from the house and yard

Loading the truck

We brought at least a thousand pounds of those rocks to the cemetery

Amongst the hazy fog of grief and shock we

Discussed and ideated

Hugged and cried

Drank booze and smoked ganja

All the while steadily, but without a clear plan, moving forward

I like plans

I need plans

Plans make me feel better

We couldn’t make real plans without the erratic in place

Late on the third day

We had just placed the stones the erratic would rest on when

We spied Leroy rolling down the road with

The erratic in the bucket of his tractor

Of all of the days he could have delivered it

Like a miracle it showed up just then


Sometimes plans are less than Flow


On the fourth day

Still without a plan

We collected and delivered the

Mother Lode of stones

James and I bickered

I cried

Still no plan

I just wanted to collaborate on a plan that

Incorporated everyone’s ideas, meanwhile

Rick began to place stones with his usual quiet gentleness

Randomly placing with Intention

He led us as

One by one the rest of us followed him

We picked up Mom’s beloved rocks

Stone by stone we

Placed the rocks mom had collected

Circling inward with each stone we

Built a Cairn

An ancient Irish burial mound

She was very happy with our work


Covered in the rocks she loved

The rocks and Mom

Nestled between the mountains she loved and fought to protect

Now in their Forever Home


The building of Mom’s cairn was centering and

The process we needed as a family to bring to a close

Our collective journey in Mom’s disease and

In the nine weeks we spent together helping her die

A beautiful, dignified death

Now the five of us are bonded in

Our shared experience

Our collective grieving

Our love of Mom

Uniting us from her side of the veil

Where we shall all pass one day, but

For now we live and carry on her work

All of us

In our own ways


photo credit chad madden

Me too

Ok [deep breath], the first time I was 5. My parents had family friends over, their 12-year-old boy managed to get me away from everyone else. I haven’t been able to think about that family without hot shame flushing my face or disgust making me shake, ever since.

The second time I was 11, I was swimming when an adult family friend signaled me out of the water, I ran up to him all smiles before he grabbed me, right where our president likes to grab. It took years before I could look at that side of Osoyoos lake again.

The third time I was 13 and sleeping over at a friend’s house. She shared a room with her older brother. In the middle of the night, I felt his hand creeping into my sleeping bag. I never went back for another sleepover at that house.

The 4th time I was 12, in my orthodontist chair, he liked to cop a feel as he adjusted train tracks. I later learned he was banned, or whatever happens to dentists who aren’t allowed to practice because they’re perverts.

The 5th time I was 14 and my Uncle tried to kiss me. I’ve never told anyone about that before now.

5 times before I could even be considered a consenting adult. I’m guessing you’re thinking this is excessive and I must have asked for it. Maybe it was because I was curvy early? Perhaps my attitude? I was too friendly? It must be my fault somehow, right? After all, boys will be boys.

When I was in my early 20’s the one friend I had told about the incident at Osoyoos spilled my beans to the powers that be. The people of my community discussed this amongst themselves and I was forced to speak to a council of my parents and other community leaders about what had happened when I was 11. I was told that the man (at least 20 years my senior) was facing deportation back to his country, based on my account of what had happened, where he would face certain death. The pressure was overwhelming and the questions kept coming, I kept looking at my parents, desperately wanting someone, anyone, to be on my side. I was made to feel alone and this was almost worse than the violation I had experienced as a youth.

My daughter is 17, they refuse to ride a bike because they get constant catcalls. What I want for them, more than almost anything is to never experience what I and so many women experience, All. The. Time. I’ve lain awake nights, worrying about how I can protect them. I’ve not allowed sleepovers unless I knew the family and never if there’s an older brother or mom’s boyfriend around. My child deserves to be unmolested, whole, innocent and complete amongst themselves. This is a basic human right.

Why do we have to teach girls to be careful and safe? Why don’t we teach boys to respect girls and not to rape? It seems so simple to me. I am working hard to raise the kind of man I would want my daughter to marry, one who values and respects women, understands that everyone’s diverse strengths make up a strong team and most of all, one who understands what consent means. May he live in a world that values all people and one where respect for all life is paramount.

I wrote this post exactly a year ago, when the Access Hollywood video was released. I decided it was too private for me to post then, and buried it away. But here we are, a year later and the same story is circling – 1 in 3 women have been sexually abused or harassed in their lifetime. I’m not a victim, I’m a warrior… and a survivor. So this time I am sharing because perhaps my story can help swell the tide that will create a change in our world?