My internship at the Monastery is officially over . . .

For my going away party, my boyfriend, who came to whisk me back to Portland with him, made strawberry, hibiscus, and cucumber margaritas for the Mothers (as a bartender it was quite a novel experience for him to serve tequila to nuns, and yes, they love tequila). I whipped up some pickled beet bruschetta from our garden bounty and we said our sad goodbyes. The nuns surprised me with my very own cheese press so I can continue my cheese-making wherever I set up home, which brought me to can’t-quite-fight-them-away, heart-wrenching tears.

In the card they wrote me, Mother Prioress said how great of a pleasure it was to collaborate with me in so many ways. This was the most fulfilling compliment to receive - to know that as their intern I wasn’t viewed as a farm-hand grunt laborer, but a contributor and partner to the work and legacy they maintain. All of the goals unreached and expectations unmet came crashing down as irrelevant with the realization that I was able to provide something tangible and meaningful to their Monastic community. It is essential to seek out opportunities and ways to nourish one’s own personal goals and desires, but I believe the greatest reward is commonly found in recognizing your impact on others or wherever else your energy is directed. 

My prayer for myself as I continue on to the next season of life is that I never lose sight of the importance of this calling - to surrender myself to this world as a vessel for positivity, for productivity. And to continue along, uninhibitedly, as a seeker and lover of truth, in whatever many shapes it takes form. 

When Mother Prioress said goodbye, she said, “I’ll see you everywhere.” Just as my presence was absorbed into their hearts and home, I’ll never forget the Mothers and what they taught me. Their generosity, light-heartedness, faith, and prayerful spirits will remain with me always.

My hands are marked with gritty sheep wool, vinegar and cheese mold, rubber from my work gloves, fresh earth and bitter greens,

dog love, sweet hay, damp moss, egg yolk, flour, whey,

scrubbed rust, dusty cobwebs, bird feathers, bone,

animal saliva, animal excrement,

lemon balm, cicely, rosemary and thyme,

salt water, kelp, wet sand, oyster juice,

aged cookbooks, musty explorer magazines, bamboo knitting needles, ink smears, beeswax. 

For the first time, I know they are loving all that they handle, selflessly. 

The Ph. D. nun.

Took the dogs to the vet on Orcas with Mother Hildegard. We drove the back roads that pass lakes and farmland. She slammed on her brakes every time there was an interesting bird perched on a log or fence post (avid birder). It was nice to get more of her story and to have three nervous dogs cuddled up to me.

One of MH's Portuguese Water Dogs (Koko, also known as Nunu, nonny, lulu, bebe, koksie, depending on her mood)

M. Hildegard always thought she wanted to be a children’s surgeon. In her schooling, she went the route of child psychology instead. She took her monastic vows at Regina Laudis (Our Lady of the Rock’s mother Abbey) when she was 26, but that didn’t stop her from continuing the mastery of her studies and work. She was one of the first (perhaps the first) nuns to receive a phD while living at a monastery. M. Hildegard was an early pioneer in the field of animal-assisted therapy for children. She started with a group of troubled kids, one hundred farm animals, and long car rides with the kids and a newfoundland dog in the backseat that she considered “therapy sessions.” Eventually, llamas became her primary vessels. For the last 25 years on Shaw Island, M. Hildegard ran a 4H club for children and adolescents that enabled them to work intimately with their own animal; fun and educational animal interaction with deep therapeutic power.

I think there’s a misconception with monastics that life outside of the monastery ends or is cut off when vows are taken; they are confined behind walls, recluse and isolated. On the contrary, these women are ambitious and talented intellectuals. While they believe that their daily prayers and intentions to God are their primary vocation, they are actively generous with their gifts and expertise in the society surrounding them.


MH with one of her 13 llamas, MH driving Koko in her Ford Expedition (photos from Seattle Pi) –link to one of MH’s articles for those interested in animal-assisted therapy for children

Today is about the details.

Sitting under a slough of drooping white blossomed cherry trees in a rickety old chair I found in the barn, I have just spotted my first butterfly of the season, polygonia faunus. This is the hub of the pollinators. Bodies swollen with the weight of spring’s sweetness, I welcome their meditative buzz-hum. The many feet tasting my jeans, my skin, have found me out - I am but a false flower. 

Today is about the details, the threads that weave together the mystery of Season, teaching us about rhythms too rooted, too persistent for human interruption. These are our promises for constant.

Miniature red-bellied motors slicing blue-air, pausing ever so briefly at the source of nectar to tease my awe. The nightly frog lullaby that stops and starts again with engineered precision. The blue heron’s guard post by the pond sides, fixated yellow eyes, hunched in hungry waiting. Gentle dew taking the morning reigns from harsh frost. Pink worm confetti on gravel roads and silver spider ribbons strung across the forests decaying matter like party decorations on an ever expanding tomb. A discography of new bird songs that convince you how mild and lazy are the words “chirp” and “tweet”. The yellow, the purple, the pink you’d seemed to forgotten during the grey. The budding annuals offering new beginnings and the withstanding perennials reminding us of resistance. Fresh items to add to the menu (nettles at the cost of a histamine injection). The sun alive after supper time.  The air still crisp and the soil still wet keep me in check from throwing off my socks and shoes and running barefoot. The time for that is not now, but here we are in the pregnant belly of what’s to come.

The ground thrusting forth its offerings, I wade through the blooming sea with delicacy for this fragile, wild world underfoot. All I want is to be still and watch it spin, this business, this celebration. Maybe then I can learn to wake with the energy of the blue sky and empty my pockets for scooping up all the earth’s new prizes promised to me over and over again at this shining time. I will hold my breath until it pushes through me and I begin to sing a hundred new songs, speak a thousand colors, shed my hardened layers of suspicions and self-consciousness and resign myself to resilient new growth.