schirin oeding

under a peregrine star

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Travels with My Grandfather


My grandfather and I, on the occasion of his 86th birthday, have taken a trip together, to an island in the former GDR. It’s just the two of us, this time, which gives the house, and us, a slightly rattled feeling. Perhaps we’re a bit wistful, too. The rest of the family is at work, or at school, or both. Most of the time, he does the talking. He has things to say, and I, it turns out, know very little. Sometimes, I make valiant attempts at interjection, sliding sidelong a comment into a conversation—no, a monologue—I know nothing about. War, for example, or communism, or West Wall cement.

We ride our bikes very slowly through the seaside savanna: pines, oaks, sea buckthorn bright and heavy with orange berries that are too tart to eat before the first frost (though I try, anyway). I compose letters in my mind, or small poems about sand and wind. Erosion. How difficult is it to ride a bike and write, at the same time? (Wasn’t there once a man who could bike backward while playing the violin?)

Somewhere along the way, we curve toward the coast and end up among a handful of other people who have stopped here. Nearly 5 kilometres of tumbling evidence faces us: blocks and quarters and raised up ziggurats, slotted windows with steel bars across them, a battalion of broken glass and doors as far as the eye can see, everything sinking into the beautiful, fine sand. The ocean is less than 100 meters away, and has already consumed the most obvious leavings of former inhabitants. People, all of them of a certain age, are milling about, taking pictures and putting their hands to their eyes, tilting their faces up to try to take it all in. They ask each other, “Where were you, when—?”


How much of a place should we know in a lifetime? Or should the question be, how many places? The book I dropped unwittingly into my backpack for this trip is all about Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands. So I sit in the Ostsee sand reading about green sea turtles and Johanna Angermeyer. All the while, it seems like my very soul is engaged in some kind of a sparring match with reality. Where the heck?, it asks, and all I can meekly reply is, I don’t know, either. It’s the kind of sparring match that involves broomsticks not swords, because it isn’t a battle so much as a push against the settling dust: somewhere in the corners of my mind, beneath bits of twigs and stones, somewhere under notes written by people I do remember, toenail clippings, plum pits, there is a tilting stack of place memories (not all of them my own). Where was I, when—?

Are our memories evidence like bricks and mortar? Years of my grandfather’s stories have made me weary of history. Not history as in stories, his stories, our stories, but history as a fully-formed, decisive thing. Unchanging, unmoving, unyielding. I think, now, that history is a soft and supple creature. Sometimes, when it lives in edifices and tumbling rows of apartment houses, it seems to speak for itself and we perhaps fool ourselves into thinking we understand. But trees are better witnesses to history than many people. Emptiness, the absence of something, sings history, too.


My grandfather suffers no fools, but because we’re related, he’s familially obligated to put up with my unknowing. My questions tap, tap into dark corners: I simultaneously want and don’t want to know about the war because every story unleashes another one, and another one, and after a while it hurts to listen. I try sticking to small questions, like a map-maker, attempting at a bigger picture by way of bloodless detail. This rarely works. I ask practical questions, like How and Where. In the end, though, what I want to know is Why. But for Why, there are no answers that satisfy us. We comfort ourselves, and each other, by asking, over and over, “Where were you, when—?”

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Landing Again

This is day two of being back from more than three months away. It feels a bit like a crash landing, being back here, and suddenly there it all is again: work, errands, to-do lists, memories of the at times beautiful yet incredibly difficult spring of this year. Everything that challenged me is, of course, still in me. But after the amazing summer that I had, I do kind of feel like I’ve won the lottery. So what do you do when you’ve won the lottery? Celebrate? Go into shock? Knuckle down and figure out what to do with the winnings? I guess I am the type to go for the latter option. And so: where to, from here?

I am working on my list. Joining a choir is next, actually. I’ll keep you posted. And, as soon as the jet lag wears off: running again (which I am looking forward to, especially this new experience of autumn-running). And writing: pitching a few new pieces, getting to work on an article that I have been looking forward to almost all year (for Taproot), and enjoying coming home to find a copy of Pure Green—with my piece on working by hand in it.



Hey you,

Moon-bound unhinged beauty,

Wake up to sun-found, earth-sound roots,

Plant star-seeds underfoot!

More soon. For now, xo.


Getting Older, Being Young, and Making Lists


Hi friends,

Ok, the title for this post might be kind of ludicrous: it’s generally not culturally acceptable for twenty-four year olds to talk about aging. I mean, these are THE YEARS of our lives. Right? I agree with that entirely, but I’m also completely convinced that THE YEARS are always, if we want them to be. So when I talk about getting older here, I’m not complaining. Actually, over the past few months, as I’ve travelled, studied, met new people, been offered jobs (yeah, this might be an awesome perk of getting older, even if I do turn all of them down), made minor and major life choices, I have felt, more tangibly than ever, a growing sense of responsibility for my self and my life. All of this, this thing that might be “getting older” ( I wouldn’t know, it’s my first time), hasn’t been easy or obvious. I still don’t always know if I am making the right choice (who does?), I know I make plenty of mistakes, and I feel, more and more and more, that I have so much left to learn.  The more I see, the less I know, right? It’s true, and yet all of that feels like an enormous gift. I feel full of energy and optimism —not always, not constantly, but pretty much overarchingly (that’s not a word, oh well…)— and I feel like making a list. So here goes, straight from the clear mountain air of the Swiss Alps (is the altitude getting to me?) , to you*. I’ve never been much of a fan of making lists like this. (I’m not a peak bagger, either)  I’m not sure why. Does it seem superficial? Do we tend towards listing things that probably won’t happen anyway? Is it hollow a way of making ourselves feel better when we feel like we’re not getting anywhere? I’m putting all that aside. This list is not a Life List (life isn’t a checklist, after all), or a Bucket List, or anything particularly rigid or closed to change and/or revision and/or interpretation. Just some ideas that have been floating around my mind, that seem to warrant writing down. Perhaps it’s a way of setting intentions, or reenforcing them, or giving them a life of their own. Actually, I don’t have a lot of doubt that these things will come to fruition—I am, after all, working on making them happen as I write. Maybe you’ll be inspired to write a list of your own… I’d love to know what you’re planning, too. Maybe we can work together.
* A nice thing about being young and writing about getting older is that (hopefully) those of you who are older and wiser will forgive me for any weird assumption and assertions. I am, after all, still kinda young.

Within the next ten years, I will have…

1. completed my masters in landscape design/architecture and will have built a successful, systems-based design business that focuses on farm, urban niche, and rural design. (And LOVE  my work!)

2. built a house (even a VERY small house) with my own two hands (and some friends and family) out of basic ingredients like straw and cob.

3. hiked parts of the Olav’s Way in Norway. (I don’t really feel like hiking all 560 km of it—just the choicest bits.)

4. begun learning a new language—Danish or Swedish would be at the top of the list here. (I know, this won’t help much when I am hiking in Norway…)

5. travelled to Asia, especially rural Asia. (And especially Japan and Vietnam and Thailand.)

6. travelled to India—and met some of the amazing biodynamic farmers now working there.

7. eaten a Pawpaw fruit. Seriously: I’ve been a sort-of student of permaculture for more than five years now, and while I’ve heard a heck of a lot of praise for this elusive fruit, I have yet to eat one myself. I’m starting to think they’re mythical. Okay, they’re not… 

8. grown rice in a northern climate.

9.  become a better public speaker. I got a chance to do some spontaneous public speaking with a professional this summer, and boy, did I feel nervous and crazy and filled with adrenaline. I really think that good public speakers can convey messages and tell stories in stunning, memorable, lyrical, and life-changing ways—I’d like to aspire at least to some of that. Here are two great speakers for you: Elizabeth Gilbert on creative genius, and Sarah Kay on spoken-word poetry, growing up, and life itself.

10. continued to write and publish: articles, stories, poems. You can find my writing in Taproot, as well as here, and occasionally in a few other places.

11. been singing in a choir. I miss singing. Especially like this.  (Village Harmony would be THE people to sing with.)

12. bought a piece of land to build the house (see #2) and plant the garden that I’ve been dreaming of for a long time. A place to stay put. A place to hang my hat.


That’s all for now. It’s a long list, though not an all-encompassing one by any means, and not impossible either. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. (Ten years, right?)


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Mountain Days

Phew! It’s been such a long time since I was here last.  I’ve been in the Swiss Alps for a little less than a month now. We’ve been making hay almost every day, up on the high, lush fields of these mountains. Every morning, I take care of some goats, milking and feeding them, and letting them out of their tiny barn into a huge, steep field where they spend their days climbing and grazing and sleeping among some rocky outcroppings. When there’s time, I hike. The days have been flying by…





















Have a beautiful day!


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Giving thanks each day


Today is just one day before we leave here. We (the 29 of us who have indulged our minds and hearts by spending six weeks studying ecological literacy together) are more challenged, more intensely committed, more vibrantly empowered, and more alive than when we came here over a month ago. I feel as though I should say, “I have been overwhelmed.” (That would be a good reason for having let the blog sleep for so long…) But I have not been overwhelmed. I have been overjoyed and nourished. Today, gratitude and excitement are my primary emotions. On Friday morning, I leave for Switzerland, for the mountains, and for the all-encompassing views that will certainly trigger a process of digestion which has been stalled by the enormous amount of knowledge that’s been transmitted these past weeks. I aim to be inspired by the cows of the mountains: ruminating —digesting, and re-digesting.


So, for now, I’ll share an exercise from this morning’s class. Who is an ecologically literate person, really? What does he or she do? How does this individual live life? An attempted answer. An ecologically literate person is:

A humble student of the land.

Someone who values interdependence over standing alone.

Someone who sees her-/himself as part of the great and powerful whole.

Someone who values life, and the living, without judgement.

Someone who cares for our plants and our most ancient seeds with love and abandon, and knows that food can heal and bring us home.

Someone who has the clarity of vision and the power of observation needed to see where we have gone wrong.

Someone who is an optimist, though they have considered all the facts.

Someone who can still laugh and cry with passion,

Someone who plants trees for the next seven generations,

Someone who values hard work, and work done by hand, as much as (or more than) any other kind of labor,

Someone who can be still in the presence of plants, animals, and other human beings, and does not shy away from the unknown,

Someone whose curiosity is embedded in kindness and interconnectivity,

Someone who gives thanks each day.



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Breaking Up | Breaking Open


I’ve always enjoyed the small details of life. My favorite place is the forest floor in springtime: spring beauties, hepatica, ramps, fiddleheads, trillium, wild ginger in flower, dappled sunlight on emerging green. Those are the things that make my heart sing. I like vast views, too, but I’m always more apt to drop down, smell the rotting leaves that hug the earth, dig my hand into the organic matter, see the bugs and worms at work there, the mushrooms that enchant the soil. In life, though, sometimes, this causes confusion. The “big picture” gets lost somewhere up above, details begin to dominate, and the little things start to become disconnected from the landscape that houses them. I recently broke up with a person I was head over heels in love with, and entangled with. The breaking up, the deconstruction of our relationship, was a landscape opening up around me, and, in a sense, swallowing me. Looking up was, is, scary. It means placing myself; recognizing where I am, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I searched for minute details, saving graces, the little things that grow along the wayside and make the journey beautiful—trying to avoid seeing the vastness ahead of me. I found those little things, of course I did, but the more I looked down at them (or rather back at them) the more this vastness beckoned to me.

In the introduction to his book Portrait of My Body, Philip Lopate asks the questions that for a long time stopped me from starting this blog, “What gives me the right to assume my life is worth taking so seriously? Is it arrogance? Self-centeredness? Yes… but not entirely. We must remember that most writers have only their own story to tell. In my case, I can also report better through my eyes what the world looks like than by pretending omniscience. I want to record how the world comes at me […].” In my search for the courage to really be where I am, to put aside escapism and to rewrite my grand dreams, I am daring myself to share some of the stories that seem, to me, to be the least public of them all. Please take what you like from them. I think of this as an exercise in spontaneous storytelling, not a foray into autobiographical perfection.

In this new beginning, there are still a million questions that keep me turning my head back. There are a million answers, or maybe (probably) more, none of which are as satisfying as taking a deep breath and looking forward. There are still plenty of things that go bump in the night—but there are also stars, and the moon, to light the way. Rob Brezsny, whose Free Will Astrology I enjoy weekly, planted an idea in my mind many years ago. “The universe,” he writes, “is conspiring to shower you with blessings.” What an audacious thing to say! And is it true? There are certainly enough instances when it doesn’t seem so, enough times when things seem to be heading so stubbornly in the opposite direction that it is easy, almost obligatory, to laugh at his pronouncement. And yet. I believe he is right. Counting my blessings, even when I rely on someone else to sit me down and do it for me, has a way of putting me in my place (the place where I happily look out, up, and all around me to see that I am, in fact, in a good and beautiful place). Looking up, lately, I have been shocked by the many blessings that I have received. What I have received has reminded me to plan and dream and simultaneously plant myself firmly in the earth of this place.

Here are some things that have pleased me to no end lately. Things that have tickled me pink, and made my heart pitter-pattern. Things that have caused me to jump with glee and awe.

A dear friend of mine, who lives a bit too far away for my liking, has decided to tie the proverbial knot. I am so absolutely thrilled for the two of them—I can’t even put words to it. And what is more, I am bursting with pride, as they have asked me to officiate at their wedding. Love, love, love! What an honour (and responsibility…).

While the above is surely number ONE, there are a few more things, too. Lucky me! Another blessing is that I live in a city that, as it greens with spring and new life, is full of beautiful surprises. I’ve been reluctant to find steady ground here, having had the idea that I wouldn’t be here for very long, and that planting my feet wasn’t really “worth my while.” That’s something I am committing to changing. No matter how long I stay here, I want to feel close to this place, get a sense of its people and its stories. Yesterday, a bike ride revealed a long, verdant corridor of uncharted pathway, echoing the river. A desire path created not by the city but by people who wanted to walk or bike there. On one side, the river; on the other a forested slope, thick with spring ephemerals (like a flood of white trillium).

I am also, still, beyond excited and filled with happy anticipation for the six weeks I get to spend at the Omega Institute this summer… Being able to go there and take a course for six weeks is an unbelievable, unexpected gift.

There are plenty of other things to say, here. I’ll leave it at this for now, and spend a minute basking in the universe’s conspiratorial bounty. A thought for you, too—something that a friend gave me a number of years ago, written on a card that lives in my wallet.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,

our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant,

gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”


who are you not to be?



I get to go back here this summer…

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Newly Minted

I resisted doing the blog thing for the following reasons:

1. It’s been done. And what could be worse (and more unavoidable, apparently) than being unoriginal?

2. I was lazy. I say “was” simply because I am no longer lazy. I’m not. Really. Ever.

3. I couldn’t figure out how to make my blog look as fancy as all the other nifty blogs I read. I still haven’t figured it out, but I am working on getting over it/not having blog-envy/being satisfied with (hopefully temporary) blog mediocrity.

4. I run out of things to write about.

Whatever the case may be. I am happy you’re here. I’m here, too, and so that makes two of us. It’s a party. I just celebrated my twenty-forth birthday, and by way of celebration, I made all kinds of resolutions (like you do), and this blog is step seventeen or something in keeping them. Another one is running three times a week. I am well on the way to success on that one, actually. Though I have yet to get over the pointlessness of running nowhere. I’m not very zen. Nevertheless, springtime is providing a variety of entertainment on my tri-weekly runs: green grass, flowers, melted ice. And the feeling afterwards is fantastic. As they say, it’s “type two” fun: the kind that’s great when it’s over. I’m preparing myself physically for a month of haying by hand (with scythe and rake) at 45˚ slopes in the Swiss Alps. That is not a joke. This will be followed by wall building as well as long-distance bicycling. The “long-distance” part may be up for interpretation. I say 200km is far. Like everybody else, all my resolutions are three parts self-improvement, and twelve parts self-entertainment. Adventure-seeking. Thrill-seeking? Perhaps. (Though Tuesday morning jogging is far from it, I admit.)


Switzerland (2011): Tools of the Trade