Life is made of fleeting here and nows
Joys and sorrows
Valleys and summits
Questions and moments of clarity
Through it all, the river flows
Drop by drop into the miraculous vastness of eternity
I remember standing on the water's edge
Then, dipping my toes in
Slowly I learned to submerge myself, inch by inch
One day, perhaps, I will understand that I am the river; the river is me.
A student, a seeker and a teacher, my life has moved me to many places and offered me many experiences. I once dreamed I would settle down on a homestead amidst the Appalachian Foothills of Ohio to tend forest botanicals and share my life’s passions with the world. As I breathe in the scent of Chaparral on the Autumn breeze here in the Mojave Desert, that reality feels many miles and many lifetimes away.
When I was 23, I saw the future so clearly — at least I thought I did. After completing a 600-hour program studying Botanical Medicine in the Sonoran Desert and beyond, I returned to my Appalachian Ohio home to be nearer to my family and to the land and community where I had begun my studies in Ecology, Environmental Education and Ethnobotany.
I took an Americorps position with an incredible local non-profit organization focused on creating resilience in the community through food education, justice and empowerment, and began walking the path of my dreams coordinating the Edible Schoolyard Project and outdoor education programming, and fighting for Farm to Table programs with and for area schools.
I was learning and growing amidst a remarkable community of people in a beautiful ecosystem working together to create a true and lasting sustainable existence.
I was surrounded by the most incredible food, and honed my skills in cultivation, fermentation and preservation. I subsisted mostly from what I or those I knew grew, cultivated or raised; I produced almost no waste; I recreated in the woods, waters and meadows, running trail, foraging for food and medicine, and practicing Yoga at a lovely studio.
I spent my free time looking for a piece of land to call my home so I could spread my roots and grow, for as long as time would let me.
Our lives rarely happen the way we expect them to; nonetheless, I took it hard when my life in the Ohio foothills slowly began to unravel and dismantle those hopes and dreams bit by bit.
After completing three Americorps terms, circumstances prevented my continued ability to make a living in the Environmental Education sector. Though I was blessed to work in food service for an incredible local bakery, cafe and coffee shop, I was ultimately overwhelmed by the “piecemeal” lifestyle that so many folks in Athens are able to uphold — working as many odd jobs as possible to pay the bills while maintaining some semblance of working in my field and following my heart's work. Juxtaposed with the unexpected death of my mother, and the passing of my canine companion of 15 years, my time in Ohio once again came to an end, and my dream of finding a piece of land where I could build a homestead and grow old did, as well.
A lover of life and learning, I did not resist the need to expand my life beyond Appalachia Ohio, but I now had a partner to share my journey with — Robert — and his work in Photovoltaic Electricity wound up moving us to Colorado.
We spent three years there, filled with turning a rental unit into a homestead in a neighborhood in the midst of gentrification — this home would be sold to developers while we still lived in it, ultimately bound for demolition to make way for another triple-figure, multi-unit dwelling. Before giving our chickens away and saying farewell to the gardens we had cared so deeply for, I spent my days, once again, working at a coffee shop (albeit, a lovely one), and teaching Yoga classes, accompanying other instructors with live music, homesteading workshops and offering herbal and wellness consultations, barely making enough money to pay my share of the bills, and trying my absolute hardest to keep growing and sharing my crafts and my skills.
At the end of the spring, Robert took a job that moved us from Denver’s Front Range to California’s Mojave Desert — the sixth ecoregion we have called home in the past 5 years.
In the typical “boom and bust” fashion of my life, after I dropped Robert off in our new Antelope Valley home (we still didn’t have a home at the time; he was fortunate to be put up in a hotel by the company that hired him until he could find housing), I made my way (back and forth) across the States in pursuit of my dreams and my growth. (More on that story another time). Over the course of three months, I traveled to Ohio, New Hampshire, Seattle, Yellowstone, Colorado and back to California. I felt, for the first time in many years, that I had regained my footing and was walking my path -- however convoluted and unconventional -- once more.
After a blessed and busy summer of teaching and traveling, I am now deep in the midst of a time of learning, stillness and solitude.
A brand new member of this southern California community, I am just beginning to find connection in a place very limited in the resources I consider comforts (farmers markets, cooperative groceries, community and school gardens, apothecaries, resource recovery facilities, yoga studies, local coffee shops/eateries, etcetera), and it will likely take time before I find steady paid work; yet I trust that the Universe brought me here for good reason.
I intend to give myself to this land and its beings; to learn from their stories; to allow my blessings, my humility and my compassion to serve this new home, however temporary our time here may be.
With limited outside familiarity comes a stronger need for personal resilience and resourcefulness; I now have a wealth of time to dedicate to my family’s nourishment, and am excited for all all the foods, live cultures, and medicines being tended in our kitchen.
For all I have yet to learn, I am strongly rooted in my gratitude for the omnipresent teacher of experience. I have come to embrace the constant change and uncertainty of my existence as a chance for my deep humbling to the forces greater than myself, and the inherent beauty and opportunity that lies beyond our expectations and desires.
At times, I am tempted to feel angry, unlucky or saddened by my circumstances, wishing I could keep a steady job or sink roots into a home. When I sit long enough with these feelings of discomfort; beyond the aversion, the confusion and the heartache; at the core of everything, there is a full and unending love. I am, at once, a visitor and a resident of each and every place I may find myself, growing and shedding pieces of myself, absorbing and releasing fragments of my surroundings and experiences. This impermanence is inevitable; I am charged with the responsibility of being fully present with each moment of my life, within each community I find myself in. With my attention and intention, I am empowered to receive the immense lessons being shared with me, and to make my impact of benefit to the miraculous beings I share these experiences with.
Molly Jo Stanley
Educating for Mindfulness and Sustainability