Category Archives: Community

Sister Mercy

This poem was published in the Sonoma Mandala in 1987.

I would watch
Sister Mercy’s
weathered hands
work the soil
in the convent garden

I would hide half
behind the bird bath
till the stark white
of my anklet
among green weeds
my presence

Hello child was all she’d say

the smile in her eyes never faltered

as I watched
weathered hands
make halos
for flowers
out of dirt

children were not allowed
in the convent garden

Sister Mercy
the old retired nun
pruned the convent roses
and fed the seven
hungry goldfish
swimming in the concrete pond

I would watch
the light
hit them

as Sister Mercy’s hum
echoed like the chapel bells

and weathered hands
made rows of halos ’round
the flowers in the dirt

Sister Mercy let me linger there
though she knew

children were not allowed
in the convent garden

then: out from God’s bowels
like a hawk from the sky
I would see

Sister Francetta’s glare
emanating from her blacks
as she swooped
the chapel stairs

to retrieve me

from Sister Mercy’s sacristy


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The Intrepid Mary Moore

A couple years ago I wrote my first piece about my neighbor, the quilter and artist Mary Moore. Even today a few people a week visit the blog and read about that special day I spent with Mary. This year the North San Juan Fire Department asked me to compose an update about Mary’s work, especially her most recent quilts. That article is below, along with several photographs of her current efforts. (The article will also appear in the Spring North San Juan Fire Department newsletter, mailed to each resident of the fire district.) If you’d like to read the first piece I wrote about Mary, visit It is wonderful to spend time with her; I have a feeling I’ll be back to visit again.

For six years now, Mary Moore has been creating a particular quilt to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the North San Juan Volunteer Fire Department. She wanted the quilt to be a celebration of the many services our fire department offers us–from fire prevention to EMT to rapid response. Most of the six years was spent gathering the fabric she’d need: ten types of fabric with fire fighter themes, borders that are actually little roads, and some neutral patterns and colors. This double-bed sized quilt is especially warm since it is filled with wool from sheep in Sweetland, an old town site near North San Juan.

The center portion of the firefighter quilt. Dalmations, fire hats, and other fire fighter images cover the quilt, with neutral patterns of green and yellow buffering the patterns. Do you see the little roads that serve as borders?

Moore invented the pattern of the fire fighter quilt herself. After much thought, she says, she was doodling while watching a movie and the pattern came to her. The amount of each of the ten types of themed fabric helped her determine the quilt’s geometry. After she’d gathered the material and created the pattern, assembling the quilt’s top took only about a week. Quilting it was a nine month process–more time consuming than usual due to that thick Sweetland wool. The quilt is sewn entirely by hand.

Dalmations grace the center of the fire fighter quilt.

Each year for many years, Moore has donated one of her handmade quilts to be the grand prize for the raffle at the Scotch Broom breakfast. (Held every Mother’s Day for decades at Fire Station One in North San Juan, the Scotch Broom breakfast is a major fundraiser for the NSJ Volunteer Fire Department.) Moore’s workshop–a bright, airy loft in her mountain home–is a clear indication of her devotion to the fire department and her yearly gift of a hand made quilt. Beside the finished fire fighter quilt, the quilt she’s planning for 2013 in in mid-process, a floral mountain theme with bamboo batting–a single bed quilt for warmer weather.

Moore intends to donate this quilt--a single bed quilt with bamboo batting--to the 2013 Scotch Broom raffle. The quilt features mountain flowers, including the dogwood blossom, one of Moore's favorites.

Mountain flowers: a close up of the 2013 quilt, in progress.

Next in the line of production is the 2014 crazy quilt, for which Moore recently learned to crochet.

Pieces of the 2014 Crazy Quilt, under production.

Crocheted figures and designs, all created by Moore, grace the evolving crazy quilt.

Moore is constructing several "brown birdies" to pepper the crazy quilt.

Whatever the project, Moore’s attention to detail and accuracy is uncanny and keen. As she traces the tiny roads of the firefighter quilt with her finger, she explains that a quilt with fire trucks needs roads for the trucks to travel on. Her quilts are complete little worlds.

The roads on the fire fighter quilt

Moore is indefatigably creative–working recently with a quilters’ online social network that collaborates on goals, themes, colors, and fabrics. This community of artists and quilters feeds Moore new inspiration and helps her keep her projects focused. She’s more organized now, she says, and even has a few moments here and there to sit and do nothing. Probably, in those moments, Moore will dream up another quilt design to help support the fire fighters she appreciates so deeply. On Mother’s Day, she will enjoy breakfast at Fire Station One and see whose name is drawn for the grand prize, who will walk away holding yet another artistic rendering of her philanthropy.

The grand raffle prize for the 2012 Scotch Broom Breakfast, held each Mother's Day at Station One in North San Juan. Tickets are widely available; also feel free to email me to arrange to buy tickets:


Filed under Community, photographs

A Glimpse of Bloody Run Creek

When I covered the Wild and Scenic Film Festival last January, I wrote a piece called “Occupy Confluences”. It’s about creating new systems, the blue lines on the map, and what inspired me to be a more active steward of the two watersheds that receive the run-off from our farm. The creek nearest the Middle Fork Yuba drainage is Bloody Run Creek, and in “Occupy Confluences” I pledge to get to know it better. Toward that end, I started a very unofficial organization called Friends of Bloody Run Creek. At first it was Friend of Bloody Run Creek, but my husband quickly joined. (There are no dues, no meetings, no anything but learning about the creek.) There are three of us now–our friend the Wilderness Wino signing up as well (except there is nothing to sign). Here on the blog we’ll follow our progress as we learn about Bloody Run Creek’s geology and history from its headwaters to confluence. If you’d like to help, email us at, or leave a comment below. Here’s the link to “Occupy Confluences” if you want to start at the beginning.[]

Bloody Run Creek near Backbone Road

Hopeful cedar and Ponderosa pine along Bloody Run Creek.

For years now, my husband and I have indulged in what we call Back Yard Days. These are days when we happily turn left out our driveway, heading away from civilization as we’ve come to tolerate it. Because of the snow, Back Yard Days are usually three season affairs, but this winter there was so little snow we might have even made it to Graniteville to visit the Wilderness Wino. Instead we made our first pilgrimage to Bloody Run Creek as its (un)official Friends. Here’s the view heading home, near a strip of land that we folks up here call the Saddle Back.

Looking west from Backbone Road


Filed under Back Yard Days, Community, Friends of Bloody Run Creek, Mining, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Coyote Woman’s Birth Timeline

I’ve been remembering the Coyote Women lately. Raven Joy, Susan Lamela, Robyn Martin, Penny St. Claire and other womyn from the Ridge created the ad-hoc troupe of performers in the 1990s. I was honored to be included, and the lessons of autonomy and honesty I learned through them have served me well in the many years since.

Here is a piece I wrote shortly after the birth of my third son. He’ll be a teenager next week, so I wanted to remember this time and mark my last Birth Day. “Have three children, make four journeys upstream.” Carole Oles

I was fortunate to have a Coyote-Woman-Friend at each of my births. Stephanie at the first, which was in hospital, and Melanie at the second two, which were at home. I needed them so much, and their presence helped me immeasurably.

This piece was originally published in Ina May Gaskin’s Birth Gazette in 2000.

February 26, 1999

8:00 P.M. Enjoy early contractions while watching television. Hold Husband’s hand.

8:45 P.M. Go to bed to get some rest. Toss and turn with contractions.

9:30 P.M. Warn Husband: “This might be it.”

9:32 P.M. Listen to Husband say, “This might not be it.”

9:33 P.M. Agree with Husband. With great effort, roll over. Doze off immediately.

10:00 P.M. Wake up Husband. Ask him to call Midwife.

10:05 P.M. Listen to Husband talk to Midwife. Hear pause in conversation. He asks you, “How long are they, honey, thirty seconds?” You answer, “Maybe twenty.”

10:06 P.M. Husband puts the phone to your ear. “Let me hear one,” Midwife says.

10:08 P.M. “That was a 70 second contraction,” she says. “I’ll be right over.”

10:11 P.M. Together with Husband, get candles out of cupboard. Have contractions while Husband lights candles. Have more contractions. Begin to chant. Watch Husband move one-and-a-half year old from the bed to the bed extender. Stare at them both in amazement.

10:45 P.M. Midwife and Coyote-Woman-Friend arrive at the same time. The former begins to set up. The latter infuses the room with lavender. The former informs the latter that she can’t reach her apprentice. The former promotes the latter to Official Midwife’s Assistant.

11:00 P.M. Midwife tells Husband that the room is too cold for the baby, who will come soon.

11:01 P.M. Husband goes to build a fire. You go to the bathroom with Coyote-Woman-Friend. She grabs the kiddy chair and sits across from you. She meets your chant as you begin the next contraction. As your voices fuse in the candlelight, the pain focuses to a pinpoint, dissipates into sensations of beauty and power.

11:10 P.M. Husband comes into the bathroom, simply stands with you and Coyote-Woman-Friend. Somehow he knows the perfect spot on your neck to touch.

11:15 P.M. Midwife suggests you return to bed. You know it will get harder now.

11:17 P.M. Midwife says, “Between 8 and complete. Do you want to push?”

11:20 P.M. You say, “Pushing’s too hard.” You roll on your side and start chanting. Your older son wanders out of bed, settles in the room. Somehow you manage to say hi to him. He nods and smiles.

11:30 P.M. In the bathroom again, your top teeth on the skin of Husband’s shoulder. You fight instinct, relax your jaw, remember that you love him.

11:35 P.M. As you return to bed, you notice your one year old is now awake, stock-still, and watching. Your eyes lock with his and he, all-knowing, infuses you with calm.

11:50 P.M. They make you get ready to push.

February 27

Midnight: Midwife reminds you of the earlier plan to take the pushing slow, avoid tearing.

12:01 A.M. You suggest that you and Midwife revise the plan.

12:02 A.M. Midwife reminds you that you like sex, which you get to have sooner if you don’t tear.

12:09 A.M. Midwife says, “I”m ready now.” Coyote-Woman-Friend nods her head at you. Midwife says, “Push now through that ring of fire.”

12:10 A.M. Slippery, wriggly, and ruddy, your third son explodes from your body and is instantly on your chest. One-year-old screams “BABY!!!!” Husband wipes tears. Your eyes leave him, lock on Coyote-Woman-Friend.

12:30 A.M. Husband remembers to ask Coyote-Woman-Friend to take pictures.

1:30 A.M. Midwife leaves. Candles burn down. One-year-old is still hollering “BABY!!!” up and down the hall. Husband watches him and oldest son, who is not yet ready to sleep.

2:00 A.M. You are hungry. Coyote-Woman-Friend brings you warmed-up pizza and a glass of chardonnay. You eat cross-legged on the bed while she holds your new son. “I’ll sleep,” you tell her, “in an hour or two.” “The moon is almost full,” she says. In the quiet and the waning candlelight, you both watch him breathe.


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Filed under Community, Essays

Flavors of the Festival

Nevada City, California

Some random captures of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, January 13-15, 2012.

Occupy Polka-Dots: a festive Occupy street performer. Commercial Street, January 14.

One of the student activists who helped collect over 8,500 signatures to keep our state parks open. January 13.

Thematic libations were in abundance. Coopers Ale Works. Friday, January 13.

Street theater performers on Commercial Street, January 14.

One of my favorite people on the planet: Michael Ben introduces John Trudell. January 13th, Nevada Theatre.

Another reason Nevada City makes the news: our cutting-edge parklet, January 14.

Murray Campbell (fiddle, foreground) and Luke Wilson from Beaucoup Chapeaux, touring tables, entertaining festival goers at the Nevada City Classic Cafe on January 13.

Wild and Scenic's Samantha Hinrichs interviews student activists working to save state parks--the See Jane Do media lounge at Wild and Scenic HQ--January 13th.

Commercial Street, January 14th.

An enthusiastic crowd watches Wicked Good Copy's Mike Mooers help "S(h)have the Yuba". January 13, Broad Street at Bel Capelli Salon.

The festival crowd gathers for the puppet show, "The Three Pigs and the Loan Wolf" January 14.

Simple reminder: In the window of Yabobo, a locally owned and operated drum shop on Pine Street, Nevada City, January 14.

Maggie McKaig and her accordion from Beaucoup Chapeaux performing at Nevada City's Classic Cafe: January 13.

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Filed under Community, Education, photographs, politics, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Occupy Confluences

Nevada City, California

On the opening night of Wild and Scenic, John Trudell addressed a packed house at the Nevada Theatre. I’ve heard him speak before, even spoken with him. His words are so potent, his message so rich, it’s difficult to paraphrase, or even absorb it in one pass. Twice during the festival people quoted him from that night, but those particular points had washed over me as I absorbed the one that came before. (If anyone has an audio recording or a transcript of his talk that night, please let me know!)

That night, Trudell spoke about systems. Systems that are in place in our society that serve to imprison and control us. Two examples he used were the military system and the system of organized religion. When someone asked him about the Occupy movement, he was openly ambivalent. First he said, we need to be careful that our actions of protest do not feed those systems. When cops are called to police a riot, for instance, the protestors are actually feeding the system by requiring the need for the cops. He pointed out that this last Black Friday, Americans spent more money than ever. This feeds the system of corporate commercialism, and goes against the very essence of Occupy. He asked us to think about this, and to embrace change in a way that starved the system. “If the 99% all agreed to not buy anything for one whole day…” he mused. With him, we imagined that, and imagined creating new systems, and what they might look like.

John Trudell talks about systems at opening night of Wild and Scenic.

The next day at Wild and Scenic, Occupy Nevada County hosted a street fair on Commercial Street, right by the parklet. Street theatre and a puppet show were the highlights of the afternoon. As I wandered through their displays and watched the entertainment, I thought about Trudell’s comments and the general criticism that Occupy lacks focus and commitment–on a national level at least. But that day, at that protest, I saw loads of both. Maybe that’s why our little town’s Occupy movement has made national news. It was focus that got that attention, focus on the epidemic of foreclosures in our community.

The focus that landed Occupy Nevada County on The Rachel Maddow Show

Occupy Nevada County's Puppet Show: The Three Pigs ...

...and the loan wolf.

I had a great dinner with friends and chosen family that night, took a breath from festival life. We talked for awhile about democracy: when it worked and when it didn’t, agreeing that it works okay when the system is small, intimate even, and when the parties involved deeply care about and need one another. Once people can be objectified and made dispensable, democracy quickly evaporates. I fell asleep thinking about Trudell’s words and about systems old and yet uninvented.

The next morning I headed to City Hall to see Jason Rainey, Derek Hitchcock, and Mark Dubois give a talk about a new watershed governance system. Rainey, former executive director of SYRCL, has relocated to the Bay Area to work at International Rivers in the same capacity. He asked us to suspend our judgement and skepticism a moment, and imagine a whole new system, a system that “honored the blue lines on the map” for once. Derek Hitchcock, mentioned off the top that Trudell’s talk had greatly impacted him. Mark Dubois called upon us to be compassionate and inclusive rather than catty and judgmental (always a trick for humans). Here is Hitchcock’s proposal for a new system, a grass-roots, built from the bottom way to manage our watersheds and ourselves in the process.

Level One: Tributary Watershed Guilds. Every creek and stream would be stewarded by those around it, who would meet biweekly or monthly to discuss hazards and opportunities for the watershed that they called home. We see these types of guilds here in our community: Friends of Deer Creek, Wolf Creek Alliance, and the newly formed group trying to work out differences along Rush Creek.

Level Two: Each tributary guild would send a representative to a Sub Basin Guild. For us, this would encompass the South Yuba River basin.

Level Three: Each Level Two group would send a representative to the Yuba Watershed/Bear Watershed Guild. Groups like SYRCL and Yuba Watershed Institute are the nearest organizations we have to this type of guild, they just aren’t inherently built from the bottom up as Hitchcock proposes.

Level Four: This guild would get its representation the same way, from the level below it, and would encompass the foothills, mountains, central valley, and delta.

Level Five: The San Francisco Watershed Guild.

It’s somewhat stupefying to imagine a system that doesn’t exist. In the moments before the Q and A, I found myself growing excited. I began to think about the watershed up at the farm, which sits atop the San Juan Ridge. Our actions there affect two separate watersheds: runoff from the front half of the property goes to the South Fork of the Yuba, runoff from the back heads down to the Middle Fork. I began to scan my mind for the nearest creek to the farm: Bloody Run Creek. “What can you do?” Mark Dubois was asking us. “Walk your tributary. Get to know it. Talk to your neighbors.” I felt a flash of light and recognition in my brain. I don’t know how to snap my fingers and make Hitchcock’s system appear, but I know how to walk along Bloody Run Creek, and I know how to talk to my neighbors. Neither of those feeds the systems that I am finding problematic.

The Q and A quickly disintegrated, however, into a broad, theoretical conversation whose participants were hung up on verbiage and biases. “Focus! Focus!” the panelists encouraged the audience, and I thought again of Occupy.

A couple weeks ago I listened to an old recording of Utah Phillips talking about why the Progressives succeeded in the earlier part of the 20th century. “We put our differences aside,” he said simply. If we can learn to do that, and be tolerant and compassionate with one another, perhaps we can create an effective system that honors the blue lines in the map and allows creatures of all kinds to thrive.

from left to right: Mark DuBois, Derek Hitchcock, and Jason Rainey

Jason Rainey says that rivers are magical to us, in part, because of the power a confluence brings to any situation. A confluence is literally powerful, and metaphorically as well: ideas and attitudes come together with force, with volition. Compromise is essential, and the power of the river grows from the bottom up.

I have a lot to learn about Bloody Run Creek.

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Filed under Community, Essays, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

Alden Olmsted Receives Standing Ovation for “My Father Who Art In Nature”

Nevada City, California

On the closing afternoon of Wild and Scenic, well over a hundred people sat in the Foundry’s Stone Hall to watch My Father Who Are in Nature. Many of us knew the man who inspired the film, the filmmaker’s father, John Olmsted, the genius behind Jughandle State Reserve, Independence Trail, and the South Yuba State Parks. For a couple decades John lived among us, inspiring us, aggravating us with his singular vision, showing what simple, sheer, extreme will can accomplish in this world.

My Father Who Art in Nature stars John Olmsted, but ultimately it is not about him, but about Alden and their relationship. This seems to frustrate some viewers, who are expecting a straight-forward biography of our 20th century John Muir. Perhaps Alden or someone else will make that film some day. My Father Who Art in Nature is about other things: forgiveness and reconnection, healing, patience, and courage.

Alden spent little time with his father while growing up. The trails, parks, the basement museum, and ultimately the Necklace consumed John, and without that intensity we may not now enjoy and protect his legacy. Father and son connected as adults though, slowly at first. Finally, last year, when John was given six months to live, Alden left his Hollywood filmaker’s life to care for his father. The film focuses on those six months and their experience as father and son. As someone who knew John and helped further his work, I felt incredibly honored to share those last intimate moments of his life through film. I am grateful that in his last days he experienced a profound understanding of himself and the consequences of his choices.

When I first met Alden I confessed, “I didn’t know John had a son.” He said then that he’d heard that before, but I dont’ think he’ll hear it much more. Since John’s passing Alden has chosen to continue his father’s work, founding the Olmsted Park Fund. Alden figured that if each Californian gave a buck to save the parks, we’d be there. Hundreds of plastic buckets have since been distributed to businesses around California. Between the buckets and the internet outreach, young Olmsted has raised $27,000 to fund the parks. Several parks–including Henry W. Coe, Santa Cruz Mission, and Antelope Valley Indian Museum–have already been spared from closure for another year. After the film, Olmsted announced that he’s currently working with Malakoff Diggins State Park to pay its power bills–the single biggest expense in that remote outpost.

The story told in My Father Who Art In Nature reminds us of the powers of honesty, compassion, and forgiveness. The story Alden is beginning to live shows us that when we give ourselves over to such things, our life takes powerful, rich, and often unpredictable turns.

For more information on Alden’s work to save the parks, visit For more information on Alden’s film and his filmmaking career, visit


Filed under Community, Education, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival