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Growing up in Minnesota, summer meant jumping in Bay Lake to play to my heart’s content. One day, my dad came home from the marina with a huge inner tube in our yellow speedboat. Probably made for a colossal tractor tire, I could stretch out on that inflated, rubbery ring and float for ages. Or I would bounce on it with a friend until one – or both of us – tumbled, laughing, into the water.

Steph and Barb on Crystal Lake a few years ago.

My other favorite activity was jumping with my friends on the trampoline on the beach of a nearby resort. Luckily, the resort owners knew my family and tolerated our frequent visits.

When I think back on those times, I wonder if I had an excess of nervous energy or was simply an active kid. I sure liked being in motion, particularly if there was a bounce involved. Maybe all that ricocheting around kept me in shape. I didn’t think of myself as athletic, but in fourth grade I was one of a handful of children at my school to be given the Presidential Fitness Award, a program promoted by President Kennedy. I sewed the patch they gave me on my jacket, not sure what to make of it.

No longer taking my health or energy for granted, I now appreciate that brief, unexpected recognition of what our bodies can do for us. And I still like to float on water, preferably with a cushy inner tube on which I can lean back and watch the sky.

Barbara Terao

Barbara Wolf Terao is from Northfield, Minnesota and now lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest. She’s written a memoir called Reconfigured and posts random observations on her Of the Earth blog. This piece was posted on on May 4, 2022.

Japanese Americans of Bainbridge Island: A History of Neighbors and Friendship


The very first Japanese Americans to be rounded up and sent to internment camps were those on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Armed soldiers forcibly removed more than 200 islanders of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens, citing Japanese American Exclusion Order #1. Many of the people had homes, farms, and pets that had to be abandoned or left in the care of sympathetic neighbors. The internees could only bring what they could carry.


In our long history of immigrants coming to this continent, different groups have received different types of treatment. Bainbridge Island provides a bright spot in a dismal history of outright racism towards people of color. Though the government identified this ethnic group (but not Germans or Italians in America) as a security threat, most of the people of the island chose to see their Japanese neighbors as friends. Islanders remained friendly with the “excluded” population before and after they were sent away, often protecting their property for them throughout the three years they were gone.



There is now a memorial on Bainbridge Island honoring the Japanese members of the community and those who welcomed them back to the island after the war.


The beautiful wooden wall built in 1998 includes the names of every man, woman, and child taken away March 30, 1942. Colorful origami cranes are tied here and there along the 276 foot-long contemplative walkway. It leads down to Eagle Harbor where the Japanese people were herded onto a ferry and then a train to be taken to Manzanar and, later, Minidoka internment camps. My husband’s parents were similarly incarcerated during WWII and I’ve written about my mother-in-law’s experience in a previous post. We could see that this cedar and granite wall was created with love and respect, just as the local editor during the war regularly included stories about the Japanese Americans missing from the island community, using the power of words to maintain human connections.


A strong message of the memorial is to never forget and to never repeat this kind of abuse of civil and constitutional rights against any group. One man who had to move to an internment camp at eight-years-old tells young people about his experiences so they can be aware of this history.  The lessons bear repeating so we do not repeat our divisive history. Rather than reacting with fear, we have the choice to lead with open hearts, wisdom, and understanding.

Nidoto Nai Yoni. Let it not happen again.




Yew That Saves Me

I’ve written about my favorite birches, oaks, and redwoods, and even a post titled, “Have You Thanked a Tree Today?” Currently, I have another tree to thank and my gratitude reaches a new level, coming from the very marrow of my bones, even as that marrow struggles to make white blood cells. The leaves of Taxus Baccata, the European yew, are the basis of a drug called Taxotere (generic name: docetaxel) that is helping to save my life.


My Welsh ancestors may well have had such yew trees growing nearby, as they were favored in church yards. The toxic leaves repelled the cows, thus protecting the cemeteries from trampling. Nothing could protect the trees, however, from monarchs’ demands for springy yew wood to make longbows, depleting forests for 300 years until guns became the weapon of choice in the 1700s.  But a few ancient yews, some more than a thousand years old, can still be found in the old church yards.

Now the trees contribute to my longevity as I take my chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Of the four drugs injected into my system every 21 days, Taxotere from European yews (or Taxol from Pacific yews) is most common. It is apparently a reliable and accurate assassin of cancer cells and has helped shrink my tumor to a fraction of its former size. Due to its’ effectiveness in treating various cancers, there is a rise in demand from pharmaceutical companies that could again threaten yew populations. After all, cancer drugs are lucrative business. For instance, the United States saw $3.1 billion dollars in sales of Taxotere in 2010.

I wish the trees, and all those receiving their medicine, well. Yeah, they inhibit all the cells in my body, even the good guys like white blood cells, from dividing and make me nauseous and almost bald. I’m as sick as a cow in a graveyard, but I plan to get rid of disease, recover from the side effects and surgeries, and live cancer-free.

2017-04-04 16.47.54

As I said to my nurse during chemotherapy, “You’re giving me poison in order to save my life.” She said that’s right. Thank you, yews. May we turn your cytotoxic poison into medicine so we can stand strong and live. And may you do the same.

The Middle of Somewhere

When people find out that my husband and I plan to move to the middle of rural Wisconsin, we get a lot of questions.  Right now we live in Evanston, population 74,486, which is right next to Chicago with a population over two million.

Where are we going?  To Wautoma, population 2100.  That is a big change.  And we won’t be living in town, such as it is, but in the woods by a lake.  That description of our location may be sufficient explanation of our move for some people.  But many of our friends and family want to know how we will adjust to the lack of cultural institutions, ethnic diversity, restaurants, health food stores, and other amenities.  Some worry about us enduring long, cold winters.

I have the same questions and they led me to read books about people who survived such a move.  One memoir I’ve read so far is We Took to the Woods by Louise Rich, first published in 1942 but still quite useful.  I will summarize a couple points of reassurance from her book here.

Louise was raised in a Massachusetts town and then moved to the deep woods of Maine when she married her husband, Ralph.  They were 20 miles from the nearest store, which is a long way, especially in the winter when they pulled their groceries home on a sled.  When hunters and fishermen visited their river and woods, they tended to ask the same questions, so Louise started each chapter with a typical question that she heard from visitors.

The chapter titled “Don’t You Get Awfully Out of Touch?” takes pains to explain “that we aren’t out of touch with anybody that we want to stay in touch with.  After all, the U.S. Mail still operates.”  She doesn’t mention in this chapter that if they want their mail in the winter, they have to snowshoe quite a ways to get it!  We actually have roads going by our Wisconsin home, passable–most days–even in the winter, and mail delivery to the end of our driveway.  Plus, we’ll even have internet up there to help us stay in touch.

I sat up and took notice when Louise addressed the seasons.  “What people really mean when they ask us if we live here the year ’round is ‘But good Lord!  Certainly you don’t stay in here during the winter?  You must be crazy!'”  Louise admitted, “I would have thought so myself before I tried it.”  I take great comfort in the fact that she tried it and she liked it.  She found there was a lot to like in the snowy woods of Maine.

She herself thought winters would be miserable.  “It’s the time you expected to drag intolerably, and once in a while you stop and wonder when the drag is going to begin.  Next week, you warn yourself, after we’ve finished doing this job on hand, we’d better be prepared for a siege of boredom.  But somehow next week never comes.”  And pretty soon the ice broke up and the loons came back…

Louise Rich didn’t miss urban life and culture very often, because she had plenty to do in her own neck of the woods, what with writing, raising children, and endless chores like cooking on the wood stove.  As she put it, “All we have are sun and wind and rain, and space in which to move and breathe.  All we have are the forests, and the calm expanses of the lakes, and time to call our own.”

By some measures, our cabin is in the middle of nowhere.  But when I’m up there, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.  But check with me come February.

It all depends where you want to be.


Mom, Zaccheus, and the Quakers

Joy by her aunt's and grandparents' graves, with Earlham Library in background

The day after Thanksgiving, we had a service for my mom who died October 20, 2010, a week after she turned 85.  Daughter Emily and I were asked to speak about Mom’s Quaker heritage, followed by a minute of silence and a Quaker hymn.  Here is what I said and the gist of what Emily said.  For those who knew Joy, I hope it resonates with you.  For those who didn’t know my mom and Emily’s grandmom, here’s a glimpse of her and her ancestral roots.

My mother, Joy Wolf, was committed to spiritual exploration and also to the written word.  (She was a librarian.)  These two priorities are apparent in her ancestors as well and, at one point, led to profound conflict for her great-grandfather Zaccheus Test.  Before Emily explains about that, I want to share a couple anecdotes about Mom that are special to me and that, I think, help introduce the subject.

Mom spoke fondly of her Episcopalian upbringing and particularly Emmanual Episcopal Church in the St. Louis area where she and Dad were married.  Later, she and Dad became Unitarian-Universalists and were happy to be part of the UU Fellowship of Northfield.  Like many Unitarians, she and Dad were eclectic and open-minded to many different paths, reading omnivorously and always learning.  When I became Buddhist 34 years ago, I often found them reading my Buddhist publications before I got to them myself.  To them, it was all very interesting.

In 2001, a year after Dad died, Mom and I took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for some Native American-related events and workshops.  During a presentation about the three clans of the Bear, Wolf, and Turtle, we learned that the Bear Clan tends to have the R & D folks, the ones with new ideas.  Like the curious, omnivorous bear, they explore widely—and from multiple perspectives, the way Bear can stand on 4 legs or 2.

Now, I know that Mom married into the Wolf family, and loved it, but on this day she felt connected to the ways of the bears.  When we broke into three groups, I went with the Wolves (the planners who put Bear’s ideas into action) and Mom went off with the boisterous Bears, feeling quite at home, and I didn’t see her for a while.

The only sticking point came the next day when it was time for a closing circle, a Talking Stick.  Before we sat down under the azure New Mexico sky, I told Mom that people take turns speaking and only the person holding the stick gets to talk; everyone else sits quietly.  Mom told me, “Oh!  I don’t know if I can do that.”  She so relished dialogue with people that she didn’t know if she could keep from commenting and making relevant points!  I’m here to tell you she did fine and was an excellent listener.

Because Mom enjoyed dialogue so much and was sometimes uncomfortable with silence, it might come as a surprise to hear how much she valued her Quaker heritage, since the Quakers traditionally sit in silence at their meetings until moved by spirit to speak.  Mom would sometimes point to a painted portrait she had of her great-grandfather, Zaccheus Test, saying that he was a patriarch of the family and that he had once been Quaker, but for some reason that she did not know, he left the Society of Friends.

When my daughter Emily went to Earlham, a Quaker college in Richmond, Indiana, we had an opportunity to solve this mystery.

Emily will continue the story from here.


Actually, I chose Earlham for its science program and the horse barn right on campus, not because of family history.  It wasn’t until I walked in the Earlham Cemetery with my parents and saw more than a dozen graves of Tests and Giffords, including my great-great-great grandfather Zaccheus Test, that I realized that Grandmom used to have a lot of family in Richmond, most of them Quaker.

After that, we found more links to our ancestors such as Test Road that goes by the stables and over to the remains of the Test family woolen mill.  When I studied birds in Peru one May Term, I noticed that my program was partly funded by the Test family, my relatives.  When Grandmom visited me in 2008, we were able to take her to many family history sites around town.  She especially enjoyed seeing a stained glass window dedicated to the daughter of Zaccheus Test and Sarah Anthony Test.  (Sarah was Susan B. Anthony’s cousin.)

The biggest surprise came when the library archivist told us that Zaccheus Test was not only a professor at my school, he was a founder of it and was the one to name it “Earlham” after a Quaker estate in England.

Zaccheus left Earlham in 1866 and started going to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which is how Grandmom’s family became Episcopal.  The archivist solved the mystery for us when he explained that Zaccheus got in trouble with the Friends by “writing his remarks” and reading from them at the Sunday meeting.  This was not the usual practice; even readings of the Bible were not permitted in meetings.  His fellow Quakers tolerated this only under protest and did not approve of his reliance on the written word.

Joy's children, grandchildren and great grandchildren on 11/26/10

That is why he left the Quakers.  Zaccheus, like Grandmom, had great affection for both the spoken and the written word, and was not willing to give up either.

I’ll be thinking of Grandmom when I graduate in May.  I have a feeling she’ll join all those ancestors in the Cemetery to keep an eye on me.

Death at Glen Grove

She disappeared off the face of the earth in February 1977.
Her body was never found, nor was a murder weapon, much less her killer.   But the spirit of Helen Brach lives on at Glen Grove Stables near Chicago.

My fellow nonfiction writers may know what I mean when I admit to wishing for interesting things to write about.  All I can say is be careful what you wish for.

I came across a cloth-covered journal I kept in 2003.  My bright idea at that time was to take the journal with me to my 14-year-old’s riding lesson at Glen Grove Equestrian Center next to the forest preserve in Morton Grove.  The stables had a waiting area with an old fireplace, two beat-up picnic tables, and a window into the arena where Emily had her lesson with her trainer, Paula.  My plan was to sit on the wooden bench of the picnic table and write while also watching Emily jump with her horse.  I was always looking for more time to write.

Seemed like a plan.  My only worry was what to write about.  Would I observe the secret life of the equestrian set?  The personal connections riders made with the horses?

Time to ride (and write)

One thing I knew about Glen Grove is that it had a colorful past, associated with several tragedies.    The stables were once owned and run by Richard Bailey, a con man who swindled wealthy widows by selling them defective horses for huge amounts of money.  One of those widows was the Brach candy heiress, Helen Brach.  She was too sharp for him and just as she was figuring out his dastardly game, she disappeared.  Her body was never found.

The girls who rode horses at Glen Grove liked to stay late some nights and have a little séance with the spirit of Helen Brach, just to spook the heck out of themselves.  Several nine-year-old girls told me, with solemn conviction,  “Helen Brach is buried in the fireplace.”

So there was that mystery (since solved, if you believe the confession of a man who said that Brach’s body was smelted into oblivion at a steel mill).  There was also a sad story of three boys murdered at the stables back in the 1940s.  Horses as well were killed as one way for Bailey to collect insurance money on his overpriced steeds.  The thug he hired used electrocution.  Bailey was eventually tried for conspiracy to murder and sent to prison for life.  The actual killer has never been named.

But now Glen Grove is a peaceful, pastoral equestrian center run by the park district.  I wondered what I would write about as I sat there for two hours.  At least, I figured, I would save on gas by not driving there twice, and I could watch Emily’s progress.  So Emily and I set out on July 24, she with her riding gear and me with my cloth-covered journal.

We drove west past Old Orchard Mall and turned on Harms Road, but there we stopped.  We couldn’t get in the Glen Grove gate because the police were there stooped over a man on the ground.  A man with blood on him.  The police put the poor fellow in a body bag and waved us through.  Emily and I looked at each other as I parked the car.  What is going on here?

It turned out that Paula, Emily’s trainer, spotted the corpse at the edge of the forest preserve, next to the entrance of Glen Grove, and called the police.  (Strangely, when WGN News showed up, Paula disappeared.  I guess she didn’t want to be on TV.)  The man died from a gunshot wound, apparently self-inflicted.  It was a sad story.

I did write at Glen Grove Stables for a few months, but I never again worried about–or wished for–something interesting to write about.


Congress Spring

 Spring at Congress Park

In Saratoga Springs, New York, at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains, water rules.  Or it did in the beginning.  It was a place of medicine waters to the Mohawks and other Iroquois nations of Kayaderossera, “the land of crooked waters.”  Native Americans bathed in and drank the spring water there for a variety of ailments.

William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, traded fairly with the Indians and won their respect and even friendship.  So it was only natural that when Johnson fell desperately ill in 1771, his Mohawk friends took him to High Rock Spring for healing.  Johnson was so weak that he had to be carried on a litter for miles to reach the sacred springs, making him the first white person to visit what is now known as Saratoga Springs.

After four days of sipping the mineral-infused water, the superintendent felt worlds better.  As he reported to his friend, Philip Schuyler, “I have just returned from a visit to a most amazing spring, which almost effected my cure, and I have sent for Dr. Stringer, of New York, to come up and analyze it.”   The secret having been leaked, a trickle of visitors led to a torrent.  Bottlers got busy selling the stuff while resorts sprang up for those wishing to “take the waters,” as it was said.

When I visited High Rock, where the spring used to be, there was nothing left but the stone mound formed by the minerals gushing up all those years ago.  What had been preserved by the First Nations people for at least 300 years was exploited to death in less than a century.  But no worries.  I see that Disney World in Florida built a Saratoga Springs Resort with a High Rock Spring Pool next to their arcade of video games.  “Experience the magic that flows through the community–from the Victorian architecture to the gurgling springs” for $400 a night.  Somehow it’s not the same.

A MicMac elder from Canada, Albert Ward, told me in 2004 that we are getting so out of balance that he believes the planet will tilt, probably by the year 2017.   When we take the waters of Mother Earth, we drain the underground reserves, contributing to these imbalances, he said.  Where water and healing once ruled, other forces have taken over.  The race track in Saratoga is now the biggest attraction.  Place your bets.

I walked to Congress Park in downtown Saratoga Springs, passing a sculpture by Daniel Chester called Spirit of Life, a winged woman twice my size.  In one hand she holds a pine branch and in the other a bowl of abundance, hinting to me of both balance and hope.  Continuing my search for the springs, I stopped at a white-domed pavilion.  Under the dome was Columbian Spring, which Gideon Putnam, the primary founder of the city, ran dry in short order.  I cupped my hand under the faucet there and drank from the chlorinated city reserves, running not from the natural springs but piped in from a more distant Loughberry Lake.   Sometimes, as the song goes, we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.

Muir Musings in Marquette County

At John Muir Park 2009

Barb at Ennis Lake, John Muir Park

Sun is breaking through the morning mist as I arrive at John Muir Park on October 27.  I walk down the hill to what the Muirs called Fountain Lake, now known as Ennis Lake, and see streams of holy light raking the fog-shrouded waters.

Though no structure remains, I know the Muirs’ farmhouse, built in 1850, was somewhere nearby.  I picture young John getting up on a day like today with the inside of the house about the same temperature as the outside: 34 degrees.  The one stove in the house was only for cooking, according to John’s father, Daniel.

The Scottish family made a farm here in central Wisconsin, their first home in America, when John was 11.  He and his brother attended school in Scotland, but in Wisconsin they were too busy doing farm chores and building a house.  Later, when the land wore out, the family moved to nearby Hickory Hills and John dug a well by hand through 90 feet of soil and stone.  He was almost worked to death, but the land and trees always revived him, as he wrote, remembering, “Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and the streams and the sparkly lake, all wildly, gladly rejoicing together!”

As the mists lift, so do flocks of small birds, moving from shore grass to lofty treetops all gold and red with autumn leaves.  A marsh hawk flies by and I hear Sand Hill Cranes calling from the Fox River across Highway F.  I’ve come to commune with nature–and the spirit of John Muir.  As offerings, I have two of his favorite foods: bread and apple slices.

Moving away from the lake, I follow a mowed path.  A section of the Ice Age Trail goes around Ennis Lake, kept up by volunteers in order to highlight the history of the glaciers in Wisconsin.  I go over a hill and down to two spreading oak trees, still hanging onto their leaves.  As the sun brightens the sky, the tan leaves glow as if fresh-baked and buttered.  The trees are so big, surely they were around when young Johnnie Muir was here.  I offer chunks of spelt bread and Fuji apple.  I throw in an almond for good measure.

Driving home, north along Tenth Road, I finally see some Sand Hill Cranes.  There are dozens of them milling about in an open field bordered by corn.  Usually the cranes pair off in separate fields, but at this time of year they gather to prepare for their migrations to Texas or points further south.  They call to each other, a deep chortle like rusty hinges on a creaky door.

With almost no traffic I am free to linger along the side of the road, watching.  Three cranes glide by my car window, sailing along just to stretch their wings.  In the field, two elegant, gray cranes face each other and bow.  One flaps its wings, then the other.  Then there is bobbing all around followed by a minute’s rest.  Then more bobbing and flapping.  It is quite a dance.

I drive home to the cabin, munching the remains of the apple I shared with John Muir and the oak trees.  During his lifetime, Muir helped create national parks such as Yosemite, but he was unable to preserve this patch of land that had been so dear to him as a boy.  He tried, but it wasn’t until 1957 that it became John Muir Memorial Park, where anyone can visit and make their own connections with the natural beauty that helped form a passionate conservationist.

Vehicle of Gratitude

We get a free paper in our rural mailbox in Wisconsin.  I like to read about upcoming Amish auctions and fundraiser bratfests (for enjoying bratwurst sausages, not naughty children).  I also read the classifieds, which is kind of a sociological experience and is sometimes quite poignant.

The September 8 edition tells me that Sherm’s Piggly Wiggly is looking for a part-time meat cutter and that there is a “Milking position in a double 10 parlor.” There are roosters, dogs, and fishing equipment to buy and houses to rent.  “FOR RENT: Renovated church converted to 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath home.  Vaulted ceilings.”   I guess they would be vaulted, ay?

It’s the letters of thanks that make me realize that we all need ways to show our appreciation.  A farmer writes, “I would like to thank our daughter for milking the cows Sunday, August 9 so we could go to the state fair.”  Lorraine writes to thank the fire and police departments “who helped me through a critical time of my life.  I will never forget your thoughtfulness.”  There seem to be messages for the saints in every issue.  August 25 has an anonymous writer declaring “Thank you Jesus, Mary, Joseph, St. Jude, and St. Anthony for prayers answered.”

So they read that paper,too?  Good to know.  And good to know that an attitude of gratitude still lives in the heartland.  It could also be called an ALTitude of gratitude, because it elevates your life condition when you give thanks, don’t you think?  It gets you out of the valley and onto the top of the hill where you get a perspective on where you’ve been–and how many have helped along the way.