Reflections – Sunday, September 25, 2016

Carol A. Hand

Reflections in puddles
and ripples of raindrops
remind me of life’s
ephemeral gifts

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Teaching and writing
take so much energy and time
necessitating new decisions
I’m face-to-face with significant priority shifts

Blogging helped me find
beauty, knowledge and dear friends
helped me uncover new purpose
and give new life to my voice
placing me once again at the crossroads
with too many paths before me
I’m too old to be a multi-tasker
It’s time to make a choice

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In the autumn of my seasons
there is a need for clarity
about what feels most important
Time constraints provide reasons

for saying at least a temporary adieu
Yet I didn’t want to leave with gratitude unspoken
for all that you have shared with the world and me
I am deeply grateful to all of you

***

Yesterday’s class was both exciting and daunting. Students presented their “Exploring Positionality and Perspective Exercise,” (described in an earlier post). The depth and beauty of their presentations was a gift and an honor to witness.

This morning as I walked downstairs after rising, I realized how much it takes for me to teach now. It’s a lot of work to try to create a space that is simultaneously carefully structured and liberatory. It means being who I am as a flawed human being, critical scholar, and creative artist to respectfully engage students. My ability to do so well means I need to meet other pressing obligations.

As I reflected about how to manage my time more effectively, I listed pressing priorities: carve out time for family, complete the on-line portions for the next weeks of the course, detail later assignments, work at editing my book manuscript, harvest gardens and get ready for winter. I realized how much time blogging takes and felt a sense of relief when contemplating a hiatus.

The focus of the research course I’m teaching is, after all, healthy community. As my students reminded me, healthy communities are comprised of healthy individuals, families, and neighborhoods. At almost 70, I don’t have the elastic stamina I once did. I need to make time to breathe and balance.

It is with gratitude and a sense of sadness I say farewell to all my blogging friends for now. I will visit your blogs when I can. Until then, I send my best wishes.

***

  Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Gratitude | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Reflections – Thursday, September 22, 2016

Carol A. Hand

A grey drizzly morning, this first day of fall
The singing trees of yesterday now emptied
of their feathered traveling visitors

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Leaves, still green, rustling in the breeze
signaling the changing seasons
Blades of grass bejeweled with shining droplets
remnants of last night’s rain

It’s too wet to harvest beans and broccoli just yet

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But there are always more student papers to grade
Another sacred task – one that nourishes mind and spirit

***

 Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Gratitude | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Reflections – Monday, September 19, 2016

Carol A. Hand

Gazing up at surrounding trees
silhouetted against cloudy sky
watching as four eagles circle above
grateful for the sheltering and life-giving presence

Returning to the tasks before me
Grading and building new course assignments
deeply grateful for the honor of trusting students
eager to learn so they can build a healthier world

May their thoughts soar with the eagles
carrying the message of our shared dreams
for the sake of all, and for generations yet to come
of healthy communities nurturing children in a world at peace

***

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Eagles Soaring: Eagle photo from Pixabay, edited in Microsoft PowerPoint and Word 

***

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Reflections – People on the Bus

Carol A. Hand

Yes, I know I look old dressed in funky well-worn clothing
Perhaps you’ll ignore my presence or view me with loathing
But be careful not to judge others too quickly as one thing or another
The substance of people and life holds many miracles to discover

I met a man at the bus stop a few days ago who proved this lesson so clearly
A younger man, down and out, who talked conservative politics nonstop for eternity
Yet I watched him on the bus as he looked down at the child he obviously loved dearly
A powerful man, still he held his son in a gentle embrace for anyone who cared to see

We’re not that different, he and I, although our political views are diametrically opposed
The superficial traits that separate us – age, gender, ancestry, education – only matter
when we can’t see the essence of others because our hearts and minds are closed.

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Drawing/Photo – Carol A. Hand

***

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Bridging Cultures | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Reflections – Focusing Close to Home

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Carol A. Hand

As I drove the 20 miles on Saturday morning (September 10, 2016) to meet my class for the first time, I thought about the sense of wonder I had about the world around me when I was a child. Everything was a mystery. I loved to explore pond water under my microscope. I was fascinated by people from different cultures and eagerly sought to understand more about them by watching, asking questions, and reading any books I could find.

I would spend hours watching ants, butterflies, and all types of insects. My mother was upset by the “creepy crawlies” that I piled on the table. I watched them disappear over the edge and quickly gathered replacements. But she tolerated it. She knew that children are all born to be inquisitive. Tragically, our experiences in school often make learning a bore. We lose our sense of wonder as we memorize often indistinguishable facts and factoids.

I thought about lessons I learned about teaching long ago, described in an older post.

***

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Sister Lorita, my undergraduate advisor from St. Xavier College for Women in Chicago, taught me more than botany. Through example, she taught me what it means to teach. Students made fun of her because of her weight and because of her enthusiasm for her subject, a subject they found boring. One day when we were meeting, Sister Lorita looked at me and said, “I know students laugh at me, but I don’t care if people make fun of me. It’s worth it to me if they learn to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”

The wonder of life.” Isn’t that the most important thing we can learn? Although I was a chemistry and biology major at the time, my life took a different path. Instead of science, I teach students how to work with people, although there are many times when I would rather be an ecologist.

When I first started teaching, I didn’t remember Sister Lorita’s lesson. I taught the same meaningless theories and content in the same boring ways as most of my previous teachers, yet I noticed there were differences. Unlike colleagues who told me they never admitted they didn’t have an answer to a student question, I was honest. While other faculty told me they made up an answer, I admitted it was a good question that I needed to research before giving an answer. I was encouraged by a friend, a linguist and Jewish scholar, who supported this approach. She told me that the Hebrew word for the verb “to teach” is an intensive form of the verb “to learn.” It is this chance to keep learning that makes my work so rewarding. The other difference I noted was my tendency to highlight student strengths and accomplishments, rather than merely point out errors in their work.

It took me years to recognize that these differences were truly significant. Like Sister Lorita, I became far less concerned about what others thought of me and more concerned with how what students learned in my class would affect their views of the people they were responsible for helping during their careers. Could they learn to see the wonder of possibilities in all people, regardless of their past and present circumstances? So I began experimenting with ways to consciously “walk the talk.”

I am consistently exploring ways to operationalize a liberatory praxis framework in my research and teaching. Liberatory praxis is based on a dialogic approach for raising awareness about the ways in which dominance is established and maintained. Praxis, the synthesis of theory and action, results in recognizing that both those who dominate and those who are dominated share in the perpetuation of oppressive institutions and paradigms (Freire, 2000).

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Photo Credit:
3quarksdaily: Tuesday Poem

***

The last time I taught research (Summer 2014), I asked students to focus on a global issue – the impact of climate change on the lives of those who are most vulnerable. They are the populations social workers typically serve. This time, the focus is closer to home – healthy community. The reason is quite simple. Rebuilding or nurturing respectful, inclusive, empathetic relationships with our neighbors is something I believe we need to do in the divisive times now. It’s the only thing that will help us in an uncertain future. Even if our only motivation is self-interest, survival, it makes sense.

The challenge is how to create a context where students have an opportunity to explore what their views are about “healthy community,” and develop their own tentative solutions using the inquisitiveness that research skills offer. This is the task a colleague and I have been working on together. The question we asked was simple.

How can we interweave research with community practice (organizing) to increase the likelihood of constructive change efforts that are inclusive, egalitarian, and based on scientific community-based perspectives?

We designed two new shared assignments with this question in mind. Not only will this approach reduce student workloads by allowing them to do some of the same assignments for two classes, it will help students think about and explore healthy communities from different vantage points, hopefully demonstrating the importance of knowledge-guided transformative action.

I decided, with my colleague’s approval, to share our new assignments here.

***

Assignment 1: Orientation Reflection Paper: What Does a Healthy Community Look Like?

Purpose: 
It is crucial to remember that effective social work is grounded within and intricate web of interdependent human relationships. One way of representing this is the person-in-environment or eco-systems model.

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Ecology of Human Development: Adapted from Bronfenbrenner (1979)

Conducting research studies in this context requires us to be mindful of the need to define complex issues in clear, concise, measurable ways. The purpose of this assignment is to begin that process by asking you to think critically about broad ideas and goals that require more precise language that clarifies our frame of reference.

Assignment:
In order to prepare to explore healthy communities in research and communities, there are some crucial questions we would like you to consider before we begin. Please write a one-to-three page paper that addresses each of the following requests or questions,

1. Briefly describe what a healthy community looks like from your perspective.

2. Operationalize each of the following terms (i.e., define each in observable, measureable, strength-based language):

a. Health
b. Community
c. Healthy community

3. When you think about where you live or work, what’s standing in the way of a healthy community as you defined it in your answer to question #1?

4. Where is a feasible place to focus in order to conduct a study of one aspect of healthy community? (narrow focus so it’s doable for study and intervention)

5. What are your initial thoughts about how you could use research as a tool to help build healthy (or healthier) communities?

***

Assignment 3: Exploring Positionality and Perspective Exercise

Purpose:
It is crucial to consider how our prior experiences have shaped who we are today and our perspectives about the world we live in. We need to understand how our perspective influences what we choose to look at, often without our conscious thought, and how we make sense of and interpret what we see.

Doing research is, in many ways, like taking a descriptive and explanatory snapshot of empirical reality. For each particular photograph, the investigator must decide what kind of camera to use, what scene on which to focus, through which filter, and with what intent. (Crabtree & Miller, 1999, p. 3)

The purpose of this assignment is to help you explore who you are and how you see the world.

Assignment:
1. Take a photograph that answers each of the following questions:

a. Who are you?
b. Where are you from?
c. What one image shows your feelings about the place you define as your community?
d. What image conveys the strengths of your community?
e. What image conveys a compelling issue or challenge affecting your community?
f. What image shows what you would like to see in your community in the future?

2. Prepare a PowerPoint with a slide for each picture and one sentence or phrase that explains why you chose this photo or what it means to you. (Other audio/visual alternatives may be used.)

3. Present your PowerPoint to the class and describe what you learned from this exercise.

4. Be prepared to engage in dialogue with the class to further explore the significance of your perspectives.

***

During our first class on Saturday, my colleague and I learned that the first assignment and dialogue helped students overcome a little of the understandable fear and resistance they initially felt about research. The third assignment is actually one of the research methods used to involve community members as partners in exploring important issues – Photovoice.

“Using creative tools such as Photovoice can help changemakers understand the lived experiences of disadvantaged communities and give a voice to underprivileged individuals… Photovoice is a process in which people – usually those with limited power due to poverty, language barriers, race, class, ethnicity, gender, culture, or other circumstances – use video and/or photo images to capture aspects of their environment and experiences and share them with others. The pictures can then be used, usually with captions composed by the photographers, to bring the realities of the photographers’ lives home to the public and policy makers and to spur change.” (Community Tool Box, University of Kansas)

By the time I left the tribal and community college to drive home, I was excited about the opportunity to work with such a diverse and engaging group of young women. They were eager to learn how to use a range of new tools to develop skills and explore possibilities. New course development is a lot of work, and for most of the drive home, the list of things I still need to do ran through my mind.

It’s understandable why so many faculty stick to “the way things have always been done,” as I did when I first started teaching. The old banking model paradigm requires little creative thought. Students are kept busy writing research proposals, reading texts that emphasize methods rather than inclusive processes, and regurgitating facts on fill-in-the-blank tests. My colleague and I knew it would mean a lot of extra work when we decided to try something else.

Why not let students learn through doing? Why not expose them to a variety of methods, including those that emphasize community participation in defining issues, listing strengths and proposing solutions?

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We need to begin where we are if we want things to change. Healthy relationships among all residents and between all residents and their built and natural environments will mean different things in each community. And it seems that authentic inclusive community engagement is an essential foundation to begin exploring how to do that in contextually and culturally appropriate ways.

My colleague and I are walking the talk as we roll out a new way of teaching for us. We hope it will allow students to envision new possibilities for themselves and their communities and are eager to see how this experiment evolves. We would love to hear your thoughts!

Works Cited:

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.

Crabtree, B. F. & Miller, W. L. (Eds.)(1999). Doing qualitative research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum.

***

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

The Journey Home, by a Special Guest Author

Today, I’m posting an article written by a special guest author, my daughter. She graciously agreed to allow me to post an article she wrote and originally shared on Facebook.

Jnana Hand
(Originally posted on Facebook, September 6, 2016)

North Dakota has always been a place I have rushed through in search of what I thought were better things… visits with family, first glimpses of mountains, ocean tides, big trees. I approached this trip with a sense of curiosity, trying to understand what it would feel like to be of and from this place. I was searching for the feelings that inspire the deep sense of peace and connectedness to this land, the kind that necessitates taking a stand to defend. At first we were struck by the wetlands and the huge numbers of ducks, herons, and cranes that lived there, the colors on the autumn fields, the gradual transition from woods to plains.

That was the first day.

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Through a comedy of errors, delays, twists of fates, our trip was delayed by a day. This was good for a few reasons, the weather, dog attacks, and I didn’t really know where I was going or how to get there. On this extra night, friends advised me on camp conditions, weather conditions, and this extra time let me map out our trip. On the second travel day, my check engine light came on 5 minutes after leaving the hotel, and as I weighed turning back, driving 350 miles home, I decided to lay my trust that this trip was meant to be and that maybe my mechanic was right, this was only a minor issue with the car. So on we went, though a little more unsure that we would make through the next 150 miles, and far more unsure that we would make it back.

When we got to Bismark, we passed the easy route because we heard there was a police blockade and so we took long winding road up and down hills and river-cut valleys for that extra half hour. We saw a helicopter speed by overhead, strange sight for farm and ranch land. We were repeatedly passed by racing trucks with extreme tints on their windows. We saw the place where the pipeline digging had already come through, leaving scars in the fields in both directions for a reason that is still unclear. This was when the beauty of the land really started to hit me as well as the profoundness of this moment.

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Even though I had our trip mapped out, the roads seemed to be longer than I thought and all along I was hoping I was turning the right way, taking the correct roads, because if I wasn’t, there was no one to ask. One sign we were going the right way was a police car at a T, parked, facing out, likely taking down plate numbers, perhaps taking pictures of anyone coming through. We entered and left Standing Rock Reservation, at the boundary saw a small camp, a river, then tipis and tents, flags, protest signs. As we came through security, we could see that hundreds, maybe a thousand were here.

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I did take some pictures, but the most profound moments are not on film. They were the conversations with defenders, side by side work with volunteers, the beauty of the diversity of tribes coming together, the rainbow shades of people there, sights of prayer being made on the top of the hills, the words of poets, songwriters and speakers, and the magic of knowing people are here for as long as it takes. This place is so special, anyone able to come, please do, and please support in any way you can. This is our chance to take a stand. There is power in our numbers, strength in our prayers, hope in our unity. Protect our future generations, honor indigenous rights to live in healthy communities, protect our rivers from permanent contamination. Our reasons: our water and our children. Peace and solidarity with Standing Rock.

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***

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand, Jnana Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand, Jnana Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Native American Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Reflections – Thursday, September 8, 2016

Carol A. Hand

You appeared in a morning dream
to ask for the energy of healing love, my dear
I gave it freely, sensing otherwise an end is near
Then I watched as you turned and slowly walked away
your kind and gentle essence shining clear as day
from an old man’s body, slightly stooped, moving with a shuffling gait
There’s still time to heal the past, you know, though the hour is growing late

***

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In the Autumn of Life

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For a dear friend

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Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Reflections – For Standing Rock Water Protectors

Carol A. Hand

People from many tribes united to protect life, land and water
standing their ground with the power of love, peace, prayer and song
facing media lies and violence, attack dogs, poison, bulldozers and guns
The continuing story of colonial times as corporate armies march along
raping and plundering the earth and her peoples year after year, one by one

***

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Photo Credit: Indian County Today Media Network 

***

Let this be the tipping point,
the time for awakening when those of good heart say “NO MORE!”
Let us stand united clothed in the power of love, flanked by the spirit of ancestors
knowing that we were all born to carry a sacred responsibility none of us can ignore

***

 

News from Standing Rock, North Dakota:

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/09/01/world-watching-tribal-members-put-bodies-path-dakota-pipeline

***

Posted with gratitude to those at the front lines, including my daughter and granddaughter

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Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , | 55 Comments

Reflections about Education and “Walking the Talk”

Carol A. Hand

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” (George Bernard Shaw, 1903, Maxims for Revolutionists)

I wonder. How many people believe Shaw’s words to be true?

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Perhaps it is for those who define what they do as “teaching.” The narrow view that those we call “students” are empty vessels waiting for experts to fill them up with facts and status quo explanations. What if, like Freire, we view the foundation of education, both of others and ourselves, as a never ending process that emerges from experience, observations, dialogue and critical reflection?

“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.” (Paulo Freire)

The role of an educator carries the responsibility for careful reflection about how to use the prevailing social institutions (or explore the possibility of new ones) to liberate rather than oppress. That means creating an environment where inquiry and curiosity are encouraged, where it’s safe to question everything and engage in honest, critical reflection and dialogue about the world as it was, is, and could be.

“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

What if you have been able to do the things you’re hired to “teach” about? That doesn’t make it easy to pass on knowledge and skills to others. Often what you know came as a result of trial and error in the real world, reinventing the wheel in specific contexts through authentic egalitarian dialogic partnerships with others. Is this something that you can allow others to experience in a 15-week semester?

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This is the task a friend and I are presently trying to address as we attempt to integrate courses on research and community practice. It’s why I don’t post much these days. Yesterday, we spent hours planning how to integrate and sequence our assignments to provide the knowledge students will need for competent ethical practice in the future and experiential learning opportunities to test it out in “close to real-life” situations.

The real challenge for both of us, working in partnership, is to create an environment for students to learn for themselves what we have both been able to do in the past (and still do as our current efforts demonstrate). Can we “do” community practice and research in the context of these classes nested within an educational institution? For me, it is a mini-research study. “What works and what doesn’t?” For my colleague, it’s an opportunity to engage students in our classes as groups and as a a whole community in the process of planning respectful, liberatory, beneficent community change. There are crucial lessons to be learned for all of us by working together.

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Image: Community Clip Art

“The oppressors do not favor promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders.” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

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Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Reflections Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Carol A. Hand

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Electric current arcing from cloud to cloud, strobe-lighting earth and sky

Thunder booming in rolling echoes between the ridge and the inland-sea

Torrential rain cleansing sun-parched land before the raging storm passes by

Rich scents of wet earth and fresh ozone linger as witnesses of nature’s power once again rest peacefully

cloud-to-cloud_lightning wikimedia

Photo: Cloud-to-cloud Lightening (Wikimedia

***

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments