Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More about Susan

Susan Grace Falkenrath
July 4, 1954 – January 12, 2008
[photo by Jan Dance]

Susan Grace Falkenrath, who was also known as Susan Green, Susan North, and Susan Oaktree, of Mill Valley, California, lived with humor and intense wonder about life for ten years after her diagnosis with breast cancer. Gratefully, she was able to become more true to herself and witness her children become adults. She died within a sacred circle, surrounded by 25 family members and friends, ranging in age from 7 months on up. Vibra Willow, Susan’s daughter Morgan, Jan Dance, and Juliana Miller performed last rites.

Susan received a B.A. (Music) from San Jose State University in 1982 and a M.A. (Education) from UC Berkeley in 1994. A popular second-grade teacher at Park School in Mill Valley, Susan leaves saddened students, parents and fellow teachers. She wrote “The Park School Song.”

A long-time member of the Reclaiming community, Susan was a devotée of many aspects of the Goddess, including Mary as Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Mexican Tonatsin), the Blessed Mother, and Our Lady of Lourdes. The last song she wrote before her death is “Mary Stood Up,” about Mary Magdalene’s message: “Look within to find your way.” As you can tell from her names, Susan embodied the Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess.

In the 1980s Susan was a memorable figure at Reclaiming’s annual Spiral Dance Samhain ritual. In a darkened room lit only by a cauldron fire in the center, in her clear soprano Susan sang “Spirits,” a song of her composition about a woman going to the stake and singing to the Elemental Spirits and to her daughter. This song is featured on the album “The Best of Pagan Song.” Her stirring voice can be heard in many songs on Reclaiming albums, and she was the composer/lyricist of the “Circle Casting Song” and composer of “Who Is She?” She leaves a legacy of songs widely known throughout American Pagan communities.

Susan was also a well-loved member of other communities, including a breast cancer support group at the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Marin; the LGBT community of the Bay Area; and Unity of Marin, a progressive church community where she sang in the choir in the past year.

Susan was predeceased by her three brothers: John Andrew, Robert, and William Falkenrath. She leaves to mourn her children, Morgan Green, of Berkeley and son Nicholas Wolf, of Mill Valley; her parents, Clara and John Falkenrath of Milwaukie, Oregon; her dear friend and death priestess, Vibra Willow; a close-knit family of aunts, uncles and cousins in Oregon, Colorado and California; and a huge circle of friends. She leaves a legacy of unique songs that she wrote about the environment, sexuality, change, and peace.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Susan’s memory to the cancer research organization of your choice.

Family and friends are organizing a memorial to take place on Sunday, February 3, 2008, from 2:00–4:30 p.m. at the San Francisco Women’s Building, 18th & Valencia Sts., site of some of Susan’s most moving singing. Anyone who would like to bring flowers, photos, mementos or other altar objects is welcome to do so. Bring potluck refreshments to share and unbreakable and reusable or recyclable plates, cups and utensils (no kitchen facilities). There will be an open mike for anyone who would like to speak, sing, or play music. (Donations to cover costs will be requested.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Great Day for Voting & Skating

Well, my man Barack Obama -- yep, I'm an Obama Mama -- took South Carolina handily, while my colleagues in Marin County staffed the phone banks. This is the most exciting election, presidential or otherwise, in my voting life.

I'm proud to say I've never missed voting in an election at any level in all since first registering, in 1964 when you had to be 21 to vote. Once when I was working at Harvey's Casino in South Lake Tahoe for a few months, I drove all the way down to the Fillmore District of San Francisco where I was still registered. I worked on Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm's campaign in 1972, then supported George McGovern after the primaries, but didn't canvass for him like I did for Chisholm. I think that year was the end of grass-roots presidential campaigns. Until now, that is.

Barack's autobiography, Dreams from My Father, reveals him to be a reflective man, one who can write with as much eloquence as anyone. Now I'm reading The Audacity of Hope -- I love that phrase! -- and I continue to be deeply impressed by the man. I'm also reassured that he won't get too far off center because he has his wife Michelle, a strong and uppity woman, to keep him in line.

* * * * *
I'd forgotten about the fact that the U.S. Figure Skating Championship was taking place tonight in St. Paul and was being broadcast on prime time Saturday night. My friends know that I'm wild about figure skating, have been since childhood, when I painted a series of cocktail glasses from photos of skaters I saw at the Shipstads & Johnson Ice Follies.

Tonight was pairs and women's; I should say girls because I think the oldest contestant was 20, the youngest 14, with several being too young to be ineligible for international competition due to their age. It was one of those special nights when every skater gave her and his best. In pairs, both Meryl Davis & Charlie White, whom I'd never seen before, and Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto were splendid.

In the women's, I'd been favoring young Caroline Zhang, popularizer of the "pearl spin." She skated perfectly, enough to come from seventh in the short program to first in the free skate. Then Rachael Flatt and Ashley Wagner took our spectators' breath away (even mine on my couch instead of in the arena), only to have the final skater, Mirai Nagasu, take the gold. I'd be happy to see any of those four on the podium. This was skating at its breathtaking best.

Tomorrow night is the men's, where I get to see one of my all-time favorite skaters, Johnny Weir.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mom at 97

Elizabeth V. O'Brien, January 19, 2008
Photo by Catherine O'Brien

Life is flying by too fast for me to take a breath and blog. Last Saturday afternoon Corby and I visited my mother to celebrate her 97th birthday. My sister Catherine took this photo earlier in the day. She's not happy. We are caught in the middle of the nightmare of US health care and insurance limitations. We don't know what more we can do to make her life more pleasant. Below is her photo at her 90th birthday party.

Friday, January 18, 2008


More about Susan soon, but for now I'm testing to see if this photo works. Well, it does, but it's only teensy. If I try to enlarge it, it only gets fuzzy. I copped it from SnapFish because Jan Dance, the photographer, is not at her computer in Portland, where the photo lives, but instead is here in the Bay Area dealing with Susan's death. It was taken just a few days before Susan passed. She's reclining on the couch in Vibra's living room. You can see that her hair is gone and her skin has that translucent appearance I've often observed in those who are close to the other side. More importantly, you can see her shining spirit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Death & Taxes

It's only two weeks into 2008 and already I've lost two friends to death. One died in late December, but funeral was in January. That was Ted Looyen, creator of LooyenWork. There's a story or two about his funeral.

The other, just this past Saturday, was Susan North Green Wolf Oak Falkenrath. Susan changed her magical surname from time to time, which is why you see so many names. For many of the early years of Reclaiming's Spiral Dance Samhain ritual, Susan opened the ritual with her song "Spirits." In a darkened room lit only with a cauldron fire, Susan stood in front of the flames, as a woman consigned to the stake, singing of the spirits to her daughter. You can imagine how powerful that was. Holly Tannen recorded this song on one of her albums (possibly only on LP and not on CD), and it appears on "The Best of Pagan Song" album produced by Anne Hill of Serpentine Music. Some years later, after treatment for inflammatory breast cancer and with a bald head, Susan again opened the Spiral Dance with this song. Among those of us who know and love Susan, there wasn't a dry eye. Now that she's gone, from a recurrence of cancer, we cry again, for loss this time instead of for recovery.

Meanwhile, my mother turns 97 on Saturday, although she doesn't really know that. Corby and I will attempt some sort of celebration with her.

And it's January, time to catch up on accounting for my income and expenses for 2007.