When I gaze out over the field and spot a herd of elk, which upon closer inspection is really only distant sagebrush; when I, in a flash lasting no longer than a millisecond, see my own body as a juniper tree, I no longer question it;
We are all made of the same elements derived from this earth, and I can be forgiven if I confuse a log for a prairie dog’s alert body, facing toward the sun, a Muslim bowing toward Mecca.
There are confusing encounters leaving one gasping for breath, the mind grasping for understanding; such is the nature of life and death, the latter being more recent in my world of experience;
I eschew addictions, just as they are sought to resolve what seems unfathomable to others, and I know in this life I am meant to demonstrate more understanding than my petulant inner child might conjure; still, it is the most natural direction in which to gravitate these days, the world being as unknowable now as it was then, and who am I to judge?
Thus when I see this precious one, once strong and vital, now weak and yellow and skeletal and all this happening in the span of a year in a life too short to be terminal, feelings arise, and more and yet more questions on the meaning of existence;
This time last year, we were wrangling with thorny bushes that had become trees, both cursing, he more ardently, as this was not his first rodeo in these mountains, and yet there was laughter, good humor, companionship of then-strangers taking the measure of the other’s character;
Loved ones gather now, and I feel not at all out of place in this tiny trailer amidst people of a culture I don’t need to understand; the old man’s body the main event in the living room, surrounded by photos of the past, and who could know fifty years ago how fate would hold them now in its thrall?
Two weeks ago, he seemed empty of life, yet his spirit still felt strong; today that spirit had its due; jaundice had receded, and flesh had mysteriously begun reassembling on his bones, and once again I marvel at the same sorts of questions I have asked all my life, how does the journey begin to make sense in the face of what we are dealt?
The concert grand stands indifferently in a palatial room built to house it; Hardly anyone spends time here, admiring frescoes and French lace, worn Italian club chairs gather in around no one, empty opulence marking privilege of the lost and missing inhabitants;
Halfway around the world, a bustling marketplace explodes with the din and stench of the streets, sweat mingling with rotting vegetable matter and the smell of human desperation; gnarled hands of laborers place goods in the manicured hands of tourists, a toothless smile exchanging empty symbols for a better life, benediction of the Foreigner whose life is inconceivable as a spaceship from Mars;
Who can fathom choices, freedom the elusive butterfly in a garden which must be tended by honest sweat and toil which, in the opulence of the parlor, slips quietly into shadow like the ghostly curtain remnants hanging limply on patterned walls.
Awake in the pre-dawn, the fields look empty, vast; wild creatures have long claimed the night, daytime unsafe for them in the company of our species, and I know somewhere out there is a fox leaping onto a rodent, a bear padding toward her den in the nearby hills, mountain lion retreating to the mountain cliffs she considers home;
Stars slowly fade as light emerges, tentative at first, the black and white world retreating, pattern repeated for as long as memory holds, a glimmer, then a glow, and finally shifting gears into daylight, shadows retreating, colors emerging as if from slumber themselves, and I wonder;
If we are here to witness these cycles, to sync our bodies in rhythm with those of the planet, how is it so many court discord, mayhem, dark against light, light denying dark, when the brilliance of midday lacks contours, thus interest, to my own camera lens?
Slipping under the covers last night, nestling into his sweet warmth as we both gaze, astonished at the crystal quarter moon, hung in the twilight sky as if borrowed from a Saint-Exupéry watercolor;
This morning I awaken to the morning star, ready to begin the day regardless of the hour, observing the sturdy old adobe on the hill, standing in stark relief to the distant rising sun, a behemoth so devoid of sound or movement as to appear adhered to the moving earth as she rotates on her illusive axis;
Elk graze silently in distant fields, nuzzling frosty grass with their soft muzzles, whiskers lifting dew from disturbed blades, as they have done seasonally for generations and more, having just returned from higher ground; they portend an early fall, though one never knows at this altitude, frosty mornings replaced by soaring daytime temperatures reaching well into the eighties by midday;
We celebrate daily the return to the land of wilderness, the tracks of deer, howls of coyotes, the surprise of a snake stretched or coiled in the heat of the day, gathering warmth for bodies lacking the ability to generate it on their own; and await the return of the resident Red Tail hawk, whilst rejoicing at the sight of occasional Great Blue Herons or the honk of Canadian geese down by the river; displacing these creatures from their accustomed habitat would be wrenching, and there is no plan as yet, this is protected forest land at least for now, yet we humans must advocate daily for this shared place we all consider home.
When first I arrived ahead of him, to put this new house in order while he remained in Hawaii, finishing up what needed done in that place we had resided for fifteen years, it was chaotic;
Covid had created seeds of disorder that have now germinated and sprouted into some sort of angst-mongering monster, sower of division, pitting fear against dread, as humans question, aloud or in private, the duration of their own tenure here on earth, stripped down to primal longings;
Sitting in this big ranch house, back to the utter silence I craved all those years on the islands, surrounded again by forest and fields, the glowing eyes of nighttime creepers, tracks laid everywhere, elk, deer, turkeys and other travelers, an alien weed in fields of another’s familiar;
Lying in a bed left by prior occupants, grateful for the gesture, yet not mine, nothing ours, not yet, the tailings of other soul paths, confusion accented by harsh designs that agitated rather than soothed my jangling heart; and then it came, a series of yips and howls, accompanied by a steady bark, threaded with eerie whines looping through, a mad conductor whipping up a frenzied forest symphony;
Coyotes circled the house, not once but several times, bark, bark, yip, yip and that unhinged high-pitched wail, a beau geste causing hair to rise on my forearms, thrilling as it disturbed, while my nerves settled, bit by bit, as, like faeries in ancient fields, they performed their welcoming ritual, bringing me back to the ancient tones inhabiting a once-tribal land; and I laughed along with them, howling like a madwoman, while the sound faded out of range, having accomplished whatever they came to do, despite my own interpretations.
Our backyard forest, populated by the healing herb mullein. ~ b
The ocean pulls up, pulls away, hisses,
leaving tiny air holes in the sand;
I am fourteen, in love with creation,
full of life and dreaming possibilities;
Still on the beach I lie, slim belly
pressed down against earth’s beating heart,
looking not at the tossing sea, the foam
and sand sucking out with the tides;
I am watching instead the minutiae
as it dances before my bright brimming eyes
trained on a world underfoot, place familiar
and yet not, Alice’s drink-me bottle
clutched in my imagination;
Out of tiny cavities pop the crabs,
size of my thumbnail, eyes swiveling
on longish stems, scuttling sideways
to a clear and shining surface;
What they are about I will never know,
for in the blink of a moment, back they dart
to the safety of the known and commence,
tiny clawfuls at a time, to toss up overhead
the sand encroaching upon their inner sanctum;
Then once again the sea washes ashore,
sweeping hand over flat hand,
smoothing sand free of footprints
while the crabs, for all I know,
seek retreat in the epicenter
of the earth.
The sea rolls out and cannot pause long before
once again seeking the safety of the shoreline;
children leave home until they sprout sturdy wings
of their own, only to one day return older,
perhaps wiser, with appreciation of rootstock
and richness of the nurturing ground;
Fingers of the infinite, we jump ship and land
on foreign soil, forgetting, longing to return
to that One Magnificent Tree from which billions
of branches have cleaved;
Yet why do we yearn for reunion before we have
fully experienced the capacity and magnitude
of a multidimensional self which ever informs
the One, expanding it, enlarging its own ability
to conceive a more colorful body of light?
Schooled to the rigors of religion, if I took nothing else away
from those origins it was faith; faith that a child’s prayers
would be answered by forces unseen, and I took root
in that faith like fieldstone, anchoring my small body in cracks
and crevasses formed by flooding time, a snake secreting low
and tight, protection sought in the shade of midday,
giving nothing away, not a breath, shutting out the discord
of voices, dissonant sounds that soothed the ears of others
with that tinge of the familiar;
Sitting in newly-mown grass, breathing in the herbaceous bouquet,
eyes attuned to breaks in the pattern, movement underneath,
always underneath, what moved in shadow most fascinated,
pill-bugs rolling tight when threatened, millipedes threading
through miniature thickets, grasshoppers navigating the tangle,
smell of damp pungent earth drawing eyes and nose closer,
seeking level with a world unto itself, and I never ceased cringing
while watching careless feet stomping thoughtlessly upon
unseen realms, Jack and the Giant, gentry and the dispossessed,
disparity a background hum in the grace of my limited freedom;
Trudging up arid mountain trails or down into gushing streambeds
suited best, the mentholated air of eucalyptus mixing with the dank odor
of leaf mulch swirling in eddies and under boulders, fishing wet mats
out with my hands to bury my nose in that humid bouquet while the rest
of the world disappeared into a collage of confusion to which many
accustom themselves while a rupture grows like an aneurysm in the center
of the soul until that longing bursts forth like a swimmer breaking surface,
a yearning to gulp oxygen like life itself, that corporeal kinship
with the earth, a silent whisper, Return.
Return to me, and be whole.