Some things are not meant to be, though I still save space for them, not knowing divine timing or even my own mind sometimes, and what is this compulsion to occupy perceptual emptiness, is it simply creativity seeking a natural outlet, the crashing surf carving out caves on Mt. Desert’s rugged shoreline or the smoothing of lava rock at the base of Halawa’s thundering waterfall?
I can wish, and in wishing place my desires on the altar of possibilities, then forget them if I am wise, releasing attachment to outcome, opening time’s parachute upside-down, the beggar’s empty cup yawning with space minus the desperation of those truly in need of wish fulfillment;
Meanwhile the two empty chairs sitting next to and caddy corner from mine leave room for those yet to arrive, and even they do not know, anymore than I, what seats will be occupied when and where in the near or distant future;
Imagine my surprise then when, one day and least expected, the fulfillment of those forgotten desires returns to gladden or to haunt, depending (be careful what you wish for); the unexpected visitor materializes, and I am left to wonder at which juncture I might have yearned for such an encounter, prepared or not.
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?
I am but one minute speck on the face of this earth, the same countenance reflected back to me in field and forest, in the shriek of bats as well as the sonar they emit, the whistling and bellow of elk as they descend from higher ground for the winter, the piñon jays, sapphire blue bodies so different from their indigo Stellar relations, gliding in for their morning seed;
When I peer into a body of water, I see not a mirror, but a plethora of faces of untold numbers of creatures that dwell in the depths as do I, in my own element;
Yet what is this element spoken of? Is it the air I breathe? The earth walked upon, the blazing fire of the sun, cool slices of moonlight or the quarter-sized drops of rain that splash upon my forehead?
What am I, if not an assemblage of all these components, sheathed in the thinnest veil of skin, so transparent that I can glimpse blood coursing through a busy network of veins, necessary waters of my body, invisible synovial fluid keeping joints in motion, bending and lifting to the billionth degree, work I have happily performed since my youth, preparing for winter, spring, summer, fall;
It’s all the same, here on the mountain where life at altitude is as unpredictable as nature can be anywhere, anytime, only here it cannot be ignored, and the garden thriving in the heat today can be frost-encrusted by tomorrow morning, who can predict?
This time last year, birds were falling from the skies, a freak storm that bent trees over double, and some we lost while some grew back, and isn’t that life? Is that not, at its root, the existential distillation of our existence?
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
It’s a new day, and I awaken tired, having not slept much; perceiving the fear of the collective, the hum of impending doom, as a worldwide virus continues to mutate, according to a greater plan than we can imagine, and the vaccinated among us may actually be more culprit than cure, causing an explosion of variants to proliferate;
We are a world accelerated beyond any means possible, faster is better, internet warp speed lives, packages replacing hands in earth, chemical drinks in cans replacing pure water, food sources separated from our bodies by poisonous fertilizers, distance and desire, fresh tropical fruits delivered in winter, shipped green to ripen by gasses in warehouses, and how can this offer nourishment to strengthen our immunities?
I watch sick native people in our community, addicted to alcohol and worse; soda, canned food and the hypnosis of television, vulnerable to viruses, partisan news and soul sickness, shamans of old far from their rightful place as healers in the scheme of things, bowed and beaten into submission by priests, bent into homogeneity by the white man’s schools, forced into dubious medicine designed to fight perceived disease rather than working with the rhythms of the body and Mother Earth, and they are dropping like flies, one by one or in groups, whole families murdered by their own offspring, a sad fallout to the speed and separation our species was never meant to cope with;
I am a generally optimistic person, yet I am also sensitive to the greater vibrations of earth and her creatures, humans among them, caught now in a crux of our own making, having so thoroughly trashed our perfect planet with the byproducts of instant gratification, that we are faced with Holocene extinction;
Make no mistake, these are perilous times, and yet we must somehow be able to help ourselves and others to what extent we are able, to remain centered and focused, in order to best know how to move forward in spite of it all;
And so we retreat, again and again, to our beautiful high mountain vista with its varied wildlife, who seem not to have a care in the world, survival their primary mandate, as it has been since their time began;
And yet last fall, a freak snowstorm and cold snap caused songbirds to fall from the skies dead; the raptors are as mysteriously absent as bodies of water, while wildfires rage over most of the West, and it is hard to ignore the fallout of our Creation, not being gods in the least, so much to learn, so much to lose.
Mysterious new things move to the cadence of nature’s drum, the cry of destruction loudly rings; Aloha aina, care for the land, it matters not where we choose to root ourselves, the mandate is the same: we must return to the Garden, discover innocence lost when simple was subsumed by life so complex that some days I wonder how long I can manage it, threads frayed, threatening to unravel;
Yet when I walk out into messy, immerse my hands in soil, work at amending what has been stripped by too many years of consumption without consideration, my spirit calms, settles into what is there in front of me, head not spiraling out into orbit, here. And now, now, now;
This is what we are given, this moment, breathing in, then out, listen to the heartbeat of nature; observe with a raptor’s eyes all that surrounds, notice the little things, the seemingly unimportant, purpose-less details in a world fixed on production, and learn; for we might well need that sort of knowledge in the days to come.
The snow pulls free from the pines,
islands of bare ground begin surfacing,
a young fox appears at the bird feeder,
huge flocks of wild turkeys gather
in the field below, males fanning tails
out, ever aware, movement, sound
causing them to rise into crisp blue air,
straining to gain altitude, then gone
up and over the rocky hill where elk
traverse and wildcats hunker down
in their stony caves;
Ice cracks and breaks and the river flows
once again, days warm and thaw, nights
freeze over, mindful walking essential
in this seasonal landscape as we cull
the dead and down for firewood, pile
limbs into giant gumdrop structures,
ready for tomorrow’s torch;
These things I have noticed
since moving here seven months ago,
and what I have learned is to
find the rhythm, meet the day, open
to untroubled possibilities alongside
others simply living out our days
in circadian heartbeats, while the fate
of humanity hangs in the balance
of a dying Order gasping like fish cast
high upon sandy shoals,
waiting for the smallest of neap tides
to once again turn in its favor.
Winding down the mountain road,
layers obviate themselves; Ponderosas
and then cottonwoods and aspens
on either side, the Vallecitos River
winding along now-fallow fields, rolled
or baled hay stacked near livestock,
snow-capped peaks in the distance,
mountains beyond mountains, visible
as far north as Colorado;
Oversized ravens are ubiquitous here,
flapping indigo-tinged ebony wings,
cruising on thermals or alighting
in treetops, their croaking voices
telegraphing location or simply
sounding off for the sheer joy of it;
they live and die, never having seen
Today what caught the eye was one
of these beauties sailing along,
landing gear fully extended, close
but not near enough to its intended
perch in the aspen; strangely reminiscent
of an osprey descending onto
oblivious prey, one minute swimming
along and the next, dinner;
And so we live, not knowing when
or where things will change, top
of the food chain, no swooping
pterodactyl wings slicing the crisp,
blue air above, driving fear deep
into animal feet seeking safety
in the ground of what we feel.
Looking out this window seems sacrament. We are surrounded by Ponderosa pine forest, and, as in Hawaii with the ocean, I tend to take the trees more for granted, the longer our tenure in this place. I remind myself to remain better in touch with not only these regal giants who hold their ground with very little rainfall, but with my own inner, deeper, more profoundly feeling self. (And the mind skitters on. Returns to that pause in the narrative. Reevaluates her response.)
Brilliant snow surrounds us, and storms don’t last long. The most we’ve experienced of gray and stormy skies has been two days each, then the sun reclaims its dominance in cobalt blue skies. I just today got a book on building a year-round solar greenhouse. Our plan is to convert a sizeable garden, already footed with railroad ties and a short wall reinforced with metal lathing to prevent tunneling incursions from gophers and squirrels. Excited. Solar anything made sense in Hawaii, and makes double sense here in the high desert.
Speaking of snow, it is usually powdery here, not the wet, heavy ice-storm-prone snows of New England. Yet it follows that there is a profound difference in the forest composition. Pine forests in the high desert look like planted tree farms without the deep leaf mulch of their wetter sister woodlands. Likewise, the forest service issues permits to cut and gather dead and down trees, which keeps detritus cleared out in what can be tinderbox territory. Our part of the Maine woods was so lush that on what was once 65 acres of lakefront forest, we rarely walked the whole of the property. Here, we walk our 14 acres morning and night. This morning’s treat was a huge turkey, flushed out by the Heeler, soaring 45 feet into a Ponderosa. Nevermind the symbolism of Turkey on a total solar eclipse day, it was a splendid sight to behold. We love the creatures who frequent this land!