Travelogue 1: Pacific Northwest Revisited

I am disinclined to travel these days, preferring to remain in the half-acre gardens I have created with my own hands these past five years. Yet on the spur of the moment, I agreed to a three-week house and pet sitting gig for dear friend in one of my favorite places to visit, the Pacific Northwest. Being springtime, I knew the weather might be dicey. But after surges of early summer heat in Hawaii, I was looking forward to some relief.

Lucky for me I adapted fairly quickly, taking a couple of days to rest and acclimate, going from needing seventy degrees indoors to keep my teeth from chattering and my muscles from tightening up to sixty-five two days later, then simply let the temperature be what it would be. Four days from my arrival, the sun broke through predictably platinum skies.

Every day so far, I have gone out hiking. Old growth forests draw me in with their majestic beauty; beaches, though breezy and quite chilly this time of year, offer expanses of space in which to contemplate horizons yet to be realized, literally and figuratively. I never know what to expect from solitude in unfamiliar places, and this journey shook me down further, rattling out fears and patterns not usually obvious in my everyday routine. It’s good to dislodge the demons, to venture forth and discover that life perpetually surprises.

When I travel, I follow my nose whenever possible. Being lost brings me the most interesting adventures. The first place I stumbled upon was a beach in the early morning, a lone older man sitting in a folding chair close to the shoreline, fishing pole propped in the sand, stiff wind notwithstanding. I walked a few hundred feet toward him, but he seemed disinclined to chat, likely preferring the solitude I, myself treasure. As I turned to go, an eagle swooped over my shoulder, seagulls in screaming hot pursuit. The harassment likely annoyed the eagle who was doubtlessly tending a nest nearby. Houses lined the upper portion of the beach, separated by a buffer of driftwood typical in this part of the world. The eagle landed on a familiar rooftop and I knew this because of the streaks of white dribbling from the ridgeline. Anchored in strong talons, she began tearing apart the fish she had caught, and was left alone for a few minutes until one persistent scavenger alighted a few feet behind her. Having had enough at that point, she fled to the tall conifers. And I returned to my rental car, switched on Apple Maps to figure out where I’d gotten to, and headed out to hike a nearby forest trail.

iPhone shots taken from a distance are not ideal. Still, you can see the snow-capped Cascade Mountain Range, a cropped shot of the fisherman, and a crop of the rooftop eagle.

A Day for The Earth

There are snapshots in time, places where
one feels the eyes scratching over the surface
of some offensive scene, cymbals clashing
inappropriately during a tender interlude,
spell dissolved in the cacophony, never
to return again free of that memory;

Then there are backdrops nature paints
without premeditation, figures juxtaposed
against a canvas that can only contribute
to the light in one’s own eyes, the numinous
shining through, and I know in the center
of my bones that we must preserve this place,
its atmosphere beyond measure or means
by which we could precisely calibrate
how our human impact has contributed
to its degradation;

All we have is now, no time for regret,
rather embrace what we can do from
this moment into moments mounding,
overlapping, mindfully repeating
like a prayer to infinity.

All photos ©2019 Bela Johnson

RITUAL

I ask first the trees, honoring the foliage
that shades fragile skin, Will you take root
in my heart?

I ask the black and gold glittering sands,
Will you accept the imprint of my passing?

I ask the ocean, placing palms and soles
upon shores cooled by your blessing,
Can you cleanse away the temporal madness
enjoining me to a fractured humanity?

I ask the pali, jutting purposefully out
and over the sea, What shall I sacrifice
to your astounding beauty so that you might
endure all that is yet to come?

I sit in wonder and my spirit is calmed,
as the breeze gently enfolds her daughter,
whispering, whispering:

This is all: you are my eyes and ears;
you feel our is-ness, your hand records
our passing, awakening others who might,
in their own time, and in their way, return
to us pure and whole and healed.


all images © 2019 Bela Johnson

Mother

Waves lap at my feet as I stare down sunset,
myself a fixed object on the shore, bringing
to mind reclamation, our oceanic mother
calling me back and through time, sloughing
off my scales, crawling onto the sand
to admire her from another angle; perhaps
only this, in the end, shall redeem me;

At the very least, I know my place now,
fragile feelers in a complex web
of interconnection, taking time at last
to resonate, cell to cell, with the vast
and shifting body of my origins.

All photos ©Bela Johnson

Common Ground

I go down burrowing, a badger unearthing
for the sake of it, a sort of mining known only
to the creature and sometimes the human heart,
the latter less willing to surrender its complexities;

On the surface doves appear to assert territoriality,
the movement stitched to their DNA, do the dance,
wings loosen, shrug and sidle as feathers ruff out;
the pup tracks likewise, older now, more apt to
shake it free than to assert his alpha dominance,
respecting, as may be, the gods that surround him;

Scanning the horizon, a single humpback breaches
fully out of water, distant upright dirigible crashing
again and again, only to propel itself upright nearly
a dozen times before it submerges; sated, it seems,
for the time being;

Sublime teachers all, critters of which we are kin,
bipedal human animals preferring drama over quanta,
emotions, life in the head lands; yet tune in silently
and there you are, come back to the earth, bosom
of creation, return to the senses and simply be.

all photos ©Bela Johnson

Of Gardens and Buddhas

Before I began gardening in earnest; before I allowed myself the luxury of flowers rather than the scratching of necessities, firewood and food; before my vision exploded into islands of umber and emerald with spikes of magenta and indigo flanked by tiny waxen buds, I asked my gardening sister how she did it. How to begin, so as not to  spend time in futile effort, to somehow create the perfect plot on the first attempt. How she responded and what I have never forgotten since, all these years later, was to begin in a corner and go from there. Just take that first shovelful and the rest will follow.

Moons and rains too numerous to count have passed and I have learned what survives in xeriscape and what thrives so well in moisture that it must be cut back more or less, depending on what is selected. I have mostly learned more about life. There is no greater teacher for me than the garden. There is no Buddha more evolved than this earth. All the lessons of mindfulness, detachment, the need to let go and drop any preconceived notions of perfection exist in the eternal now of the garden. There’s an alchemy that happens when sweat and creativity mingle and merge into landscape; a transformation that happens quite by chance if not intention.

Hau blossoms begin yellow but turn this lovely color when they drop to the ground.
Some of my first harvested cloves. The tree is now far too big and produces thousands of cloves; so much so, that foregoing the harvest was exercised this year.
Pink Shower Tree blossoms. They smell divine and the tree’s canopy covers nearly half our 1/2+ acre yard.
A variety of Datura, the Angel Trumpet tree seeks wet and shelter from high winds. Started from a stick in the ground, ours now suffuses the southern view out the living room windows.
One of many hybrid Hibiscus cultivated on these islands. This is closest to the Wsdom variety, but it’s not the name I remember and have now misplaced.

The Turning

She knew it was safe, now her feet chose a path leading far
from dark uncertainties, of boarded-up options into an oasis
of light, a clearing of both heart and mind, a dendrological dive
into oneness with nature, which tree was which, identifying
those whose leaves dropped with the chill and those
that remained, holding space in that jigsaw landscape;

Forays down to the wellhead were spongy with moss, layers
of leaf and needle underfoot, trickling underground streams
flowing beneath quasi-soil draped over granite boulders
and pooling into a still point where, aboveground, stood
a granite casing with crude wooden cover; deeper still, tethered
to the bale of a three-gallon pail, lay the object of desire, cool drink
or promise of a steaming kettle as the vessel was cast into depths
repeatedly until just the right toss dredged itself clear and icy cold;

Filling buckets for each hand to grasp before carefully replacing
the cover, hoisting the weight of water and heading uphill, back
to the moonglow arc of light softly radiating from the cabin, tinge
of woodsmoke in chill air, teapot gently rattling on iron grates,
home was harbor into which her boat slipped silently
and without complaint;

And part of her began to grasp the value in releasing, shedding
non-essentials, detritus to which one could become accustomed
as if plugging all the holes, those islands of free-ranging thought,
could confer security somehow, would grant serenity, tranquility
of mind first and finally; still, peace was innate when she was able
to handle the shake-down, that honest meeting, self to self, dark
to light and back again, the terror of un-being confronted,
a deer caught in crosshairs, vole surrendering to the fox;

And as the seasons turned like leaves in the wind, dancing,
spinning, settling; as ice and snow gave rise to muck and flow
and the lake groaned and shifted, turning impossibly heavy crust
over into crystal prisms glinting in the narrow shafts of sunlight;
as the waters opened up and the loons returned, echoing
their mournful cries into a deepening dawn and dusk, she, too
began to thaw and sense, as if the first time, creation awakening
in her bones, and her own heart likewise took flight and soared
like the great blue heron, circling freely in those endless cerulean skies.

Lake lies beyond the granite boulder you see in the distance.
Looking across the water where we could ski when the lake was frozen.

All photos taken many years ago on a cheap camera. Not nearly as good quality as the newer equipment, but these photos framed the memories. Aloha.
© Bela Johnson