The Consistency of Dirt

I always had dirt between my toes, beginning when I was old enough to toddle, and my parents did not care, having come out west from Chicago, land of the freezing, and I do not remember any scolding for it, surely I would if it existed, walked on blistering asphalt too, never caring if my feet hardened into hooves, all the better to play horse, romping and galloping around the yard;

I went to Hamilton Park bare chested in only white underwear, more like shorts back then, and I will never forget the boys that made fun of me on the merry-go-round, free as they likely would never be, instead targeting a smiling little girl, sun streaking her chestnut hair blonde, but you know, I never went without a shirt after that day, so it must have made quite an impression, the end of innocence, perhaps we all recall this in our lives;

Five years old and off to school, I do not recall rebelling at shoes, only the delight in learning, and walking with neighborhood kids picked up along the way, a small gang of non-thugs back then, the place was safe, ridiculously so compared to these times, our school tucked neatly into the arms of a huge mountain range; breathing fully, natural as a mountain goat, and to think city folks need yoga to teach them what came naturally to children raised
in sunshine and lush surroundings;

Moving to New England after high school gave me another sort of grounding, bare feet tucked into thick socks and boots, but oh, the forest! The lakes! I never missed those barefooted excursions, I would always be nature’s child, wild as the fisher cats and foxes roaming the woods, swimming with the loons and giant bass, naked as there was no one to notice; my new form of bare feet for over three decades, a dance with nature that would always be, both girls raised in the forest, free as too many children will never experience;

Then it was off to Moloka’i, the girls choosing public over homeschooling, local kids walking barefoot to school, their wide brown feet slapping red dirt roads and the one short sidewalk on the way up the hill from the ocean, no chastisement from teachers, families recently freed from pineapple plantation work, and who was there to mandate otherwise? Still I wonder, thirty years later, have the rules changed? Or will there always be places that subconsciously realize we need bare ground under our feet in order to heal this fractured species of ours?

Retrospective

Go alone, I will join you later,
you are free anytime you wish;
no strings, save the vows
into which you entreated me,
all those years ago;

Go as you will, you have earned
my trust, my soul safe
in your keeping; that, at least,
I can count on, even as I abhor
restraints myself;

I would not entrap you,
yet you stay, always returning
like countless waves thundering
onto the same beach,
each changing the composition
of shoreline forever,
each renewing the sand,
glistening like diamonds
as the salty water calls itself
back to the swollen body
of the sea;

Not everyone is kind.
Not everyone has integrity.
All is imperfect.
And yet you are, we are this,
in the purity of our striving.

Keokea 2020 ~ bj

One Equal To All

I stand alone, silhouetted
by the dawn, queen of the mountain,
the hill or nothing at all,
tiny speck on a speck of stardust,
endlessly orbiting in a vast,
wide universe, wondering
(do trees and coyotes wonder?),
waiting, I suppose, to rejoin
the human race
after too much isolation,
and where are the invitations?
Hidden, as well they might be,
behind colorful masks
and color-less fears;

Pandemic bringing all of us
into parity with those sequestered
by choice, yet even the monks
of Tibet have their community;
and what, if anything,
have I drawn from an experience
I did not volunteer for?

Me, me, me. The one who scoffs
at self importance in others.
Other.
Self.
Same.

That’s the takeaway.

Flight

Once in a great while I detect glimpses, sensations,
impulses; what it felt like, those intrepid days
of youth, out of the house, seeding my own liberation,
or so I thought; I could dress up, casting spells
upon the dance floor, long wavy auburn hair flowing
about me, a radiant halo, mistaking those highs
for the freedom I sought;

Then transpired love and loss and love and agonizing
loss again and again, two daughters, lives to protect,
their well being my focus, my own maturation very
much linked to theirs though I knew it not, who does
at that age I wonder, if we are to be completely honest;

Inevitable cracks in the veneer, intimacy too complex
and so I perpetuated it thus, attracted a man that needed
nothing so much as fantasy though the world knew it not,
destined to dissimulate, propping up a ruse, the irony
of it all;

Waiting in the wings, my heart’s desire, nothing expected
or suspected, still it mellowed into rapture of sorts,
partnership longed for requiring years to clarify,
fleshing out the spectre of its origins, girls growing up,
leaving home for college, independence, meanwhile
what I had constructed lay in ruins all about, sparkle
gone, what to do with that kind of sorrow but crumple
into weeping until it appeared unending;

Decades later it has come, those winking memories linking
back to that sense of deliverance, only now it feels real,
and I must discover how to mend the gap, years inside myself
alone, isolation or immolation, phoenix readying for flight,
ashes of failures at my feet, leaden cloak shed
from tired shoulders and shrugged aside, free and clear
and entirely, if fairly late to the party, fundamentally whole.

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Old Journal Entry

Going back into my journals for the first time in years, I discover it’s interesting to note how clearly I perceive things now, compared to 15 years ago. For all those sheltering in isolation with others they are not quite used to being with 24/7, perhaps these old meanderings might give rise to your own deeper contemplations …

July 4, 2005

Is it fear or is it excitement? Such a question for those of us raised not to expect much or anything at all;

How to be with inner trembling without precipitating an earthquake? Life goes about its business, we are here waiting in the wings for it to happen, whatever that might look like;

Perhaps it is excitement only, then again, maybe fear. But if I don’t know, why label it at all? Say it’s both or neither. But if I don’t sit still enough and listen, it becomes a mantle, then a shroud;

Am I sad or am I angry? Allowing neither, they have become, as have I, confused. Sitting on a powder keg of emotion, I tremble with energy burning inside, steaming my vitals like massive hydroelectric turbines (and we wonder why, by mid-life, we feel burned out);

How to disengage from self destruction now seems bigger than searching for what path to walk or spinning wheels at the scrim of the past;

What an intense awakening! To realize that, at some fundamental level, I lack deep awareness of the benevolent nature of the universe;

Disrupted early on by promises rarely met with integrity, instead, behind the power of the original delivery lay a raw, wounded place in another’s story;

How to unravel myself? I go deeper into ‘belief’ and find it less substantial, and when visiting it again, it seems to strangle less. What emerges is more my own truth.

mid-1970’s

The Frequency of Home

Perfect timing is universally ordained,
though once I did not believe it so;
perfection was something I could attain
with enough effort, enough input,
by simply and assiduously being Enough
for everyone and for all time;

Then the learning began.

Years of silence, accustoming myself
to feeling the rhythms inside that synced
with the beat of Mother Earth’s pulse;
the drumbeat rolls coming not from others,
who could never fully be satiated anyway,
but welling up from within, unbidden;
swelling and coursing through my vascular
system, cleansed upon every intentional
breath by the ever-vigilant center
of being, my trustworthy heart;

Then it was discernment, and this only years
later after the chaos and struggle had died
down with those umbilical separations, mother
from child, and then, mother from child
again and anon, the multilayered garments
cast off, shell by shell of the crusty cricket
chirping in my head, humming, droning,
dropping steady pools of grievous tears until,
beyond comprehension, my eyes glistened
with clarity, no longer the weeping, wailing guilt
of my own lost youth revisited, as it seemed
in these fragile partings;

I wonder at the endless capacity of women
to mother others, long after progeny
have vanished from our everyday view;
perhaps it was this closeness, this bond
I wished somehow to recreate with those
let into my private sanctuary; and it sounds
as though I knew at the time the quantity
and quality of those who breached the gates,
but I did not; and time and again, life shook me
down and down, human fallibility rearing
its maned visage, facing off, facing down
until I had no choice but to retreat, once again,
into solitary until, with yet more experience,
I began to harvest grain from the chaff,
carefully weeding out if not disavowing myself
entirely of the very species I had come
into this life to embrace;

Nobody said it would be easy.
No one said it would be this hard, or take
this long, or try my sanity so arduously.
What price, maturity? At what cost comes peace
of mind? And yet it arrives in proper measure,
day by day, moment by moment, in the silent
interstices between thoughts, words,
and the inevitable vicissitudes of existence.

Flux

I never wanted famous, though it was proffered
more than once; did not want to grow up
in public, recorded on the cortices of admirers,
on film or stage, no; talent may, through its
own merits, ease its way into hearts to pause
or to remain;

In the shadows or in the streaming blue daylight
I have roamed, senses piqued, attentive, bright-
eyed bird or a conger eel poking tentatively
in and out of its rocky burrow, seeking connection,
but then again wanting nothing so much
as to be left solitary, only the rushing sound
of waves overlapping, shards of sunlight slicing
through the columnar clusters of its coral cave;

In the balance it was nature that saved me,
shaking me down, down, until, touching bottom,
I was free to surface or submerge at will, no fear
of falling nor of what lay in the abyss,
no admonitions from trees or stars; skies did
not loom nor threaten, only sheltered, protected
whether blue or grey; in shrill winds or basking
crystalline stillness it was the same endless
continuum of something grace granted to explore,
within or without that strange flux, perpetual
motion drawing me into its rocking loose embrace,
lulling me, as if for the first time,
into contentedness in or out of the depths.

Puget Sound ferry

Mauna Loa pu’u

Kohala taro patch stream

Mauna Kea

Koa forest, Kohala

All photos©Bela Johnson

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

Of Hearts and Stones

Small stones cobbled the backyard
of the San Gabriel Mountains foothill home
where I grew up, dappled by the light
of pergola and wisteria overhead, flanking
cascading waterfalls and the fishpond
my father built outside my parents’
bedroom window;

Yet it was giant granite boulders larger
than fishing shacks which grounded me
to the woods and waters of eastern Maine,
region of choice for a street-weary soul,
igneous wonders cleaved from glaciers
that covered most of New England
if not all, long before human memory;

Planting anything in that rocky terrain took
fortitude and persistence, pickaxe and shovel
and plenty of insect repellent, for winter
spread ice and snow into drifts and created
crystalline topsoil, while early springtime’s
mud prevented solid progress; thus it was bug-
riddled May before the earth was clear
and pliable enough for groundbreaking;

Still, steadfastness and a rototiller tamed
the garden enough to hoe up, row by row,
a large area in which to raise vegetables
as grocery stores provided little truly fresh,
and farmers markets had not yet caught on
in a time before they widened the highway
and a half-hour commute into town transformed
our lakeside village into a bedroom community;

Every year out of thirty-four, that same plot
heaved up rocks and boulders of every size,
thus before cultivating and yielding those
delectable edibles, one really had to harvest
rocks and more rocks, while piles lined
perimeters to be carried closer to the house
to ring flower gardens or delimit pathways,
or to place on an animal’s grave to prevent
hungry intruders from dislodging rotting
remains;

Nothing and everything changes, routines
may remain, yet nature demonstrates
with each passing season the modicum
of knowledge humans might grasp about
the ground under our feet, so busy are we
jumping into metal boxes and flying
at breakneck speed to obtain life’s
necessities, while stones, ever patient,
mark the ages with a persistence
and perseverance all their own.

Pololu pohaku

Pololu Valley pohaku

Pololu beach rocks

Goose Pond, ME granite shoreline – C Johnson

Goose Pond forest boulder – C Johnson (photo with Vernon Emeliano)

Goose Pond fairy boulder – C Johnson

Pine Trail

The cabin was bought fully furnished from an elderly couple who left behind what would now be considered valuable antiques. Two small bedrooms replete with horsehair beds, a combination Glenwood wood/kerosene kitchen stove; round golden oak drop-leaf table poised beneath a large section of windowpanes overlooking a screened-in porch, curved-glass china cabinet. Depression era dishes were stacked on open kitchen shelves; warm woolen bedding, cotton sheets and quilts were folded neatly in open wooden cupboards. The bathroom was small but serviceable, thick rectangle of well-worn mirror hung with clear plastic art nouveau style clips; a metal stall shower with grommeted cotton curtain. A small porcelain corner sink with a metal corner shelf poised above. Perched atop the buttermilk painted wooden cabinet lay a matched set of the palest yellow and green celluloid brush, comb, hand mirror.

The sofa was circa 1940 and a lovely light shade of rose with carved cherry wood feet and armrest ends. An upholstered wing-back chair; braided oval rug. If you visited your grandparents and grew up in the 50’s like I did, you’d know how the place smelled musty with wool and mothballs, how items were carefully handled, stowed, preserved. Pots were aluminum, mixing bowls a glazed Pyrex glass. Even the silverware begged to be used like the round aluminum biscuit cutter with black wooden knob handle. The serrated bread knife remains with me still, unlike stamped tin baking pans and the round plastic black and white kitchen timer. A yellowing if accurate electric wall clock was likewise lost somewhere along the way.

Every morning except in winter, I woke to the lilting cry of loons and stumbled out to sun winking through white pine and hemlock as it rose over the cabin, shedding splintered light on the mountains defining the other side of the narrows. Every evening around four, the sun began its descent behind those same hills and the evenings cooled some ten degrees to accommodate comfortable sleeping. Then out to the small porch where I’d banked a single bed on a metal frame against the logs of the outer cabin wall and loaded it with several pillows as backrests. It was there I sat, sublime and attentive in the flickering candlelight. Senses tuned to waves gently lapping rocky shoreline; birds ruffling feathers as night descended with a familiar finality.

Then the moon rose over the water as shafts of light bounced and shimmied and fanned its calming surface, while a billion stars flickered overhead like carefully constrained fireworks seeding themselves in the inky infinity of the heavens.

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