The noxious air from the fires takes its toll. I am so looking forward to the possibility of our desert having both clean air and cooler temperatures, to be able to walk fast, take big gulps of air, pleasure in full lungs. I can’t wait for rain to return to us, wash the leaves of the desert orchid trees, fill the creek bed, lick our wounds clean. I can hear it now, hard rain on my umbrella, hundreds of frogs singing, mockingbirds alive again, the cacophony a happy jazz, slap of shoes on pavement, deep breaths of clean, wet air. Like marmalade on gingerbread, like the scent of garlic cooking in butter, like nothing can compare to being able to move in our outdoor world with ease. Oh, and no virus, too, while I am dreaming up our future, no wet masks in this rain, only cool air on warm, wet lips, fogged up glasses, singing myself now as I swing my hips, lengthen my stride, move boldly beyond where life has let me go in recent times, a big grin on my face.
[This piece came from our spontaneous writing session on September 14th. The words pulled from the magic pouch were: marmalade, lick, noxious, gingerbread, jazz.)
I am not protesting in the streets because of the pandemic, but I am holding the hope in these acts close. But I’ve been troubled by the angry chanting. Not that people don’t have cause to be angry. Centuries of reasons for rage. Still, I am disturbed by the tenor of things, by what feels like a crossing over, moving away from nonviolent resistance. Wait, I want to say. This is not what Gandhi would want. Not what Martin Luther King would want. This is not what John Lewis tried for in his long, dedicated years of service. (If we keep going in this angry direction, will they all be rolling over in their graves?) I keep thinking we should be singing instead. I lie on my back in the courtyard after chavasana making up lyrics in my head to the melody of “Give Peace a Chance.” Black lives matter, I breathe. Brown lives matter. Queer lives matter. Women’s lives, too. “All we are saying,” I sing under my breath. Now and then I smell smoke from the brush fire near Banning, send up small prayers for all the beings there. The mourning doves glance my way, this strange beast beside them, but they don’t take wing.
I ride my orange bike on the creek path, the world quick glimpses. Five ravens in the middle of the street eating roadkill. A strip of water beside the curb on the other side, sprinkler runoff. They slow hop and waddle between the two, easy together. I grin at this offer of adjacent food and drink, this perfect impromptu dining. When I am past, I see one lone raven sitting in the shade beside the path watching them. And then they are all behind me, and I ride toward the San Jacintos. I think about going back to move the dead animal off the road and onto the sand beside the path to keep the scavengers safe from speeding cars. But I decide the car that hit the squirrel or rabbit has adhered it to the asphalt, so it’s perfect for pecking out morsels, and if I moved it, it would be loose and flap around when they tried to eat and be harder to share. That settles it for me. I don’t have to debate further, consider every angle, wonder if I might cause a fuss moving it, get a raven hit by a car, cause harm trying to help. But sometimes it feels impossible to know, and choosing is agony. Later, on my ride home, one raven stands in the center of the street. The water has dried up, as if it was never there. The other ravens sit quiet and still beside the path in that same spot of shade beneath the two short palms and the desert orchid tree, each strong, curved beak open wide in the late morning heat.
These days I can still become unglued in an instant, leap from grateful and open, watching a roadrunner beside the creek path, to cursing people quietly behind my mask. In our humid days, our brutal heat, my sweat is salty on my lips, on the brush of the back of my hand. I move from minutia, from frustration with the online Ralph’s order, the jarring conversation about hearing aids—I move from this weighted trivia into outerspace, long moments lying on my back in chavasana, tears pooling in my ears, my body both wedded to the earth and light, as if I might float off, join the crescent moon in the daylight sky, healing in the depths of me in tiny, magic, unseen moments.
[Editor’s note: This piece came from three drawn words in our spontaneous writing session today: salty, outerspace, unglued.]
I cup my mask in my open palm as I turn the corner, ready to cover my face if anyone is nearby. The mask is red with pale orange petals, some in flower clusters, some scattered like starbursts. I am fond of this mask because Candace’s mother made it and because I am fond of Candace. (Her mother sews them in Fresno, and they sell them at the health food store where Candace works.) I turn now onto my small road, no one in sight. I’m coming home from my walk by the creek bed. My hip was troubling me, so this is my first walk in a week, and I am coming home nourished by the quiet, the roadrunners, the rabbits, the savoring of solitude in the company of that long span of wildness. I keep walking. I become aware of a vibration in the center of my hand. I look down, and the knot on the ear loop is bouncing up and down with my steps. I keep walking, my palm gentle, tucked close to my ribs, as if I cradle a beating heart in my hand.
Happy house finch chatter
louder than usual
wakes me in my work
I peek around the doorway
to see a dozen of them
sitting on the open louvers
enjoying the cooler air
alive and dear and
charming beyond belief.
I still seem to be all over the place. I keep hoping I’ll regain my balance. Finding more time to sleep will help, I know. One morning I get up early for my walk, return home with time to sweep the courtyard, fill the feeders in the guayaba tree for my house finch. It’s the first time I haven’t been rushing to finish before my 8:30am work meeting, and when I carry out the big bag of seed, I feel joy come the way it used to. The next day I am anxious and short on the phone with a colleague, brittle and brusque the next day leading my “Sheltering in Place” writing session on Zoom. I resist how rigid I feel. “Some shelter you’re offering,” I mutter, mean to myself. I tell my story later on another weekly Zoom, my voice cracking. “I don’t want to be like this,” I say. Not very Buddhist, is it? All this resistance to what is. Today I yell at my mother. I make her cry. Later she’s angry at me when I call to apologize. “Well, you’re good at yelling,” she says. “Oh,” I say, hard voice in my brittle body. “Where do you think I learned it?” Silence. But I am still the monster who made her cry, though this time I let my own tears come, find my way out of this dark, stuck place. And later, too, I remember standing beside the creek bed yesterday in the shade beside a desert orchid tree. I remember how the hummingbird came to perch on a nearby branch of the tree, and I watched him preen. And then a raven glided overhead, low and close, and two mockingbirds spiraled past. One of them landed on the palm across the street and started to sing. I looked up just then and saw the waning crescent moon in the pale blue above the tallest branches, and it felt all of a piece, and me a part of it.