The fireworks are over. A relief, just lingering quiet pops now. I didn’t sleep well again last night, woke tired, a little sad, that longing to be well. But when I caught my eye in the bathroom mirror this morning, I was touched with tenderness for myself. My first real day off in the week since I’ve been back home, room to recover, restore. Long, slow yoga in the shade of the trailer. Funny food plan pancakes with avocado. In the late afternoon, the first sound of the cicadas this summer surprise me from the courtyard. The town has emptied out now. Later than usual? I can cross the busy streets near my home without long waits. Summer has come for us this year with a luxurious, light touch. I take a short nap, then walk out into the warm air to see the crescent moon hanging above the mountains, big round orb, too, in silhouette. I completely mess up my new phone, lose almost everything I’ve put into place. But I don’t throw it at the wall or stomp on it. I don’t even get angry. I think that’s a good sign. Still more quiet pops. The swamp cooler in the back room. And crickets in the courtyard, happy on the 4th of July.
I am early for sangha, for sitting practice and sharing, so I choose one of my favorite benches outside the dog park. It’s hot, 110 degrees, but I am shaded by a trio of young, beautiful trees, three small still-blooming palo verdes. I eat my little meal slowly, savor the crisp cabbage with guacamole, the sharp radishes with salt, the small cup of macadamias, walnuts, pistachios. It’s good to do things slowly when it’s 110 degrees, and I seem to be learning this. Small moment by small moment, I notice there is no one in the dog park, and even the birds are missing, hiding out from the heat. No one is here except me and one small verdin in the tree to my left. His presence comforts me. “Just the two of us,” I say. He moves from tree to tree within this triangle, nibbling on the tiny leaves, I think. Or maybe he is finding tiny bugs. When he flies away, I miss him. It’s just me now. But I am still content, take in the trees, the quiet, the peace. I don’t remember things going quite so still in the afternoon. I wonder if I wasn’t paying attention. The delight is our summer was delayed this year. Maybe it’s taking everyone by surprise, shocking us all into silence.
I’m lucky. I get the Los Angeles Times. I remember how I felt when I first subscribed, the relief and pleasure to be reading beautiful writing and “real” journalism. Years later, I still feel the same way. And in our political climate, I’m so glad I get the latest from the White House by reading it. I have the luxury of monitoring myself, stopping at my tipping point, first glimmers of nausea or fury. But my luck in this, my gratitude, blooms beyond this gift. When I allow myself to meander, I am fed the antidotes. I get to read about the good things like the two men, a gay couple in Berkeley, who’ve begun Café Ohlone. They are “reviving both food and language” and “preserving the deepest parts of Ohlone culture.” Or the two young women in high school, both immigrants (one from El Salvador, one from Egypt) who’ve been best friends since eighth grade. I get to read about the biologist Peter Sharpe who has dedicated his career “to reviving the once-endangered bald eagle,” one of the “great American wildlife comeback stories,” who climbs up into their nests to examine and tag the eaglets. And I get to read about the “New Arrivals Supper Club” where “recently settled refugees bond over the food and memories of the lives they left behind.” Wages are provided for the immigrant chef and the proceeds go to the family and to Miry’s List. Each time I let myself sink into one of these stories, I feel my heart soften. Hope strikes, warms. Gratitude spills over for all these human beings doing good, important work, for being the light against the dark, and for the paper who honors them. Thank you all.
I fall asleep when the afternoon is yellow with daylight and wake in the gray world of early dusk. I let the thin salmon blanket fall away to the couch, the one my yoga teacher brought back from Mexico more than 20 years ago for those of us who ordered one, real cotton, beloved, perfect for a nap in the early desert spring with the swamp cooler on low. I check the thermostat and my sleep-muted mind decides the 69 degrees means it is almost seven o’clock. It is the end of my first day home again after being gone. So the sound of the traffic is familiar but strange, the trailer more silent than I remember, the courtyard still quiet and magic in the almost-dark while I type, the solar lights coming on one at a time. Here with me, too, are the great horned owls from yesterday at the preserve, the three young ones beside the adult high in the fan palm, alert and still, almost ghost-like in their big tree cavern. I savor the memory of them, savor the ending of the day. I’ll eat Jerusalem artichokes tonight with flax seed oil and salt, finish the Annie Dillard book I’ve been reading, maybe go to sleep early. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is my Monday this week, and grading waits. I relish my solitude, and I miss the camaraderie. I can still hear Barney’s voice reading science questions from the little box of worn cards, still feel the easy warmth of the cabin, Corina beside me on the couch, Lila’s soft furry head against my leg, Angelika puttering in the kitchen. I can still feel my pleasure in being a part of the whole, in knowing I still remember how to join in, laughing.
I take off my necklace before yoga practice, lean forward to lay it on the glass tabletop in my courtyard. I’m not paying attention. I wake up partway through the act. There is something alive on the table. I make a little noise, wave my hands, knee-jerk startle, before I come to all the way and see who it is. It’s a small, scruffy male house finch, touched with orange-yellow. He is sitting in the shade of the umbrella facing away from me, his feathers unkempt. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I say. “You scared me.” I laugh because it is funny being scared by a bird. I bring seed in a sturdy metal dish, water in a red glass bowl. I move with care, but I push them close. He is missing one eye, partly blind in the other, I think. I murmur gentle sounds, gentle wishes. He turns toward my voice, moves his head as though maybe he can get a kind of read of my basic shape. He is not alarmed. I let him be, and he steps onto the edge of the metal bowl to eat. He is slow and steady. He eats for a long time while I do sun salutes beside him, careful not to swoop my arms up too swiftly each time I rise. I wonder if this is the most food he’s been able to have for a long time. I wonder if he’s nearing his end. After, I sit on my yoga mat and look up at him. He’s drinking the water, scooping up mouthful after mouthful. It is so dear to watch it brings tears to my eyes. He’s so beautiful, all delicate grace. I glance away, and then he’s gone. I bow forward, ask the bird gods for mercy. When I go to L.A., I leave the bowls on the table for him just in case.
I’ve lost my knack for fitting things into my day. I don’t know if I need to worry. I find myself tallying up the things I’ve done, as if I now need to be productive even on a Sunday. I wonder when I’ll be living again in an organized, tidy home with clean windows. Today I feed the birds and sweep the courtyard. I cook black-eyed peas because they’re on the list of legumes I am allowed to eat. I don’t want to push myself. I’ve pushed myself for decades. Surely that’s enough. I pick off all the deadish leaf twigs from the Mexican birds of paradise, and the happy bush remaining lifts me up. Such a small thing. In between my little chores I read the free book I found at the library, Queen of Dreams. I leaf through the Sunday paper. In the “Travel” section there’s a photograph from the country of Malta that makes me want to walk to the edge of the old city, stand with my hands on my hips, eyes across the sea. In the tiny laundry room at my trailer park I start the water in the washing machine, pour in the soap. I walk outside to let it fill before I add my clothes. My sandals crunch across the gravel until I am shaded by a fat, short fan palm in a neighboring yard. When I am out of the sun, I turn south. And there is the waning half moon to greet me and a hawk making slow circles in the sky beside it. I watch until he disappears. I think, maybe everything really is okay. Maybe I am doing enough, being enough, just as I am.
I’ve decided to offer a writing retreat this summer.
Thursday July 6th (late afternoon) through midday Sunday, July 9th
at Joshua Tree Retreat Center
Joshua Tree, California
(about 45 minutes from the Palm Springs airport)
What we’ll do
Our focus will be on spontaneous writing a la Natalie Goldberg (or Peter Elbow) with several different writing prompts for short timed writings. We’ll write together and read our work out loud, letting the alchemy happen. We’ll do some sitting practice, too. Afternoons will be in silence. And I’ll bring in a few tidbits about the craft of writing, as well. People will be encouraged to take care of themselves and bow out of any activity they may not feel comfortable with. But we’ll create a supportive and expansive space for each of us to try our wings as desired.
Costs for early registration
I will post registration details ASAP, but I’m eager and excited (and a little afraid!) and wanted to tell you all right away. Tentative cost for early registration is $400 for the retreat program, three nights shared lodging and three vegan meals per day (possibly with some eggs and dairy available on the side—not sure yet).
More details and to register
I’ll post a copy of the flyer as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, if you’d like more details or would like to register at this early registration price, please call me at home weekdays (Pacific Daylight Time): 760-327-9759.
Thank you for reading this! And if you know anyone else who may be interested I would so love for you to pass this on (and perhaps the flyer when it’s ready, too). Oh, and if you happen to know of any writing sites or retreat sites or someplace you think I might advertise this (for free or at low cost), that would be really helpful, too. Thanks again.
Holding the dream of magic here!