I walk south toward my old neighborhood with my lime green umbrella, carrying my shade. I got it in my head I might want to change the location of my writing retreat in November. So today I walk south to find David, who I knew from convivial impromptu gatherings of neighbors in the street at dusk, who has a beautiful inn there in a bend of the road where cicadas meet to sing, to see if this might be a spot for us. Two young people stare at me when I open the door to the lobby. They are cool toward me, stiff. David doesn’t own the hotel anymore. I leave and walk north, past David’s old house. It looks the same, bougainvillea spilling over the brick wall. I didn’t know how much I was looking forward to our brief reunion, that welcome and warm mutual regard. I feel tears pushing, but I know the sadness in me is bigger than this grief. What comes next is the way the young man and woman in the lobby seemed to freeze, how they believed I didn’t belong there, and now I do cry because I am weary of people making me feel like I am less than. (I think of people of color, then, about having moments like this all the time.) So, I carry my shade, and I carry my sadness, softer now, held low against my belly with kindness, and I walk north. I cross the creek bed and let the wildness of the ravine seep into me. When I am on the other side, the church bells begin. I stand in the shade of a big desert willow and listen to the bells ring the noon hour, umbrella dangling, eyes closed. In the quiet after, I hear a small bird calling in the willow. A cicada starts it’s song, and a breeze comes. I stand there for a long time, taking it in, the big gift of it all washing through me. Then I walk north again, toward home, carrying my shade.
Chris Erskine, one of my favorite columnists at the L.A. Times, was kind enough to reply to my email years ago. I remember he talked about how writing a column or a blog can be hard because we’re dependent on what happens in our lives. It was the first time I understood the contrast for me, how it moves between plethora and dearth. Because today I want to come back to those two hummingbirds in my living room whose visit I completely missed when I was having a difficult conversation on the phone the other day. And the last time I was on my bird walk, how I was focused on a woodpecker in a nearby oak, when the man beside me said, “Oh, look, a deer.” I glanced up only long enough to see him, to note his short antlers, and went back to looking at the woodpecker. After, I felt terrible. I went looking for the young buck but couldn’t find him. “I’m sorry,” I told the man later when I’d caught back up to the group. “I shouldn’t have let bird trump buck.” But two weeks later, I still feel sad about it, lying on my back in the courtyard after my yoga. I feel sad I was unable to transfer my attention in that moment. I adore deer. If I’d made a real choice, I would have stopped, breath caught in my chest, and watched the deer in wonder. It is still a grief in me, no ease in forgiving myself, in letting even small things like this go. It comes to me I may need to allow the sadness in more when it first arises. Maybe even one brief full moment would do the trick. Maybe an apology to the buck? I coax myself in letting go. I am only human. I’ll miss moments. I’ll mess up others. I’ll get good at forgiving myself. May I rejoice in the times I remember to stop.
I don’t know how to stop. When I’m alone, I’m better. When I bump my head on the kitchen cabinet or the third time I try to send an email it still doesn’t work, often I stop long enough to recognize the universe is trying to tell me something. Sometimes I can really stop and redirect myself. But with people it can feel impossible. It is a hot, humid afternoon. I am siting on the couch in the living room talking on the phone. I’m frustrated, impatient, and it’s coming through the sound of my voice. I’m trying to resolve something, unwilling to step back and let it go for now. Two hummingbirds fly in through the open louvers, but I am so wrapped up in my own disturbance, I don’t even look at them. Only a small, distant part of me even knows they have come inside. They spiral together, one glimpse from the corner of my eye. I moderate the tone of my voice on the phone, drop back to a kinder delivery, but I do not drop all the way back down to myself. Later, it makes me sad. The universe sent these amazing creatures on my behalf, tiny luminescent messengers meant to help me, and I missed the whole thing. I did recalibrate, and I’m glad for that. But I was so closed up in my limited experience I missed the magnificence of the moment. I didn’t drop down to bedrock, didn’t welcome those two little beings, didn’t touch awe or gratitude. But tonight I don’t berate myself. I touch the sadness, yes, the disappointment. But I remind myself we live in a generous universe. We get lots of chances. I’m just going to keep trying to pay better attention. I’m going to believe I can learn to stop even in the heart of my disturbance. I’m going to keep aiming myself for the next time, or the next. Or maybe the time after that.
I stay up past 2am, surprise myself by sleeping until almost nine. I’m allowing myself bizarre behavior, working until late, getting up most days between seven and eight, deep sleep again in the afternoon or early evening. My nights keep growing later and later, my naps, too. I can’t tell if this is crazy dumb or something else, some new allowance on my part, not listening to the insistent logic of the gatekeeper, a good thing, maybe. I know it’s opened something up in my days, knowing I can begin again fresh each evening, knowing there is a long stretch of the night ahead of me. In past years, I trained myself to be up by 5:30 or 6am, the thing to do in desert heat, a chance to be outside. This morning I am leery stepping out into the courtyard, testing the air, but even at 9am I am okay. Saved, still, by our delicious, short summer, only four months this year instead of six or seven, so in August I am not yet used up by the long trudge of it, and already it is lessening. Subtle changes, the peak heat not lasting as long, the temperatures easing back when the sun disappears behind the mountains. Today I am late, though, so for now I sweep only the bit I need to lay down my yoga mats, the thin old purple one on top of the shorter, thick, bright orange one I had to cut off because the young desert rats chewed on it during their inadvertent run of the trailer. I watch the shade move across the cement and begin my yoga just in time. I salute the sun again and again. But I linger too long in chavasana, so the sun itself catches me at the end, only half my body left in the disappearing shade. I went deep, though, so it doesn’t matter. I come to sitting, slowed, opened up, grinning. Namaste.
I turn toward hope, and then
the half moon and I watch three silent ravens
wing across the daylight sky.
On the walk back to the train station, I stop beneath a liquid amber and listen to a raven make his luscious, rounded talking sounds. I stand there for a long time listening, watching him in the fork of the tree, all shiny black, proud, strong beak. When he flies away, I listen to his wings beat against the air until I can’t hear them anymore. Waiting by the train tracks, after, I remember the lucky penny I found on my trip here twenty days ago. I left it behind this morning with a note, transferring the luck. Because of the penny, I scan the ground. I see a dead hawk lying beside the track. She is on her back, one wing splayed open, a richness of underfeathers open to the sky, striped ones, tufts of pure white ones that flutter in the breeze. A Cooper’s hawk, I’m almost certain. I kneel beside her. Every cell in me wants to cradle her still form in my arms, hold her against me, carry her somewhere softer, safer, prettier. Tuck flowers around her. But my train is due any moment. I hear the train even now, kneeling beside her. I can’t stop crying. I ask blessings for her, shoulder my backpack, turn toward the train. I am still crying when I find my seat upstairs, leaving the hawk, leaving everything behind, it seems. I look out the window, and everything blurs. Her mountains are behind me now, too, I think. But even now, I marvel. How did she and I manage to go from where we were to where we are now in such short a time? How did we soften, still so near the nightmare of those first weeks? How did we so swiftly come full circle, all the way back to sweetness, back to love?
Early Sunday morning I am on my way home. I am early for my train, so I wander down the semi-residential street, hoping for a latte. I stand for a long time beneath one of my favorite trees, pink and rose blossoms like starfish. It is full of tight buds, amazing autumn bloom. There are ravens everywhere in the quiet street, the only ones out here with me at this hour. I follow them, drink a decaf soymilk latte on a bench, savor every hot, creamy sip. I see her mountains in the distance, feel an ache to be leaving. Yesterday when we said goodnight there was sweetness between us, and again this morning when I woke her to say goodbye. The night before I had a tantrum in self-hatred, couldn’t decide when to leave, wanted flat, pan-fried noodles but couldn’t bring myself to go get them, settled on making brown rice pasta in green salad for the two of us, settled on leaving Sunday. Then we settled in together with dinner, our closest thing to peace in weeks. I look away from the mountains now, feel again the ache of separation. I glance at my coffee cup, see my name on the label. It is spelled right, even though she didn’t ask me how to spell it. It is such a small thing, but it feels like a gift. Seeing my name reaches into me, softens me somehow, makes me cry. It brings me back to myself. I’ve seen myself in the bathroom mirror a handful of times in the past two days, really seen myself, the first in all this time. I rub my thumb over the label on my cup, and I think, as hard as I tried to take care of myself, maybe I mostly disappeared.