I have a funny Sunday night. I wake in the deep of it to steady, quiet rain outside the opened louvered windows. It’s a surprise. I love the rain, and this kind speaks to some deep peace in me. I go out to the back yard naked, collect all the cushions, pile them in the living room. I fall asleep again to the almost silent presence of this summer rain. Before dawn, I wake to wind, the leaves loud in the liquid ambers, the quick, hard sounds of the neighbor’s American flag. I go back outside to put down the three umbrellas, get back in bed. I am not ruffled by this effort or this unexpected need, only responding to it, at ease. (So out of character for me.) The third time I wake is to Monday morning’s trash trucks. I head out the front door, clothed this time, to put out our bins. I go back to bed again because it seems like the thing to do, to complete the pattern of the night, only to daydream a little, to finish waking up. But there is a softness that stays with me into the morning, as if this funny night of waking and going outside and going back to bed was more ritual than oddity, like a Buddhist monk doing walking practice, or the clergy in Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium who stayed up all night chanting to help their god return in the morning with the sun.
This morning I am doing my chores and hear the ravens call. When I go out to my corner of the yard, the two of them are siting in the neighbor’s tree. They are quiet now, using their softer vocalizations. I sit with my back to them, and their sounds soothe me while I write. I go inside to get my tea, and I forget to honor them before I leave. When I go back out again, they are gone. I am pierced by my regret. I send them my silent apologies. Tears come to soften me from whatever it was that disturbed me earlier. (I don’t remember now. Something is always disturbing me these days.) Regret is not the route I’d choose to my unhardened heart, but today I am grateful because it does the trick, gets me inside. I like it inside. The juvenile red-tailed hawk shows himself above the ridge when my tears come, and I don’t believe it’s coincidence. Because I am inside again, I am able to connect with him. He circles wider, flies right above me, low enough that I can see his markings. My gratitude widens with the arc of his flight, quiet and clear like his passage across the sky. Later, I shake my head. Regret as entryway to gratitude and gifts. Who would have thought?
When I stop, even for a moment, my bone-deep exhaustion starts to sink me. I begin to fall asleep in guided meditations. I have become one of those people I used to watch sometimes in sangha whose head drifts lower and lower until they wake with a jerk and place themselves upright, only to begin the nodding off process again. I drink more yerba maté at sunset. Swimming makes me feel alive while I’m in the water. I have become too tired again for real joy, only a deep gratitude—bone-deep like the exhaustion, cell-deep—for that huge, orange crescent moon last night when I turned off the living room lights, for the appearance of the red-tailed hawk in unexpected moments, for the early morning birdsong and the mornings I wake with a quiet heart to listen, for the two ravens speaking in the neighbor’s tree, those round sounds I love so much, like rolling percussive taps of hollow wood. For moments without anger. For each time I am tender and kind.
I sit when I can in the back corner of the yard beneath the lime green umbrella where I can see the ridge behind us. In these squirreled away minutes I savor my yerba maté and commune with these foothills. I hunt for signs of life, hope for red-tailed hawks or ravens, the ridge my much-loved companion. She came to me in my compassion class when we were asked to call up a comfort image. The ridge came, and my beloved San Jacintos came, too, with their many layers of ridges, old, old friends now. Mountains are in my blood, though I didn’t understand this before today, these foothills from childhood, my Girl Scout mountains, my Ajijic mountains, my Palm Springs mountains. The steady nature of them all, an ancient abiding, wise, deep beings every one. When I lived in Mexico I translated one of my favorite rounds into Spanish, not word for word but the feeling of the song. I would sing it from the third-floor roost of my blue house in Todos Santos at the end of the day, my long hill darkening before me, running west toward my sliver of sea. “Los cerros que viven aqui,” I sang, “Ellos pasan tiempo conmigo. Doy gracias por los cerros.” The hills that live here, they keep me company. I give thanks for the hills. I sing the song tonight in this late, late dusk, my ridge now a dark but breathing silhouette against the blue purple sky. The west a fading orange, and Venus brilliant just above that swathe of pale green we get in this longitude. New moon evening, one lone cricket starts his song. I wonder if I’ll hear the owls tonight.
I am still not used to days of going and going, still finding my way in this, wanting to touch down more, palms to the earth. But there are pockets in most days, places where I land, even if only for moments. Some just rise up in me, like sitting in the car in Montrose drinking my yerba maté the other day when I felt so incredibly lucky. Some pockets meander over, like the hawk that swooped in and sat on the electric pole when Asterik and I were talking in the street. Sometimes I reach for these places, like stopping with my tea, sitting in the back yard taking in the ridge, the mockingbird singing in the leafed out liquid amber, the California towhee on the wet ground eating millet. Taking in whoever shows up. And the moment late at night when I turn off the last light before going to my room. I look through the living room to the solar Christmas lights outside on the succulent, the corner of the San Fernando Valley lit up in the distance, cars moving in slow motion on the freeway. I stand still in the kitchen doorway, this silent evidence of life happening out in the world, and the lush echoes of it alive in the dark quiet of the house, memory of the day just lived, and holding tomorrow.
The mockingbird I hear here
mimics different birds
than my desert mockingbird
who sang for me when he was young
practicing his calls
in the middle of the summer nights
The mockingbird here
sings outside the opened louvers
just like at home
And I love hearing him
even if he wakes up longing in me
for my little home
and my mockingbird
underneath the desert stars.