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.
Last Sunday I saw the female red-tailed hawk closer than I’ve ever seen her, flashes of both belly and back, the dark outline beneath her wings, the red tail fanned out, translucent, lit by the sun. She landed on a shrub at the top of the ridge near the spot where the row of seven yuccas bloomed once, my companions and my comfort in an earlier stretch of time here. I imagined her studying me. I’ve never been so aware of wanting to be found worthy.
Years ago my friend Richard talked about how we can shine a light on any aspect of ourselves, bringing our attention to it, and that’s all we need to do for it to transform. (I’m sorry. I don’t know if this should be attributed to a particular teacher.) I remember telling him you would have to have a lot of kindness for yourself in order for that to work. I knew it wasn’t working like that for me. The other day I was sitting in my corner of the back yard beneath the lime green umbrella, thinking about my anger, my reactivity, my yelling. I was deep in my thoughts, the pool, the pots of succulents, the bees, even the lizards all receding. I am always paying attention to some degree when I’m acting out, I thought. But my observer isn’t curious or kind. My behavior isn’t okay with her. I think if I want to be able to rein myself in more quickly and more often, I need to develop a better relationship with my observer, fund more kindness, foster more genuine interest in my goings on. I can almost hear her. Oh, look, she whispers, fascinated, look what you’re doing now. Isn’t that interesting. Oh, see how it isn’t working for you? Let’s see what we can do, she says. I can dream up a version of me laughing at myself, brimming with self-acceptance. I can almost touch her. But I am too far away. Still, the sense of possibility is heartening. I look up at the ridge, my little bit of mountain here, scan the edges for a sitting hawk. I don’t see one today. But hope sits inside me. Maybe if my observer can be kinder, she can talk me around.
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.
In the mid-90s I wanted to have a baby. My body really wanted to be pregnant. I lived on a hill outside Sebastopol in northern California, and I would walk up and down Tilton Road, watch the red-shouldered hawks soar in the canyon between my hill and the next. I remember climbing the hill one morning on my way home, nearing the row of mailboxes for our dirt side road. I was all filled up on the day, the hill, the hawks, my strong body climbing. I remember feeling that exhilaration, that joy, and noticing that longing for a child nestled beside it. It’s the first time I remember understanding how we can hold more than one big thing at a time. Today it’s mostly anger and fear. I try to hold them with kindness, but the anger is harder. And underneath it all is a deep sadness that permeates everything. It lifts here and there like this morning beneath the liquid ambers, one of those moments when everything intersects. I go to turn the sprinkler off, and a mockingbird begins to sing nearby. I look for him in the leafing branches of the liquid amber one tree over. And looking up, I see a lizard coming down the tree whose roots I’m standing on to reach the sprinkler so I don’t get my slippers wet. He stops to check me out, and that is the moment when it all coalesces. I greet the lizard and hear the mockingbird’s song and see the morning sun between the new leaves of the liquid ambers and taste the wet earth and feel my toes grip the tree roots beneath my slippers. Joy comes with this sense of divine intersection. And sadness still tucked up beside it, companion for the long haul.
I have two paper bags and a USPS bin of mail sitting untouched in the spare room. Seven empty bags of yerba maté scattered across the big wooden table in my room. Eight long lists of things I need to do littering the floor, herb books, my scribbled up calendar folded open to April. But when I have a free hour I do not clean my room or sort my months-old mail. I do not spend hours on the phone lining up appointments or checking tasks off my lists. Instead when it’s quiet I read in the afternoon. In the morning I sit in the sun with a cup of hot yerba maté and let my mind drift. When I make effort beyond the basics or the unexpected, they are small moments, small things, planting cat grass seeds in the patch of dirt where the cherry tree used to be, watering the pots of succulents beside the pool. Three days ago, I cut a window in the big ball of ficus tree and hung the bird feeder in the hole. You can see the trunk, the branches, the feeder like a little house in a cavern of leaves. It feels like a real tree now, and birds are coming. House finch, white crowned sparrows, towhees. When I watch them I think the veil between me and the world might be thinning. Nothing is easy in me, but I think it might be easing.
Two turkey vultures soar above the back yard
silent and slow, unhurried
The near full moon rises in the early dusk
as we walk, arms linked
Hot yerba maté, as if it is life I swallow
in big noisy gulps
Great horned owls call from the big pines
at my old elementary school
Even though I think I don’t deserve the gift
Yet they keep calling, again and again and again
For longer than I have ever heard an owl call
And I wonder if they are responding to my love
or if there is a secret message
in their muted voices
as late dusk turns to near dark.