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’ve just had three days with hectic-ness, ongoing exhaustion, plenty of anger. I’ve been so tired I’ve let dirty dishes sit in the sink, dragged my mother to El Pollo Loco, read a new fantasy novel by Naomi Novik (she of the dragon stories). There has been genuine laughter and odd, goofy, hunched up prancing through the house, a weird grin on my face. Decades ago as an undergraduate at Cal I was daydreaming on the grass when a young man stopped. “You look like you have all the answers,” he said. I laughed. “No,” I said, “but I have a lot of questions.” I remember the unexpected, happy intimacy of the exchange, and how underneath the memory I can point to that day as the day I first understood letting go was the secret to everything in life. For months now I have refused to surrender, have resisted every damn inch of what is. These past two weeks on top of everything that’s been going on, both the next door neighbors and the people across the street have been breaking up cement with a jackhammer, hour after hour after day. If I am not being asked to surrender, I don’t know anything. Maybe my default lethargy is a good sign? We’re not in Kansas anymore. Be easier with it, my dear one, if you can.
My body’s still thrumming from the vibration of driving, from the intensity of southern California freeways. I can hear the dishwasher in the kitchen, the crickets through the open sliding glass door. My mind is still sorting through the images of my home, ravaged by desert rats, kin to the ones I relocated with such tender care eight months ago and more. It’s like sifting through photos loose in a box, like flash cards. I can still smell their urine. My friend Maureen saved me from becoming a puddle on the floor, working her butt off, making big dents for me in the chaos. After she left I just kept going. Nothing is clean there now but the toilet and the cutting board in the kitchen. The top of the refrigerator is the only surface the rats did not mar. But the floor’s been swept, the bird feeders filled. I did not fully land much, though, and that is disappointing. I got to watch Maureen just feet away from me, marvel at her three-dimensionality outside of Zoom. But I wasn’t completely present. I remember a mourning dove on the roof of the trailer looking down into the courtyard with longing, getting up to scatter some seeds for him. A hummingbird came to hover behind me, but I was too wrapped up in whatever I was going to turn to greet him, a heartache now and a longing of my own. At one point in the late morning when I am sweeping I catch a sense of their rat glee, chasing each other around, leaping from couch to bookshelf, wild animals at Disneyland closed for the pandemic. “I love them, too,” I say to Maureen. “I know,” she says. And we turn back to our sweeping while the day grows hot around us.
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.
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.
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.
I hear the loud heater
down the hall
and think of my little home
and silence in the middle of the night
especially in winter
with no air conditioners
only cold air
through the open louvers
and the cry of the barn owl
and years ago, the small, warm weights
of my two cats
tucked against me
in the quiet night.