The Weaver at the Loom (33)

There are two white crowned sparrows, winter migrants, and two house finch in the tray feeders. The doves scattered earlier, probably a circling hawk. Now we have a bit of quiet in the courtyard, only the occasional melodic sounds from the sparrows and some goldfinch conversations coming from my neighbors’ tree. I love these daytime forays of the white crowned sparrows. Last year I almost never saw them. But I relished the sounds of them scavenging the fallen birdseed just before full light or in the late, late dusk before full dark. They are tender spirits, I think, quick to seek cover. Maybe the growing bougainvillea in the corner is making them more bold this year? Knowing they have a nearby retreat? Today I am battling a cold, so I am subdued, a running underlying sense of wanting to be asleep. But I feel good, too. The volunteer marigolds, over a hundred, I think, are in perfect time for the Day of the Dead. This morning their bright orange pops in the gray day. Halloween is the pagan new year, too, one of the eight main pagan holidays, a day when the veil between the worlds thins. I feel it all today in my courtyard, heralded by the hundred neon marigolds, by our migrating sparrows, by the absence of the sun. There are times when we can feel the earth turning, pivotal points like now with these looming holidays. We move more fully into the moon-dominated part of the year, from the fall equinox until the winter solstice. It feels perfect for my life right now, for my writing work, my healing, this turning inward that comes with the seasons. And it makes me even more grateful for the gift of extra time I’ve been given (regardless of the loss of income). The doves come back now in twos and threes, and the courtyard becomes busy with their steady pecking and their constant flutter. But if you listen hard, underneath their sounds you can hear Guy Gavriel Kay’s weaver at the loom. Do you hear her? The clack of the loom, the sound of the shuttle as we near next week when the veil between the worlds grows thinnest? And when you open your mouth, the air tastes like magic.

Altar Peace (34)

my altar with candles and pumpkin and marigolds

My day of the dead unfolded without effort, my altar growing little by little over the past week, my ritual organic and unplanned. I bought a big bunch of orange marigolds at the farmers market, and yesterday I plucked them from their stems, added them to the altar. Now it is a living, breathing thing beside me, candles at the heart of it. I wish I could let you see it the way I see it. The changing light adds a kind of sharpness, a clarity. It makes the colors dazzle, the flames dance. Every time I look at it it makes my heart dance, too. I have a big grin on my face, and I feel so lucky I could burst. And the smell—that spicy, earthy scent. I won’t need food if I can just keep breathing it in. Sunday in the late dusk I watered the plants here in the courtyard, went through the long list of my dead. They’d been coming to me bit by bit, but this time I started at the beginning, worked my way through each one in order, from my dog Grunt and my Oma almost 50 years ago to my cat Sofia, my newest dead. I ended up standing in the dark beside the glowing altar talking to each one, wanting them to know they are well loved and well missed, asking for blessings on them at this time when the veil between the worlds is thin, midway through these months when the moon holds sway. Today while I write a bee comes to grace the altar, touching each blossom in turn, messenger of the gods. Feliz día de los muertos. Happy turning of the wheel.

Book Company (24)

I must have been in a weird place when I read Natalie Goldberg’s Thunder and Lightning the first time. Because I remember being disappointed, and I’m loving it this second time through. I am using it the way I’ve been rereading her other books, a chapter or sometimes two before I do my daily writing. I’ve described this before, I think. Letting myself read about writing carves out time and space for me to be a writer. It makes me feel like I am part of the conversation, one writer among many. Now that I feel good about Thunder and Lightening, too, it means I have four books of hers to reread. But I will need to take a break from them when I’m done with this one. I need to read the other books I have on writing, the small collection I bought before I moved to Mexico. I don’t know what possessed me. At that time before I left the country I must have still been reading a chapter every morning, Natalie Goldberg or Ray Bradbury or even Dorothea Brande or Brenda Ueland, four of my favorites. So I combed bibliographies and bought more books about writing, consumed with preserving this ritual in foreign lands. In Hopland, where it began for me, I would sit outside on my stone porch that looked across a big field, a craggy rock embedded in the hillside. I would read first, and then I’d write a page of my novel, my answer to unearthing time for my writing even though I was still in my first years of teaching when there was no time. I promised myself I would write for eleven minutes each day. And the time before the writing, immersing myself in the world of the writer, was sheer joy.

When I’m finished reading Thunder and Lightning, I tell myself now, I will tackle one of the new books. I tried reading a few of them before, but I never made it very far. Now I am determined to read them all. Maybe there will be another gem or two I can add to my “real” collection. If I can grow it a bit larger, if I find enough of them that feed me the way my favorites do, then by the time I finish the last one in my set I can just begin again with the first, Writing Down the Bones. The thought delights me, even if it makes me sound insane. Because no matter how many times I reread them, I’m always reminded of something I’ve forgotten, something timely to my life right now. I see things I missed before, too, or I understand them in a new way. And always in returning to one of these books there is that joining in, that sharing of the writer’s life, the comfort of the writer’s voice like reuniting with an old friend, like sliding into my old, worn sweater, the color of wine, the one with the holes in it I love to dig out at the first hint of chill in the fall air. So, I’m going to read the books I haven’t read but carried with me for eight years, go looking for new old friends. But maybe, before I begin, I’ll first let myself return to Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. Because it’s been a long, long time, and the thought of his sweet, kind, vibrant being draws me back again.

Goodbye Grackle (7)

I hear a bird who is not one of my “regulars,” and I stop sweeping, stand listening in the open doorway of my trailer home. A timid peep comes from the Palo Verde, a verdin, who also doesn’t visit often. But his is not the sound I’ve stopped for. It was someone louder. Someone is calling from the top of the electrical pole across our small road. When I walk outside to look, I can’t see anyone up there. But he keeps talking, so I go get my binoculars. I used to bring them out to the courtyard every morning, to sit beside my notebook, my pens, my small pile of books. Sometimes I would just sit and watch my regulars, my mourning doves, my house finch, my hummingbirds. But they would be handy when someone unusual showed up. It’s a habit I’d like to resurrect. Now I study the top of the pole with the binoculars. It takes a bit of time, but when I see the bird it clicks. He is a great-tailed grackle, one of my favorites. I used to talk to them when I walked in the mornings along the bike path. But now there is no water for them on the golf course, and I don’t hear them anymore. I would say they never come to our trailer park, but there he is. I watch him on the pole, glossy black, big tail waving, intense. I stand listening to his calls. I should have recognized his voice. It is the sound of the Mexican mainland to me, a return to civilization, the exotic calls both welcome and comfort. He flies off heading south. I stand at the edge of my courtyard and watch him fly away. It feels like he came to visit me. Warm tears push at the corners of my eyes. And now the moon is in the south, too, a thin waning sickle in our pale blue sky. I breathe and settle. Goodbye, grackle. Hello, moon.

Cherimoya (34)

cherimoya sitting on the Saturday section of the L.A.Times

I am holding a bag of lemons. Should I buy one bag or two? The farmer is describing the cherimoyas to another customer. “They’re creamy like a custard,” he says. “They taste like vanilla and coconut.” I remember seeing them in Mexico, but I can’t remember if I ever ate one. I like the odd cactus and reptile look of them. I read the sign—it says $6 per pound. My mind must balk because it plays tricks with that. My lemons are $5 for a bag of nine. I have already counted. I think, oh, the cherimoyas are really cheap. They must not be very popular in this country. My mind is thinking they are six for a dollar. I choose one that is not yet ripe, select five tangerines, pay, too, for my lemons. After, I find out the cherimoya cost $3.40. Now it is sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting to ripen. I don’t know whether to hope I love it or hate it, though hating it would be easiest, I think. If I love it, I will have to buy more.

15.2.2015 or Not Quite Mine (29)

Ah. I had no idea today was a magic number day until I wrote the date in my notebook: 15.2.2015. I still write the dates the way they’re written in Mexico (and most of the world, I’m guessing) with the day first and then the month. Maggie—a woman I met in Ajijic who split her time between Barbados and Canada but had come to Mexico for dental work—told me once my number based on my name is 15, so now I think of it as lucky. She had changed the spelling of her own name to get a better number. And she hated my beloved 29, based on my birthday. She thought it was a terrible number. I wonder if she would have changed her date of birth, too, if she could? My mind gets to wander while I write. It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve written in my notebook. My pen feels funny in my hand, my writing odd looking and out of practice. I am out of practice in all ways, it seems, knowing nothing but work these past six weeks. Work, and fitting in things between work, like sleeping and eating healthy meals. I’ve done my healing toning almost every day while I do my “morning chores,” but I’ve been doing them in the late afternoon or evening more often than not, having let work sweep me away for most of the day. I’ve begun to do my yoga again, though—a small set of sun salutes, mostly, hiding in the shade of the umbrella in the late mornings. And I’ve been swimming three times now. I’m especially pleased about these last two, about having found a way to reach the doing of them in the midst of this crazed stretch. But now, slowing down to write, I feel exhausted and numb, like my mind is not quite mine anymore.

Good Candlemas (27)

nasturtiums, bougainvillea

I light five candles for the pagan holiday today, pick flowers from our courtyard garden. They are still out on the patio table. I peeked at them a bit ago, watching them through the kitchen window, something reassuring and ancient about the look of those five flames lighting the dark. It’s been like early summer in the middle of our Palm Springs winter, that delicious evening air that feels like velvet against your skin. Or maybe you are the velvet—it is hard to know. It reminds me of one evening years ago sitting in the warm pool at Tassajara, the water and the air and my skin all one temperature so you couldn’t tell where one began or ended, the closest I have ever felt to being literally one with air and sky and water. The days have grown warmer than I’d choose, wanting as I am to push summer off as long as I can, but how can I complain about this evening air? It is like January in Ajijic, bare feet braced against the railing of my third floor roost, my northern Californian self almost gloating. I was barefoot in January. Now seven winters later I am spoiled in this. But still, I want to linger, wallow in the sweet, soft ease of it. Happy Candlemas, everyone.

five tealight candles, flowers, orange metal bird