The Moon and the Stars (11)

I am sitting cross-legged on my purple yoga mat in the courtyard. I sweep my arms up, my eyes following my hands in their arc. I see a thin sickle of moon framed between the big fan palm and the pine tree, white against the pale blue sky. In the act of drawing breath, of sweeping my arms up, the flicker of thought comes to me to look for the moon. I’d seen it two days in a row from under the pine tree when I filled the finch feeder with thistle seeds. And now, just as I am thinking it may not be visible, that it rises later and later each day, the moon appears. It always surprises me, the unexpected gift of it, a greeting and a message, both. Whenever it finds me, it makes me stop, brings me present, tells me I am not alone. Hello, little one. Here I am. Here we are together.

moon with palm and pine

It feels like divine intervention, makes me feel tended with exquisite care, the moon placed just so, my gaze angled just so, positioned and poised to receive the gift, the true present. When it happens, I feel affirmed. I am in the exact spot I am meant to be, at the exact time. I have stopped on Palo Fierro, that day the raven and the mockingbird danced across the sky, showing me the late morning moon. I have stopped on Benito Juarez in Ajijic, neck craned, blocking the narrow banqueta, my eyes traveling across the vivid fuchsia bougainvillea trailing over the orange wall to find the half moon waiting for me in the afternoon sky.

The first stars in the evening feel a bit like this, too. When I walk at dusk I look for them, alert for that one moment when the sun’s light lessens its hold on the heavens and that first starry glimmer appears. I don’t know many names of the stars and the planets, but I am fond of Venus. When I lived in Todos Santos, it may have been Venus who greeted me in my semi-third floor roost. I’d sit outside under the small corner of roof in a tall chair beside the low parapet. I spent all my free time up there, when I wasn’t working or out walking, feet propped on the metal railing, my world spread out below. I faced southwest. In the mornings I would lean out to the east to watch flamingo clouds, listen to the village roosters taking roll. In the afternoons I’d watch the sun glint off my sliver of sea.

sliver of sea from roost in Todos Santos

moon and Todos Santos sunset from my roost

I can’t count the evenings I sat to watch the sun sink into it, the whole Pacific ablaze. After, I’d watch my hill to the south lose its outline against the blue black sky. But before the colors disappeared, when I spotted that first big shining planet, and after I made my wish, I’d lean way out over the rebar rail, twisting to search for the other stars who made a big cross against the evening sky. I saw it once long after I moved back to the United States, but it was in the wrong part of the sky, at a strange angle, my cross but not. I want to say it is the Southern Cross, but I don’t know where that comes from, like the odd word that pops into your head when you’re working on a crossword puzzle, just as likely to be wrong as it is to be right. I discovered the long narrow cross on my own one night in Todos Santos, and I looked for it every evening after. It felt like the moon feels to me, like a companion, a familiar presence. You are not alone. It whispered to me, sitting in my perch in the late dusk or the dark of early night. And I was ever grateful, I who was so far from home in a foreign land, no firm earth beneath my feet.

The Sunshine Award

It’s my pleasure to report I was nominated for the Sunshine Award by Natalia Sarkissian, an amazing photographer and gifted writer. Please visit her beautiful blog, Postcards from Italy.

Thank you, Natalia! You are a dear to include me in this. :)

I am posting the rules below, as well as a list of the blogs I am nominating in return. I hope you will follow the links to see where they lead. And I will include my “required” answers to the ten questions in a subsequent post.

sunshine award, orange flower and blue sky

Award Rules
1) Include the Award’s Logo in a post or on your blog.
2) Answer 10 questions about yourself.
3) Nominate 10 other bloggers.
4) Link your nominees to this post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.
5) Share the love and link the person who nominated you.

My nominees are:

The Urge to Wander
http://theurgetowander.com/

Romance Novel
http://jmgromance.com/

Global Anni
http://globalanni.wordpress.com/

avantourists
http://avantourists.com/

The Wanderlust Gene
http://thewanderlustgene.wordpress.com/

And my big thanks again to Natalia Sarkissian and her beautiful blog, Postcards from Italy.

Escape (10)

The air has been terrible for weeks. It brings back dim memories of smog-choked mountains from my first nightmare summer here, images I’ve told myself in the intervening years I must have misremembered or exaggerated in my own dark gloom. I check the air quality in the Los Angeles Times every morning, little colored circles, green, yellow, orange or red. We have been orange almost every day, “unhealthy for sensitive individuals.” Once we were even red, the only one, a danger for everyone, while the rest of southern California was green or yellow. It’s so bad it makes me not want to live here, has me back on craigslist combing for rentals, a part of me screaming inside to get away. Do I live near a nuclear power plant? Head for Blythe or Algondones? Can I trade this sun, this warmth I’ve become so spoiled by? They’ve been in the 60s at the beach all summer. It makes me shudder. (Oh, and yes, I realize summer has not yet actually begun, but we’ve been in the 100s for over a month already. It skews my perspective.)

Can I live like this, with this foul air, if it’s only for a handful of months every third summer? In Ajijic it was the spring months that were bad. I arrived in April, shocked by the horrible air. They allow agricultural burning, so all the fields in Jalisco were turned to ash in preparation for the summer planting, and the smoke would gather above the lake, blotting out the mountains on the southern shore. Like here, people would gaze back at me, a blank look on their faces, when I lamented the smog. How can they not notice? It’s with me always, my body’s instincts on guard against it. My lungs take shallow breaths, as though they might reduce the damage. And our mountains, our glorious mountains that are a presence everywhere, are diminished by the smog. My eyes seek them out again and again throughout the day. But instead of their surprising nearness, their magnificence that makes my heart leap in my chest, they are made distant, dulled, lessened by the ugly air that clings to them.

view from kitchen, ridgetop and houses

view from kitchen, more ridgetop and houses

When I lived in Ajijic I imagined a life where I would escape each spring, moving the cats to Puerto Vallarta for April, May, June. Now I fantasize about escaping to Ajijic for July, August, September. Soon the cicadas will arrive in the village, if they aren’t there already, harbingers of the nighttime summer rains. I lived in the hills where the lightning clung, the thunder crashing close to our tile roofs in the middle of the night, like no noise I’ve ever known, the fierce roar of the gods. I’d lie on my back in the dark, my bedroom windows open to the north and east, the lightning bright behind my eyelids. I’d listen to the thunder’s echoes roll out across the lake below, the sound reverberating for long moments as it traveled across the basin. At some point the downpour began, rain racing off downspouts like Niagara Falls, making rivers of our steep streets. In the mornings the wet cobblestones would shine in the sunlight, all dust banished from our world. I’d look out my kitchen window to the nearby ridge, the crest of our hill. The air would be washed clean, too, in the brilliant summer light, the kind of sharp clarity that makes you want to launch yourself from the rooftop out into the blue sky, to take wing across our world.

Agradecimiento (2)

“I always like to end our practice by embracing our gratitude,” Janet says. We are seated on our yoga mats, hands pressed together before our hearts, elbows out. We are in the park on a Saturday morning in April, ringed by a circle of desert acacia. Big tufts of yellow lie spent in the grass around us, and the San Jacintos tower in the west, close enough to touch.

desert acacia with San Jacinto mountains behind them

Gratitude, I think. Agradecimiento. I am crouched in shallow water in the motel pool, just below a tiny bridge seeking shade. I am grateful I am not driving, my two miserable cats unwilling passengers, my heart in my throat every time we pass an oncoming semi, no shoulders on the mountain highway, a mere six inches of margin, no room for error. I breathe for the first time in three days. The July air in Loreto is muggy and hot, the water warm but wet, life-giving. I am crouched beside a Mexican woman in her early forties. I talk to her in my excruciating Spanish, and she is patient, kind. “Mi corazon es muy lleno,” I say. My heart is very full. I feel connected to her, fellow travelers escaping the sun in Baja California Sur, scrunched together in the same small patch of shade. Her son is playing nearby. “Tengo muchas gracias para todos,” I say. I have much thank you in order for everything. She smiles, nods, doesn’t laugh at me.

picture of the Loreto motel pool, the little bridge circled

“Agradecimiento,” she says, teaching me the word for gratitude, from the verb agradecer, to thank or to be grateful for. She tells me more, examples of how to use various forms of the word in sentences, but this is what I walk away with. I try it out, happy to have been fed a word that holds so much meaning for me, happy to be having my first Mexican conversation that has depth, speaking in Spanish.

“Tengo mucho agradecimiento,” I say. I have much gratitude. I grin at her, a big, proud, childlike grin, and she grins back.

“Take a moment to be thankful for the people around you,” Janet says, “for sharing this practice today.” The sound of the woman’s son splashing in the warm water under that little bridge recedes. I hear a plane flying south, a car driving past on Miraleste. A raven caws from the north, and a mockingbird begins to sing from his perch in one of the acacias. My heart is full, lleno, quiet. We all bow forward, hands to our hearts. “Namaste.”

[Editor’s note: This second photo that shows the little bridge we were under is not mine. It is a promotional photo from the motel, La Pinta Desert Inn Hotel in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico.]

I Begin (1)

Dusk nears on the second day of my spring holiday, my first in ten years of teaching. I sit on the patio and move my pen across the page of my notebook to begin my first post for this new year of mine, 54 at 54–All Things Mexico. The task I have set for myself terrifies me, but I push the pen across the page anyway. My mind has been wandering paths as steep and twisting as the narrow callejones of Guanajuato, playing out possible topics for my blog, trying them out in my head. Why didn’t I document my time there, take vivid notes, photograph everything I loved? My fear about the course I have set for myself here makes the question come out harsh, anguished. Why didn’t I take pictures of the horses on the cobblestone streets in Ajijic? I would run to the balcony when I heard one passing by below. Why didn’t I record the sound their hooves made dancing on stone? I don’t have any pictures of the Wednesday market or the cemetery or the grackles roosting in the trees at twilight in the plaza. Why, I wonder, didn’t I photograph every doorway, every windowsill, every wall spilling bougainvillea on the street? Why didn’t I photograph every face I came to love, and all the textures and colors that layered themselves inside me, that have me missing Mexico like a river running through my California days?

white wall with window and bougainvillea

Why didn’t I take more photographs, learn more words, record the stories and the history and the rumors that came my way? Is it because I was not yet a writer in the same way I am today? In part, I know that’s true. And I didn’t know one day I’d want to write a blog about this big love of mine. I was busy taking it all in, absorbing the way it felt inside me, this foreign country where I found such sweetness, such welcome, yet where I was still so much “the other,” my white americana self a sore thumb, standing out amidst the dark hair, the dark skin of the other people in the villages. I think in my usual way I paid more attention to emotions and interactions, to the nuances of finding my way in a culture so different from the one I grew up in. I didn’t document the details, not outer or inner, only let them pile up inside me. Now I am afraid I have set myself an impossible task, but it’s one I want very much to meet. And so, as the light wanes on my California evening, I take a deep breath and reach for trust. I will find ways to write about what I love. I have already begun. A bird I don’t know in the pine tree repeats one long sliding note. I take another breath, the pen loose now between my fingers, and I know dusk settles in Mexico in just this way.