The first time I was blasted open by wilderness was when I drove through the northern state of Baja California. The winding two-lane highway with no shoulder, no evidence of humankind anywhere except the road, only open undulating desert and scrub brush in every direction. No dwellings, no telephone poles, no water until the cats and I rounded a bend and saw the Sea of Cortez.
My eyes close now while I type
I begin to nod off these days
fingertips stilled on the keyboard
The other night I fell asleep eating dates
scattered pits in all directions
I find one with bite marks
on the floor the next day
It used to be sunflower seed shells
I’d wake up with in the covers
It comes on me in quiet moments, between one moment and the next, looking out the window in between tasks or standing and waiting for my tea kettle to boil, that deep longing for my little trailer home. I remember what it was like there when I could just let things fall away, in my courtyard under our big desert sky, or sitting in my living room listening to the house finch chatter on the open louvers on a hot summer afternoon. Sleep is different there, too, deeper, simpler, and waking seemed quieter, gentle and easy, lingering longer in the space between sleeping and waking, the delicious heaviness of the covers in winter, the cold air on my face, turning over, maybe, to court more dreams, or to lie awake in a kind of quiet joy, letting my mind roam.
I am on Zoom. Three people in a row say how thrilled they are at the progress we are making here in the United States, the protests, knowing black lives matter. I can feel their buoyancy. I sit still, stunned, uncomfortable in my skin because I feel so far away from them, on the other side of the world, on another planet. I am terrified, angry, anxious. Hopeful, yes—but nowhere near being able to touch “thrilled.” Later, I wonder if I was judging their excitement, naming it naïveté without knowing I was. Or was it only that while I believed in the promise of the protests I could not trust they would lead to real change? Or maybe I only need to be able to embrace the good when it comes, more readily, more fully than I do? Or maybe the distance and discomfort I felt was only because I live in all the shades of gray.
Hope is elusive. I have to remind myself I do not believe it is too late for us to save the world. Before, I used to know. I used to remember. Today I whisper hope, for me, for all of us. May we let the world crumble around us, trusting we can put it back together again—different, better, more fair, more everything for everyone.
I rest my palm against my belly and take a deep breath. I am tired of the smog but grateful to my lungs and glad I am relaxed enough to feel like I can fill them. I have always felt like I am in some smaller section of humanity, on the edge, maybe, living on the fringe, but in moments like this I am in the center of it all.
[Editor’s note: Another snippet from our writing group, one of our “Two Words, Two Minutes.” The words were “fringe” and “belly.”]
I ride my bike to Ralph’s to buy ice every day now while I wait for my new refrigerator to be delivered. I approach from the back, ride in the mornings beside the long, tall expanse of windowless cinderblock in the huge swathe of uninterrupted shade it provides. I tend to be alone there, just me and my bike, Carrot Girl, and a raven or two sitting in the desert heat with their mouths open on the top of the facing wall. When I pass by I smell mint.
Sometimes I remember to “look” for it, take big breaths of air in through my nose. Other times I forget, and it takes me by surprise, the scent permeating my mask. There are trees along the wall edging the property there, but no mint that I can find. One day I ride along the parking lot of the apartment buildings on the other side of the wall, hunting for mint there. I still wonder if someone might have a dozen terra cotta pots bursting with mint on their balcony.
I am having trouble navigating these times. But I haven’t stopped being grateful. Today, I pack two bags of ice, kombucha, lasagna, sunflower seeds on my bike. When I round the corner at the back of the building, the smell of mint comes to me. It is strong today, and I coast along in the shade, grinning, glad for the gift of it, for this small, unexplained mystery of life.