Mami and I walk to the end of the cul-de-sac, the last sunlight hitting the top of our bit of foothills here. There are two bucks on the hillside, fidgeting, a little anxious. Then their third appears in the neighbor’s back yard, walks across the patio to join them, and they relax. We stand for a long time watching them, silent, arms twined. I swim after sunset, slow strokes back and forth across the length of the pool. I feel easy and strong. I have the orange glow and Venus as companions, and my mountain here in silhouette, two handfuls of stars across our stretch of sky. Later, I finally write a letter to Ulla, my Auntie Gardi’s sister who helped us so much when my Tante Helga died. I wrote a paragraph by hand in English, then typed it into the computer, then copied Google’s German translation again by hand. I thought it would feel grueling, but it didn’t. It was quiet, steady work, but there was a peace about it, too, and the hope it might make her know how much she came to mean to me during those long months last fall after my aunt died. My eyes begin to close as I type, and I long for those moments when I can turn out the living room lights, say good night to that distant, lit-up world below us and seek my bed.
This morning I coast on my bike again in that arc behind Ralph’s. I hear the mockingbird again, see the big waning moon hanging above the San Jacintos, then that surprising scent of fresh mint in the air. And it comes to me that this odd back way that passes by their dumpster has become an unexpected highlight for me, one of those repetitions akin to that freeway overpass in Oakland that also makes that lovely arc when the Oakland hills and north Oakland lie beyond and below and you move with the long curve of it, suspended in time. Or the bend on Tilton Road in Sebastopol when you walk downhill and round Scary Corner and if you are lucky you find turkey vultures perched in the oak trees with their wings spread wide, seeking the sun.
The noxious air from the fires takes its toll. I am so looking forward to the possibility of our desert having both clean air and cooler temperatures, to be able to walk fast, take big gulps of air, pleasure in full lungs. I can’t wait for rain to return to us, wash the leaves of the desert orchid trees, fill the creek bed, lick our wounds clean. I can hear it now, hard rain on my umbrella, hundreds of frogs singing, mockingbirds alive again, the cacophony a happy jazz, slap of shoes on pavement, deep breaths of clean, wet air. Like marmalade on gingerbread, like the scent of garlic cooking in butter, like nothing can compare to being able to move in our outdoor world with ease. Oh, and no virus, too, while I am dreaming up our future, no wet masks in this rain, only cool air on warm, wet lips, fogged up glasses, singing myself now as I swing my hips, lengthen my stride, move boldly beyond where life has let me go in recent times, a big grin on my face.
[This piece came from our spontaneous writing session on September 14th. The words pulled from the magic pouch were: marmalade, lick, noxious, gingerbread, jazz.)
I cup my mask in my open palm as I turn the corner, ready to cover my face if anyone is nearby. The mask is red with pale orange petals, some in flower clusters, some scattered like starbursts. I am fond of this mask because Candace’s mother made it and because I am fond of Candace. (Her mother sews them in Fresno, and they sell them at the health food store where Candace works.) I turn now onto my small road, no one in sight. I’m coming home from my walk by the creek bed. My hip was troubling me, so this is my first walk in a week, and I am coming home nourished by the quiet, the roadrunners, the rabbits, the savoring of solitude in the company of that long span of wildness. I keep walking. I become aware of a vibration in the center of my hand. I look down, and the knot on the ear loop is bouncing up and down with my steps. I keep walking, my palm gentle, tucked close to my ribs, as if I cradle a beating heart in my hand.
I still seem to be all over the place. I keep hoping I’ll regain my balance. Finding more time to sleep will help, I know. One morning I get up early for my walk, return home with time to sweep the courtyard, fill the feeders in the guayaba tree for my house finch. It’s the first time I haven’t been rushing to finish before my 8:30am work meeting, and when I carry out the big bag of seed, I feel joy come the way it used to. The next day I am anxious and short on the phone with a colleague, brittle and brusque the next day leading my “Sheltering in Place” writing session on Zoom. I resist how rigid I feel. “Some shelter you’re offering,” I mutter, mean to myself. I tell my story later on another weekly Zoom, my voice cracking. “I don’t want to be like this,” I say. Not very Buddhist, is it? All this resistance to what is. Today I yell at my mother. I make her cry. Later she’s angry at me when I call to apologize. “Well, you’re good at yelling,” she says. “Oh,” I say, hard voice in my brittle body. “Where do you think I learned it?” Silence. But I am still the monster who made her cry, though this time I let my own tears come, find my way out of this dark, stuck place. And later, too, I remember standing beside the creek bed yesterday in the shade beside a desert orchid tree. I remember how the hummingbird came to perch on a nearby branch of the tree, and I watched him preen. And then a raven glided overhead, low and close, and two mockingbirds spiraled past. One of them landed on the palm across the street and started to sing. I looked up just then and saw the waning crescent moon in the pale blue above the tallest branches, and it felt all of a piece, and me a part of it.
I see the mama coyote again. She’s standing just off the creek path as I walk across the street. I stop at the edge of the road to breathe her in. She still looks unwell, but less so, I think. She’s steadier, somehow. Then a pup appears at the top of the bank, scampers over to her, weaves around her legs in delight at their reunion. It eases something inside me to see them together. The pup is happy, and for long moments this is all that matters. Other people come, and the coyotes disappear back into the creek bed. Two days later, I see the pup down below. He stops behind a scraggly bush, aware of my scrutiny, unsure. I step back, use a softer focus in my gaze. He keeps going, trotting along a small trail, ears too big for his head, all youth, energy, intent. For a moment I worry. (My forte.) He is all by himself. But I remember I trust his mama. And there’s nothing unsure about him. Once he decides I am not a threat, he doesn’t hesitate again. He runs along, so upright, a kind of joy in his little body. I realize he knows his way around, and I relax. I watch until his small form disappears into the brush. All day long, I see him in my mind, so grateful for the gift of him. All day long, he makes his steady way along the creek bed again and again, brown fur against the light sand, an enchanting video clip I play over and over inside me, one that never loses its charm.
I stand on the footbridge and watch the mother coyote in the creek bed below. She’s emaciated and mangy with an odd stub of a tail. She is almost unrecognizable as canine except for her snout. It hurts to look at her, breaks me even more to think of her trying to feed her pups. I stand there for a long time saying metta for her. I am wishing her cottontails. Safety, health, magic. When she disappears into the thick green brush, I head home. As I walk, I dream about bringing her a whole, raw chicken. Is that safe for coyotes? Just past the bridge, a mockingbird is singing in the wide palm beside the path. I am crying for the coyote, and then I am crying for this gift of the mockingbird’s song. I move to the street and into the shade to listen, pull down my mask, drink my hot spearmint tea. The narrow crowded leaves on the desert orchid tree seem sharp-edged today. There’s a kind of crisp clarity to everything. I look up to see the red blossoms on the tips of the ocotillo. I am all filled up by the wonder of it all, grateful to be standing here, returned to myself.