Today I get to wake up in my own bed. I make tea, climb back into it, cozy in the cool morning, all the windows open, the San Jacinto mountains spread before me. I let myself drift and daydream, one of my favorite things. I hear a white-crowned sparrow begin to sing across my little road, and then a second one joins in, and another and another. Their music is balm and blessing for me, reaching sinew and bone. I didn’t know how many might have come this winter. I set one of the automatic feeders up for them beneath the bougainvillea in the courtyard, knowing it wouldn’t be as much as before when I was here to feed them, but if they came, it would be something, an offering, at least. This morning in bed I listen to call after call, my lips parted. I understand they’ve been here in numbers all along, hoped for but all unknown to me until this moment. And I understand this morning’s song is their gift to me.
Back yard corner of my mother’s home, hot tea in hand, time just before my writing class to drink it, to soak up the small arm of these foothills that wraps itself around the cul-de-sac here. If I could be anywhere in the world I might choose to be beneath the down blankets in my Palm Springs bed, the San Jacintos spread before me, the white crowned sparrows making their quiet sounds beneath the bougainvillea in the corner of the courtyard and the sense that my mother was well and sleeping at home with her cat. But this corner is good, too, my pen moving across the page, the sun just high enough now in the southern sky to send shafts of light through the leafless branches of the liquid ambers. I sip my yerba maté and pray, a kind of almost-peace descending.
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 love the daytime moon, the moon in all her guises. You already know that about me if you’ve been reading my blog for a little while. (Oh, dear, another voice says. Do I talk too much about the moon?!) My first morning at home after being gone, after a difficult visit, I reach up, place a handful of mixed seed in the tray feeder for my mourning doves. My head is at a funny angle, and I catch the moon through a gap between the bougainvillea branches, thick waning crescent. The sighting touches me, this unexpected old friend. The fondness I feel for her softens me, and I am surprised by tears, so glad to see her familiar form, and sparked into the release I need to shed the tension I am carrying. In the early evening I walk home from Ralph’s with cilantro and jalapeños and more bird seed, and I see she is still in the sky, hovering just above the San Jacinto mountains. I am moved again. It feels like she’s waited for me, bracketing my day. Five days later, long, busy days, I make my way through airport security, and somehow I manage to not get icky when they pull both my bags off to be searched by hand. The man doing it is careful and slow. Nothing is jumbled. I end up thanking him. I buy iced green tea, make my way to a spot beside the grass to do my qi gong. I take time to find my own true east for my liver, point my feet there, my best guess. When I sweep my arms up, my head follows, and I see the thin sickle moon, last day, shining through the palm leaves in the pre-dawn not-quite dark. I can’t believe it. Do I make a sound? It feels like she is living proof I have made my way to the right place in this moment. I practice my qi gong, savor the sight of the moon, shake my head in marvel. Later, I wonder if she might be my reward, my gift, for staying calm through the security search, my own “atta girl” from the universe (who knows how hard composure is for me).
I put my big weird orange tube scarf over my head and fluff it up around my neck, tie Joe’s old sweater around my waist. It is not yet dusk when I walk out my wooden gate, the big clouds in the sky lit up by the last of the setting sun that went behind our mountains almost two hours ago. It’s my first walk for sheer pleasure in a long time. I go along the golf course path. I watch a hawk glide-land in the dead branches of the tree beside the tennis courts. When I reach the tree I stop to talk to him. “Are you a Cooper’s hawk?” I ask. And then, “Are you my Cooper’s hawk?” He doesn’t answer in a way I know how to recognize, but he doesn’t leave, either. Beyond the tree I see bunnies nibbling on the grass. It’s dusk now, and I can feel the magic of it descend on us. A Costa’s hummingbird lands three feet away, his violet mantle glistening in the remaining light. The cottontails don’t scatter today when I walk by. I am careful not to stop and not to stare. I grab quick greedy glimpses of them while I walk, drinking in their exquisite furry forms, the depth in their dark eyes, the busy concentration of their chewing. When I walk back again the rabbits are still eating, but the hawk is gone. I scan the golf course for coyotes in the late dusk. I can hear the traffic about a block away, loud on a Friday evening. I think of people going home from work, buying groceries, heading out to dinner. I soak up the respite of this path, this quiet other world settling into night, the presence of the San Jacintos. I remember why I want to return to this–balm for my spirit.
This year was laced with the absence of my cats, sometimes glaring, sometimes subtle, more muted as the year progressed. I lit a candle yesterday for Boo, one year to the day. I only cried a little. I’ve quieted most of my if onlys, I think, most of my what ifs. I’ve returned to winter quarters again this year after Boo taught me its wonders when he was sick, and I abandoned our courtyard to stay with him inside. From the blankets in the mornings I watch the San Jacintos, warm tea cradled in my hands. Now in the early dusk, I have the sliding glass door open. The white crowned sparrows flit about near the bougainvillea. I can hear them peeping, hear the rattle of the dried blossoms while they hunt for seeds. Now and then exquisite bursts of song erupt. One lone mourning dove comes to the big tray feeder. The solar Christmas lights looped in the bougainvillea will come on any minute now. The waxing moon is not yet far enough west for me to see her, but when I glance up, I surprise Venus in the clerestory window. The two have been bright companions in the evening sky, heralds of the season. The more the light leaves the day, the happier my timid sparrows are, playing in the corner of the courtyard. I can hear the traffic one street over, the clink of dinner dishes next door. I linger until the sparrows seek their beds, until only the ridge of the mountains is visible against the darkening sky. The solar lights wink on like magic, a bright, wild tangle. May we each be blessed with quiet, glowing, untamed peace like this through all our days and nights.
Hot air, brace against it. Remember to breathe, let it embrace you instead. Clear air today, the San Jacinto mountains so close you are sure you could stretch out your arm and pluck a jagged rock from the nearby ridge. More room on the sidewalks in summer. The city leans back, like vacation in a small seaside town. Palm Springs, I love you. I kiss you—you kiss me back, warm breath against my arms, my legs. I close my eyes and lift my face, inhaling you.
[Editor’s note: One of my ideas for earning money in a joyful, heartfelt way now that my income has shifted is to write spontaneous prose poems downtown for donations. This is my first effort for one of the business owners there. I told her she could pick a topic or I would just write what comes to me. She chose Palm Springs. The way she said the name it could have been a lover. I didn’t do it consciously, but I see now I have used her voice here. It was quick and fun, and by the last line I was fully “in it.” After, I took a picture of it with my iPad. I am torn about that part. Is it okay to want to keep them for myself, too? Or do I need to let them be gifts going out into the world without me? I look forward with good hope to writing more. Maybe I can find a way to do them one afternoon or evening a week? Two?]