In my kitchen a collection of bottles sits on the floor beside the stove for a year. One clear glass gallon, three liters of thick glass, the palest green, one mangled plastic pint the perfect size for watering my Christmas cactus and the little squared cactus piece I found beside the road that day in Ajijic when I wandered out of town and found horses and a peace I didn’t know I needed. And four Wild Tonic bottles from when I was addicted to kombucha, their deep blue irresistible. In the courtyard this summer’s glorious batch of bird seed sunflowers lie flat across the edge of the cement for two weeks. I’m not sure why they fell down this year, but I suspect the skunks and their vigorous rooting for bugs in the night. I cut off all the dead or dying blooms when I clean out the bed, cluster all 18 face up beneath the bougainvillea, the different sizes and shades of green and brown, the black seeds peering out, waiting for the mourning doves, unexpected art. I find one small fresh blossom, bring it inside. I wash the dust off one of the Wild Tonic bottles, fill it with water, place the small sunflower inside, the leaves fluttering out. I set it beside me in the living room, the vibrant yellow of its little self, the vivid shine of the indigo glass. They feed me for days.
Guess where I am? It is Sunday, and I am sitting in my courtyard drinking my morning tea for the first time in five months. I am so grateful I was able to trust myself, to be gentle, to not push myself back out here before I was ready. I have been afraid of this day, of being here without my cats. I was afraid I would feel too small, unmoored, alone. I was afraid their ghosts would be too glaring, to have them not lying nearby on their pillows, or Sable underneath the honeysuckle, Sofia stretched out on the cement beside the gate, rolling on her back in cat abandon. I was afraid it would hurt too much to even reach for my own pleasure here in my garden. And I think if I had tried it any day before today it might have been true. But I have spent hours and hours moving everything into summer places, putting in an odd and goofy watering system. There are pots of dirt beside the sliding glass door waiting for carrot and beet seeds. I pulled out one “field” of sunflowers, their gorgeous disks drying now in a yellow bucket. I moved both umbrellas, bought new chairs and put them on the other side of the table. I rigged new spots for some of the bird feeders. I have touched every part of the courtyard in the last three days, and it changed me in the process. Not only that, but now there is almost nothing that’s the same except the birds are here, and the mountains, and me. My furred ones are not, and never will be again, but it’s a deep and quiet ache, not a wrenching agony. And it’s laced with wonder at the newness of everything around me, eased by the comfort of the mourning dove cooing from the fence and the soft pecking sounds of everyone eating breakfast. I count fourteen house finch again and again while I sip my tea and marvel.
Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “Become big and write with the whole world in your arms.” I love that. I love the way it makes me feel. When I write I am my mother who cleaned the house every Friday when I was little. Daddy brought home Bob’s Big Boy that night for dinner, the combination plates, so she didn’t have to cook. When I write I am my 4th-grade self walking down the hallway in my stepfather’s house in East Granby, Connecticut, when I heard the radio saying Kennedy had been shot. When I write I am big like the San Jacinto mountains that right now are diminished by the smog between us, but I am big like their massive shoulders, big like they are when the air is clean and you think you can reach out and stroke the ridge line like a sleeping bear. When I write I am the African on a crowded raft hoping to reach Italy alive. I am lost treasure at the bottom of the sea beneath him, gold doubloons among the old white bones. When I write I am the breeze that moves across my skin and still cools me in the early summer day. I am the wind that breaks my green umbrella. When I write I hold the field of sunflowers in my arms beside the path to Santiago de Compostela. When I am big I write with Hitler and George Bush (the son) and Glinda from The Wizard of Oz—they are all in my arms. And Toto, too. When I write I am clouds, streetlights, 4711 cologne, Stalin, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Goldberg. I hold rain and starlight, yerba maté with coconut milk and honey, exhaust fumes from the diesel truck my neighbor drives, eggshells in the trash wet with the whites I have syphoned off for the egg yolks I fed the cats. When I write I hold you and Aunt Doris and Huckleberry Finn in my arms. I hold myself in my arms. I learn to be tender with myself. When I write, I hold you, too, and try to be honest and kind.
I roll over on the bed, extend my arms out, flex my hands. It’s Sunday morning, and I relish lounging in bed, indulging in that sweet place between sleeping and wakefulness, soft dreamy half thoughts floating through me. I stretch again, spread my fingers wide. When I arch my back, I see the tiny crescent of the waning moon framed in the clerestory window. I love to see the moon in daylight, and this feels like the perfect beginning. I get out of bed, and I see the sun has already reached the courtyard. The two tallest of the volunteer sunflowers are alive in their namesake’s light. My movement at the window startles doves from the ground. More doves take flight when I open the door, and Boo charges out. I remember it’s the one day of grace from the construction site across our little road. I scurry back inside to do what I revel in doing once each week—I open the louvered windows at the front of the house. The Sunday quiet is the only thing that enters. I stand for long moments looking out the open window in the gentle air.
Have you noticed how far north the sun has already traveled across its annual trajectory? It keeps surprising me. It seems like it’s already more than halfway back toward the spot I watch it disappear behind the mountains in the height of summer, and yet we’re not nearly to the spring equinox which I’m thinking must be the halfway point in its path. One of my favorite holidays is Candlemas, or Imbolc. It falls on February second, Groundhog Day, and marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s one of the eight main pagan holidays, and it celebrates this growing light. This year for Candlemas I built a small altar with five candles. I don’t tend to follow any rules, but I chose five white tealights for the physical symmetry—I put one in the center—and because five is the human number. I picked flowers from my garden, used a baby food jar for my tiny bouquet. I meant to post to you on the holiday itself, but I went to see a play with my Auntie Christel, A Perfect Ganesh, and the Sunday slipped away from me.
But I am loving this lengthening of the days. This year more than ever I seem to have trouble getting things done while it’s still light. I end up walking around our neighborhood in the dark wearing my bright pink lighted dog leash like a sash to keep me safe from bike riders. Or doing my qi gong in the courtyard, my dragon’s punch toward the rim of the mountains just visible in the early night. I am not sorry for these, am enjoying each one, even the yoga I did the other night with a lamp beside me on the ground to make sure I could see any bugs who might decide to wander over. But it lifts my heart to feel those extra minutes of light added to every day, to watch the settling of darkness moving back a bit each night. Here is to the waxing light.