Mysteries of Her Own

ESTHER Georgia O'Keefe-ish
I’m gradually going through the contents of The Trunk of Pain in the garage, a task I’ve been postponing for decades. (And let me tell you, it takes fortitude!) Monte found me sitting there sobbing the other morning, having come upon a trove of letters from my beloved brother Eddie that rendered both his struggles and his sweetness very real indeed. But occasionally it has yielded reminders of happier moments: a ticket stub from Man of La Mancha, 1967; an amazingly detailed drawing of a wizard at work by my “little” brother Eric when he really was little: funny and poignant letters from old friends during our high school and college years.  But one of my favorite treasures so far has been this mysterious photo of my mother. Boots, beads, book. A chair in a desert? She seems so autonomous somehow. I’d never seen this picture before and have no idea where it was taken. So many stories I’ll never know.

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Through A Portal

big surYesterday we went through a secret brushy portal that diverged from the main trail and led to a meadow above the sea beneath a blue sky sketched with wisps of clouds,  and we sat upon the curve of earth, just being there.

We were at the southernmost end of Big Sur in the Santa Lucia Range. The name Big Sur originated with the early Spanish-speaking settlers of Monterey, who referred to the wild rugged coast as el sur grande, “the big south”…but from my perspective, sur is more fitting as an expansive French preposition encompassing over, on, above, and beyond.

Because that’s how I felt for an hour or two: over, on, above, and beyond.

I don’t need to tell you how stuck I’ve been, how frozen in place. The pool in me that quenches and inspires has gotten very shallow.

So I’m doing all the formulaic restorative things that tend to help me: walks, friends, being outdoors.

It works. Yesterday was perfect.

“When we live in the present, joy arises for know reason.”

Best not to miss those moments.

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Sometimes You Let the Day Take You Where It Will

gullsI had a bout of insomnia last night but finally dozed off listening to a podcast (content forgotten, but a man with a soothing voice) and slept until 9 am.  I’ll admit it: the moment I wake up, I reach over and grab my iPad in one mindless, seamless motion–similar to the way a boy I briefly dated back in the 1970s used to sit up, grab his bedside pack of Lucky Strikes, and light his first cigarette. It’s pretty pathetic, but I sort of check the news and see if anyone has contacted me in the middle of the night other than Bookings.com offering me last-minute deals to Oslo.  This time there was a text from our young neighbors: “We made pancakes. Come on over!”

So we did. Preceded by coffee, of course.

in the sandI haven’t had pancakes in a long time. They are very good soaked in syrup, and very conducive to indolence. We decided to bail on our chores and have a beach day. I rode my bike there to get some exercise, Monte and Ryan went surfing, and Carey and I played in the sand with little Viriginia. (When was the last time you dug a hole in the sand at the seashore? Been a long time for me. Too long.)

So I enjoyed watching a little girl being a little girl, and I felt sufficiently purposeful smoothing walls around our saltwater pool and patting down cakes of good moist sand to offer to returning surfers. A formation of white gulls soared overhead and my sadness slid away for a while and hid itself in shadow somewhere.

It’s as a wise friend once told me: sometimes you just have to let the day take you where it will.

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Impassable In Wet Conditions

impassableI took that picture as I pushed my trusty bicycle up a hill a few days ago. It was a solo bike ride that turned into more of a hike, a certain loop we used to do all the time, challenging in parts even in the old days, but do-able. Nowadays I just don’t have the stamina or desire to keep pedaling when a climb gets steep or sketchy; it’s so much easier to get off the bike and walk.  But that’s still exercise. Sometimes the accomplishment is not so much how well we do, but that we’re out there doing it at all.

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Tangible Things and A Certain Kind of Light

glowMaybe everyone else is engaged in creative, constructive, contributory  action, but these days I’m mostly just thinking, wandering the hours without any particular agenda or destination.

Earlier in the week I had occasion to go into Santa Barbara where I walked on streets instead of dirt, and although let’s face it Santa Barbara doesn’t much look like Brooklyn, I was reminded somehow of walks I used to take with my mother through the residential neighborhoods of that borough when I was a little girl. On a deserted street lined with over-arching trees, the sunlight filtered through branches and leaves in just a certain way, and for a moment the windows of an old house seemed to shine from within and without, and a traffic light winked into green as I reached its corner and the concrete sidewalk fleetingly felt like my native ground and time slowed down and circled me dreamily, and I marveled at how everything that has happened keeps happening in your head.

There’s a danger in forever reimagining people, replaying random isolated moments, forgetting who they were in their entirety and complexity. But maybe that’s what we are all destined to become: a  collection of misremembered moments in the heads of those knew us, until they too vacate the scene and we vanish into starlight.

In the meantime, here is a sumptuous present. I enjoy the tangibles and the light. I’m enchanted by concrete nouns, by what poet Dan Gerber calls “the illusory solidity of the world”. I even discovered a consignment store in the course of this walk in town, an extravagant bazaar of material goods, some of them enticing. I bought myself a red silk robe, and boots I didn’t need, one size too big for me, but they’re made in Italy and beautiful, and I intend to wear them.

Back home in the evening, just before dusk, the hills glowed. They literally glowed. Then the day was over and I had accomplished nothing. But here are some nouns and adjectives.

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Treebeard’s Gift

treebeardYesterday I drove up into the mountains above Santa Barbara to see my old friends Marc and Julie. My purpose (or so I thought) was to interview Marc, otherwise known as Treebeard, for the “living stories” website I’ve been working on, but it turned into an informal visit, which was actually even better.

16273200758_e187c16b91_zAlthough retired from an illustrious career as a teacher, Treebeard is a busy man, fully immersed in an ongoing labor of love. He explores the backcountry near his house each day, zooming into an often unseen universe of insects and plants, documenting these for posterity in an extraordinary online archive of photographs.

We looked through a few images together at his computer: butterflies, lizards, a multitude of mushrooms, myriad forms of life both weird and gorgeous. There’s the transparent shed skin of a spider, a katydid nymph, a shiny new oak apple gall, the tiny sporangia of slime molds growing on a fallen branch of Coast Live Oak. There’s a Sara Orangetip on Bitter Gooseberry, a mating pair of Western Boxelder Bugs, and the pale blue flowers of Native Greenbark Ceanothus.

“Beautifully intricate,” Treebeard has written of the latter, “like little origami boxes.”

That’s the poet in him. He’s a talented and patient photographer, and the images are beautiful, but each is also accompanied by an illuminating caption that is explanatory and often lovely. He presents the scientific and common names, fascinating facts and observations, and some journal-like comments about the specifics of the day, all shared with eloquence and clarity. His sense of wonder is palpable.

Worrisome changes loom, globally and locally. Around here it’s been too dry, eerily warm, seasons askew, repercussions yet unknown. But there’s so much life happening, so many miraculous things unfolding.

And some folks look up at the heavens, pondering distant galaxies. My friend Treebeard explores a different infinity. He peers into the micro-cosmos…quietly observing, recording, and archiving.

“For all we know, some of these things may be happening for the last time,” he muses, hoping that’s not true. “But I’m documenting as much as I can.”

Here is Treebeard’s extraordinary gift.

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Old Friends and Bicycles

teresa and bikeThere were moments of indecision, the basic question being whether to stick to the known and easy route or to try something different.

“How lost can we get?!” said Chris.

The actual answer: not very. There’s a big ocean on one side, and you can roll down to it eventually. I suppose the underlying issue in this case was how hard were we willing to work.

“Let’s just do everything!” said Teresa, with her usual exuberance.

It’s difficult to say no to Teresa. I watch her pedaling along with her hands in the air, doing figure eights down the middle of the road, turning everything into a dance.

But there were a few long climbs, as there always will be.

Don’t give up,” said Donna. “Just change gears.”

We are all making the necessary shifts these days.
donna ridingSo enjoy the ride. And during those inevitable stretches that are the opposite of fun, just keep going through the motions as best you can.

It’s a matter of blind faith sometimes.
by the sea

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All Except the One

road to home
It’s so good to have a sense of home where a dirt road winds through grassy hills in a creek-carved canyon and every curve and rise of the land is familiar. There is so much solace in walking here, even if it’s just to the mailbox in the hopes of a letter, or a wander to a neighbor’s house, or an oft-traversed loop of steep uphill trudges and stretches of delight. Above is my homecoming road. See that odd little tree on the hillside? It’s a mature eucalyptus, grown to its capacity given the limitations of that site. My in-laws planted it decades ago along with several others all in a row. They had plans back then to expand the macadamia orchard, and a line of tall, fast-growing eucalyptus trees would have served as a nice protective windbreak, and anyone who knows about the crazy winds around here can understand how useful that might be.

single treeBut plans change, no new nut trees were planted, and before long the eucalyptus trees stood straight as soldiers with nothing to guard. Mostly what they did was block views…in fact, they became the view…an odd interruption in the natural flow of the landscape.  We decided they needed to go.

It’s curious how heartless it feels to remove a tree, even one you arbitrarily planted. (I’m dealing with this issue now as I contemplate removal of a sad and scraggly lilac bush I have been trying to coax along for fifteen years or so.) But just a few years after we put them in, the row of eucalyptus trees was taken down, all except the one.

And how I love the one.

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Today’s Walk

march 3

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Strange Gathering

DSC_0194 I like to wander into thrift stores now and then, or charity shops, as they’re called in England. I know there’s something sad about them, repositories for the former possessions of strangers, contents frayed and worn and random. My sister Marlene, who endured kidney disease throughout her too-brief life,  declared them musty and depressing. “When I need something,” she’d say, “I’ll buy it new and choose what I want. My life is dreary enough without adding other people’s tired old stuff to the mix.” She could never understand what drew me in.

But more than desire or acquisitiveness, what draws me in is curiosity. I’m weirdly fascinated by the arbitrary inventory, by the happenstance convergence of motley things pre-owned and abandoned, an aura of untold stories still clinging to them like dust. I have found a few treasures and bargains in such places, but the truth is I do a lot more looking than buying. For years I used to enter with my mother in mind, in search of some small find that might cheer her up: a doll or a necklace or a nice shirt with big pockets.  In fact, the first time I wandered into a thrift shop after her death, I immediately gravitated towards trinkets and objects that I thought she would like and then backed off with a literal, out-loud gasp as the reality of her absence washed over me again.

Maybe I should avoid such places for a while. But old habits die hard, and last week I ventured into one of the local shops, vaguely in search of a ceramic planter for an ivy plant that’s outgrowing its container at home. I figured I might find a fine one here for a dollar or less, and why pay more? And I did find one. But even better, I found a ragtag convention of dolls, some battered by decades, chipped and pale and creepy, some so old as to be antiques, and quite a few of my own childhood vintage. There were baby dolls with weighted eye lids and pre-Barbie fashion dolls missing their high-heeled shoes but forever on tiptoe, and dolls with pouty mouths and torn out tufts of hair.  I took a couple of pictures to send to my childhood friend Carol Bessey…one of them reminded me so much of her doll Ben, big baby that he was, and all of them brought back memories of our doll-playing days on Coney Island Avenue. So it was sweet, yet also poignant. Who would want these orphaned beings? And how did they come to be here?

I asked the lady who volunteers in the shop. She had no idea.

“Maybe someone was a collector, and died?” I speculated morbidly.

“You never know,” she said. “As for me, I’m getting rid of everything ahead of time. I don’t want to leave a bunch of crap for my kids to have to deal with.”

She was not a sentimental type. But she definitely had a point.

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