Friday, December 31, 2010

One Year, One Forest, One Woman: A Looking Back



The world will freely offer itself to you
to be unmasked,
it has no choice,
it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Franz Kafka


On January 1st, 2010, Michael and I took a walk at Jacks Peak. I’d been off my bicycle for too long due to problems my back. The gym wasn’t doing it for me. Everything in me needed OUTDOORS. The very first time I came to Jacks Peak was by bicycle. It’s a steep climb and, after circling the parking lot, I came to the wrong conclusion—that it was just a picnic area. It took several more visits to learn that this was no mere slip of a place but that a whole world lay at my feet.

I decided to spend a year walking, wanted to walk every trail, to know the lay of the land, to get a good feel of the place. I asked this question: What does it mean to befriend a place?

A year later, I still like that question, but am not certain I have an answer. I know that if, when I die, I’ve got any money, I want it donated toward protecting this park and increasing its acreage. And I’d like my ashes sprinkled in these woods. I gush about the place, wanting those I love to love Jacks Peak. Making art pieces from this nature and then showing them to people, is another kind of celebration, an extension of my love, another way of saying, “You come too.”

Most of all I’ll walk away, on this last day of the year, with two things in the deepest of my pockets: greater joy and far less fear in walking alone and a feeling of boundless curiosity sated and, simultaneously, unsated.

Also these tidbits of knowledge: owls do, occasionally, hoot at midday; if you want to hear the smaller birds converse, keep walking, don’t stand still, because, if you do, they’ll stop singing; but if you want to see the deer who come close, stand very still and barely breathe, and, if you’re lucky, they won’t run away immediately; mountain lions aren’t going to eat me; most creeps don’t come here; fear runs its course, and when it realizes you’re not going to play along, it gives up its death grip; the woods will never shut its gates on me or you.

I love walking with others but walking alone I love most of all. That wasn’t true for the first several months when fear was an all too frequent companion. Out in the woods, alone, something happens to me, I get a feeling that’s a mix between rapture and inspiration, an elation my body feels too small to contain.

Nature is never the same. If you’re attentive it will give you this and more: the look of the tip of one fern leaf touching another, bits of ceanothus blossom carpeting the ground like blue snow, the year’s first dandelions, the sound of two tiny birds chatting up in a tree, the feeling of wind traveling right up to me, the look of darkness just past where the trail bends, sunlight hot on my back, my breath, my lungs, my strong heart while climbing up hill, walking for two hours and not seeing another person, raindrops on my face, banana slugs eating mushrooms, the look in the dying woodrat’s eye.

Though I’ve walked almost every trail, I know, for certain, there are two I’ve not set foot on, probably more. The desire to walk every path lost its hold on me after I’d walked enough of the park to have a sense of the place, to carry a map in my mind.

The other day, I wrote that seeing begets seeing; the same is true for walking in the woods and learning about the place. My desire to walk is unabated, my hunger for knowledge about the nuances and intricacies of the natural world blossoms yet. On the morning of January 1st, 2011, you know where I’ll be.

Thank you for reading these notes, for being my companions. With the hope that someone would be reading, I’ve written to you. Today’s the final entry. Tomorrow, though, there’ll be a little something here, an offering to the new year. I'll begin writing the first half of the year and moving toward a book about this past year of walking, of befriending Jacks Peak.

Though I won’t write this blog into the future, it will stay online for anyone who might care to read it. My plan is to soon begin another, very different blog. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Light Takes the Tree




“Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?”

Theodore Roethke

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Importance of Pockets


A sock is a pocket for your toes...

Elizabeth Garton Scanlon


When something resonates with us, or inside of us, we are often moved to act in response; and that "something" can be a simple or complex object, a place, a person, a sound, maybe just the way the day looks out the nearest window.
Thirsty Stork

For the first many months of walking in my neighbor woods, I didn’t think one way or another about pockets. Either my jacket had them, or it didn’t. But recently, that changed. Pockets became near as important as shoes. And, suddenly, without a pocket, I just didn’t walk as well.

Seeing begets seeing. Most things in the forest are connected to other things, literally, and I wouldn’t break any such attachments. But some things have become freed from their hold—the pine cone has fallen from the tree onto the path in front of me—and a few of those call my name.

First, I picked them up for a closer look, then placed them back on the ground. That was sufficient. Until it wasn’t. Looking and touching the forest’s bits and pieces, its flotsam and jetsam—eggshell, rocks, portable boughs— wasn’t enough. I began wanting to take small emblems of nature home with me. To remind me of where I’d been on days I couldn’t go? Yes, and I wanted to do something with what I found, to interact with nature—visually, texturally. That’s where the pockets came in.

I can’t walk the whole way, whatever way that is, without bending down for something, though hardly does something come home with me most days. The passenger seat of my car is covered, much of the time with any number of things, but beneath them is that which clings to whatever I pick up, a nice layer of soil from the forest’s floor.

The first two things I brought home from the park were an almost whole eggshell from a small bird (too tender for a pocket; that was carried in my cupped hand) and a heart-shaped rock that, at first, I mistook for a child’s fallen sugar cookie. My pockets have carried many things, flower and fauna: feathers—dove, hawk, flicker, and I don’t know who else’s; pine cones, whole or split open or crushed and splayed like an toothful mouth; a thin piece of bark, veneer like, rolled up; two men’s handkerchiefs, both found on Lower Ridge Road—one plain white and the other with a machine embroidered “B” in a corner; a thick red hair tie that I sometimes wear as a bracelet; lichen; sticks; dried honeycomb and other beehive parts; lots of litter, including an empty, miniature “sweet tea” liquor bottle and, most recently, an empty pack of “foil wrapped cigarillos.” As my mother would say, “It takes all kinds.”

My father is the person I know best who bends down for things he might want to take home. Often it’s the shiny objects that attract his raven eyes. The other day, I bent for something shiny, thinking it was an insect’s wing, missing the rest of itself. But no—a teardrop of hardened pine sap that caught the light. At least, I’ve come to this avocation honestly. Though my Pop’s slowed down an awful lot, the other day when we were out, he bent down, came back up with a bright penny, said, with a mix of pride and relief, “I can still do this!”

I’ve begun to make things, little interactions between nature’s imagination and my own, with the found objects. Two nichos: a brown one with clear glass door keeps dried pine needles; a muted silver nicho holds an array of lichens, sans door. I put an acorn atop a small rusty wagon. Might a little toy deer pull it back into the woods? The ideas are burbling. They rise whenever I’ve got something in hand. Might this be part of what it means to be friends with these woods?

My sense is that the forest doesn’t mind my taking little bits. Its given me no indication that it does. Not that it would right away; the earth is like that. But I hope it’s okay. I’m driven, uplifted by curiosity. I like holding hands with the forest, want to bring it up close to others, to say, “Look at the cornucopia of what’s there!” Having some of the woods at home with me, I feel closer, when away, to the whole of the place.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter Blossoming, or Nature, the Ultimate Planner




When I was young, I got the word “objective” mixed up with “goal,” and the whole of long-term planning, in any clearly and well-thought out manner, was lost on me. It was a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other existence driven by a vague dream. Time has given me the advantage of a view back. Now I see that everything I did was a reaching toward somewhere near to where I am. Only more so, but that’s okay; I’m grateful for this exact here.

If you walk out in the woods with both eyes open to the smallest things, you’ll see. Nature is the ultimate planner. There is nothing haphazard or slapdash about her. Even in the midst of winter, she’s getting ready for the next new thing. All future occurrences are being lined up, so they’ll be at the ready to take their turn when their turn to shine comes. I’ll be there when they take center stage—be they flower, leaf or baby bird. How about you? You won’t want to miss spring—it’s beginning now!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Untouchables: Fallen Trees










There is this cave

In the air behind my body

That nobody is going to touch:

A cloister, a silence

Closing around a blossom of fire....


James Wright

When you touch something that’s either never been touched by human hands or, certainly, not for many years, something happens. After recent rain, near the bottom of Lower Ridge Road, I touched the uppermost branches of a fallen pine. A shiver ran through me.

I would have preferred to never touch such a thing and wished the tree were doing what it had done for a time: growing tall, sheltering squirrels and birds, making the wind sing. The root system of the Monterey Pines is shallow, as I think I’ve mentioned before. These trees are best off when they grow together. They keep each other upright; they keep each other alive.

Had I been a nimble deer or child, I’d have bounded over and between the limbs akimbo on the ground. Instead, I made my way carefully. The bark was scratchy but the tree didn’t rebuff my touch. Lichen made a pale green pattern along the bark, and the lichen that hangs down and can swing in the wind like a girl’s long hair lay limply. There I was, placing my fingers where only birds and wind had been before. The distant sky was on my hands and the flight of birds too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Wind Before the Storm



The clash between when and how; the tomorrow you hear about that never arrives; a ball rolling just out of reach; every tumbleweed pushing across each prairie; a solitary man, in mourner’s black, who’s lost his hat and is not pleased; a place you make reservations to go to, but on the eve of your departure, all roads are closed, telephone lines have fallen; right before two magnets touch; the desire to protect something that’s not yours to protect; the music hall audience rising to its collective feet, cheering for an encore; the key you wear around your neck, long after the door has been lost; the party you leave too early; the spiciest curry you’ve ever eaten; the woman whose laughter is like lace but not her anger; kissing with your tongue for the first time, and knowing nothing will be the same; the faraway bell that rings your name only once; the first time the ribbon came loose from her hair; how the mountain lion’s eyes might look should you ever get to see them.

Friday, December 24, 2010

What Do You Believe?










It is certain because it is impossible.

Tertullian

O, Birther of the Cosmos,
focus your light within us -- make it useful.


from the Aramaic, the original version of The Lord’s Prayer


My father-in-law had a sort of home grown faith. Much of it came through experiences he had with his young son, Gary, who once, or maybe more than once, said, pointing up to the clouds, “Look Dad, there’s God.”

My writing student, Joan Hendrickson, who volunteers for the poet Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House, tells this story: “Do you recall the little Madonna in Jeffers’ tower—in Una’s (Jeffers’ wife) sitting room? It’s origin is thought to be the Carmel Mission. Una took her there for midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, sat her in the pew beside her!”

What are you going to believe? I have asked myself this over and over again, since losing faith, so many years ago, in the Catholic Church’s version of things. When I walk into the woods, every single time I do, the question disappears.

Each leaf, every pine needle, all the dark-eyed juncos, every loudmouthed jay, all the winds coming from each direction, the rocks, the hiding animals, the pines and oaks, the paths between trees, sheltering sky above: my belief is everywhere.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Path Between?








Where is the dwelling place of light?

And where is the house of darkness?
Go about; walk the limits of the land.

Do you know a path between them?

Job 38:19-20

Do you know a path between joy and sorrow? Is it shrouded or well lit? Pine-scented? There’s a weight hanging over me. I’m remembering my mother’s death many years ago; I’m anticipating my father’s. I’m doing my best to sit beside my husband in his grief, while feeling my own, over the loss of his father.

Might that weight be an anchor too? I’ve never veered from sorrow; it’s often been the best of friends. This time of year, though, and this year, especially, on certain days, it’s bringing me to my knees. This is the familiar grief of Christmas on steroids. The past carries its weight. The present adds its own.

There are some things life hands us with that we don’t “get over,” ever. Hopefully we learn to incorporate those odd gifts and get stronger. And my life, in the scheme of lives, is lined with silver, is easy. Long time ago, a drinking mother was tough for this child. It made me need to straddle too many realities simultaneously and without the skills to do so. Being with Michael over these years has worn away much of that old loss, and I’ve even come to look forward to Christmas. But this year’s new grief is not only making me sad in the present tense, it’s bringing the past back home.

I turn to the forest. I return to the forest. It has become a place of salvation. Does the forest diminish itself? Does it wish for sun on stormy days? It questions neither its greenness nor its fallen limbs. I like the
isness of the woods. I like that, without any apparent effort, each day when I show up at its boundary, the woods welcome me in whether my lipstick’s fresh or I’m emotionally disheveled, whether my shirt’s come untucked or not. Never once have the trees said, “Why are you sad?” or “You’ve not been here for days!”

There’s a line from
The Waking, a poem by Theodore Roethke, that says, “What falls away is always, And is now.” At certain points in life, we built and gather and prepare; it’s all a reaching outward. And at other times, the faling away is what we feel—the always falling, and now. This is that. The trees let go of their leaves effortlessly. I stand in the forest and watch, over and over again. The leaves sway on their way down; they find currents of air that let them ride, in their near weightlessness, down easy to the ground.

I tell myself, “Tricey, look out there; the light is returning.” But no truth, no matter how verifiable, lifts me from sorrow. And so what? Why shouldn’t I give up straddling worlds, settle down and cry my eyes out?

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dressing Up for Winter





Put on your red dress, baby.

Tommy Tucker

The forest must have heard about the lunar eclipse. Perhaps you saw the moon all dressed in red in the middle of the night. The forest’s color choice might have been so inspired, a kind of emulation. I walked a long time in the forest. When walking alone, I notice things that are impossible to see if distracted from nature by human conversation.

As if overnight, the park discarded its autumn attire and changed into red clothes. Almost everyone dressed up to greet winter. While I was warm under the covers, did a forest band play too? I’ll bet there were trumpets and a host of violins. It’s not every day one season gives way to another. It’s not every day that the deepest darkness makes way for the light.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Following the Longest Night of the Year



When I woke up a little after 1:00 a.m., I pulled on a sweater and went outside to see if the moon had turned red in her first day of winter eclipse. Guess I didn’t get there soon enough. (And now that I see this photo sent to me by my most fabulous computer guy, Michael Brenner, I really wish I'd woken up in time.)

But there she was, for the storm clouds had moved out of the way, full and glorious, except for what looked like the shadow of a hand covering the side of her face. I stood there in the cold and looked up.


Three poems for the season:

Darkness

Darkness is a boy, big and tall,
clutching the Earth
and putting it his deep, dark, gloomy pocket,
like a toy or a small ball.

Darkness is the moon
with a crayon, black,
coloring the night sky,
and the stars erase some spots
and step in.

David Ziganay
grade 4

Starlight

We are that
when born.

Margaret Hammond Larson

I have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night.

W. H. Auden

Monday, December 20, 2010

Confluence


Tonight, the first time since 1638, the winter solstice will coincide with a total eclipse of the moon! The next time won’t be till 2094. We really might like to get outside tonight sometime beginning at midnight tonight. NASA recommends 12:17 for the best viewing. Apparently, that won’t be all. The Ursids meteor shower will also be putting on a heavenly show.

Perhaps where you are, the night skies will be clear. In Monterey, more rain is expected which will make it easier for me to do what I’m most inclined to, sky show or not—sleep.

I can’t help but wonder, did my father-in-law plan things this way? Is he helping to bring all the Heavenly elements together, like he brought his family to the table? He who, in life, was shy and wise, who disdained center stage, might he want to light fireworks once more, and this time claim the majesty that’s been his for a long, long time?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Forest’s Roots and Branches and Creatures Reach Into the Community Beyond its Border of Trees


It went like this: A locals’ show on KUSP Radio, First Person Singular, recorded an excerpt from my Jacks Peak writing. The piece was about the art of listening. It aired a couple weeks ago, and Clytia, who I’ve have known nearly forever, though not well, heard it, which, not surprisingly, considering she’s a reader who works at Bookshop Santa Cruz, made her think of something she’d read.

When I walked into Bookshop a few days later, she stopped me, slipping a book into my hands and, can you believe it, she’d opened up to the very section my essay had reminded her of?

Rose in A Storm, by Jon Katz, is the book. And since a storm is here, wind beating a wildness out there, I thought now the right time to post this. Clytia didn’t love the novel but she absolutely loved some of the writing. It’s, in part, a story about how a dog, Rose, knows the world. “She lifted her nose to the flood of smells that was the world... Earlier, she had caught the scent of snow on the wind, and ice, and then deer, then the old wild dog that ran through the woods, then eggs in a nest... and the dead and frozen petals of flowers...”

Thanks, Clytia! This is what I want from writing, from my writing, to shorten the distances between us, to bring the world—all its nuanced, complicated, blue-green, war-torn, tear-ravaged, innocent and sullied, laughter-promising self—close.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Feel of Something










Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock.
I have been here before.

Lisel Mueller, from The Blind Leading the Blind

There is a breath of hesitancy before touching or not touching, a strange moment. If I choose to pick up the small white cup with the chip near the handle, will it figure in my life?


Edmund de Waal, from The Hare with Amber Eyes

The feeling of a thing has been my life’s métier, the one behind the other obsessions, the other infatuations, the first one. Not the physical touch. It’s the emotional one that’s driven me. How a room full of people feels upon entering and whether I can manage to stay or will be compelled, despite all logic, to leave after not much time. The eerie feel of the east side of Jacks Peak is entirely different from the peaceful west side. The feel of Michael lighthearted is entirely different than the feel of him sad. His step is not the same, nor his kiss.

My mother conveyed something—manner, grace, integrity, or lack of—that was entirely different, depending on whether she was sober or drunk. It wasn’t necessary to see her face to know. Upon entering the room, I could tell. It was, after all, my job, to know. What exactly was it that indicated her condition? I’m not sure. The smell of the room, the angle of her body, the first syllable of her voice? Now I’m grateful my mother was exactly who she was. She’s the one who first and, most essentially, taught me to pay attention to nuance, to mood, to flicker and flare—but small flickers, often nearly imperceptible flares.

Coming to writing, as an adolescent, was in a big way the result of wanting to find language for the emotional quality of things, to find language for that which strayed from language, hid from it. How to articulate the feeling quality of a chipped white cup that I do or do not pick up, the vibe of a person or place? Before writing, as a child, I made art. My return to art was when I realized words could only take me so far. Or that I could only go so far with them. (Though this journal has changed that.)

I’ve not been one to go through the world knowing it primarily by touch. Though I clearly remember the feel of incinerator door handle in our New York City apartment, of the escalator’s squishy handrail at B. Altman’s department store, the touch of hot peppers and basil from my grandfathers garden, the cucumber peels my grandmother would put on my face to cool me down on hot days, snow on the tongue, the touch of marble and metal from childhood and from trips to Europe with Michael.

Yesterday, on a slow amble through the woods, I touched everything I could: brown pine needles layered on the trail, tree bark, fallen pine cones, lots of leaves, a stone. How would touching these objects change my life? How have they?

During his last days, my father-in-law’s hands, whether it was under the blankets or above them, drew me close. I am embarrassed to say, though, that more than once, I hesitated before touching him. Was I afraid his dying would wear off on me? Each time I overcame my reluctance and brought my hand to his, a gift was given. It wasn’t dying I touched; it was Roy’s life, traveling its long course, from the pulse of his heart through his hand and into mine. One afternoon, I kissed his unconscious, whiskery face and brought my hand to his cheek. He turned his head and rested it against my hand. And touch became my only world.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Host of Questions









Is the body a manifestation of the soul? Is the mind?
Is the mind a permutation of the soul? At the point of death, does the soul say to the body and the mind, here’s where we part company—here’s where I continue on and you gotta give it all up, despite all the hills those old feet climbed, all the trails traveled on horseback? Despite the vegetables that spoon-holding hand turned in the wok, the bok choi and all the other chois, straight from the backyard garden. Despite the soil those sturdy hands turned and the covers it pulled up chin high, the brows the lips kissed, the lips. Despite the days and the nights the body gave, the children it helped raise. All those tests taken, the buildings drawn and built, the before dinner prayers said and the meals shared around the table, the making of family, the lingering in the bounty of family, advice offered. Despite the untarnished, down right devotion for your wife and love for your kids. Despite all the goodness (ah, and the trouble) it gave, now’s the time to give the body away. No need for the cowboy boots; no need for the handshake of welcome, nor the embrace, for bike rides with a grandchild.

Is this what the soul says? As it leaves the body, does it tip its hat goodbye? Or was the soul never in there, in the first place? From birth onward, does the soul hover around of like a bunch of bees at the honey hive? Like breeze through the window, pushing the curtains about—you know the kind—late afternoon, on a still day?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Of All the Ways to Go


Of all the Jacks Peak trails, of all the routes, that over this past year, I’ve taken, most of which fit into an hour or so, there’s one walk that’s most my walk, one pattern of trails—turn left here and take a right there—that my feet have been drawn to most often. When walking there, I don’t have to think about where I’m going, when to turn, where the hills will be, how long it’ll take. I just put one foot before the other foot, and off we go, three travelers—two strong legs and the rest of me.

That walk has everything: pines and oaks, hills and flat places, sun and shade, views and sheltering trees that make canopies to walk beneath. There are narrow paths and wide lanes, twists, turns and straight-aways. Despite having taken that route many, many times, the walk is never the same walk. At first that surprised me.

Now this walk holds a hosts of memories too. Every time I follow this route, I think “This is where...” And each time, there’s more to add to the “this.” It’s not only what actually occurs on the walks themselves, but who comes too, what we talk about, how it feels to be together, and, when alone, the things I think about, the prayers and poems, where my soul goes.

Yesterday, morning was leaning against afternoon by the time I got out the door. I’d spent a few hours sitting in front of the fire feeling weighed down by a mix of grief and anxiety. My thinking felt sticky. My heart felt leaden.

In the morning’s wee hours, my father-in-law died. That’s the time to die, I think, between one day and the next, the moments of abeyance. When the night gives up its hold but morning hadn’t begun to lift the curtain on the next day.

When I began my Jacks Peak walks and writing these posts, Michael told me, “Nature accepts us as we are.” The woods didn’t ask me to take my sorrow elsewhere. The forest welcomed me home, grief and all.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Yesterday



Despite that my beloved father-in-law has been lying down for days, not a word spoken, the feet that climbed so many hills are sock-covered now and resting, still the one working lung pumps, takes in the air, lets it go. His hummingbird heart is no less determined to do its only job. At the side of the bed his upturned hand is a cup to hold something—rain water, the winter-blooming narcissus, any of our hands. And those distant eyes turn now toward which horizon?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thankful for the Clouds?









Have we blessed the clouds for their thoughtfulness?

Have we thanked the rain that falls on the fields?


Robert Bly,
from The Threshers

Thankful for rain that falls? Easy. For the rain’s thoughtfulness, for anyone’s? Of course. Thankful for the cat who meows horribly till I sit down and she jumps up, makes herself into a neat ball and yawns. Thankful for breakfast, for night giving up its hold, for the bunch of beets, for the egg’s yellow center, for all the small kindnesses—Roxane’s smile, Bill carrying the chairs into the living room so I didn’t have to, the grocer who touched my hand slowly when he gave me change and looked into my eyes, slowly too, though there was no reason to. Damn. I reach into my purse and, wouldn’t you know it, there are my keys. Thankful that my father calls. My mother-in-law and I sneak away from the dying house and linger over Indian food for lunch, take an imaginary trip to Italy over Indian Chai. Thankful. A smile comes over your face. You bow your head, move your lips silently. Or you don’t.

What about the other stuff? All the nasty shit? How to be thankful for that? How do I thank God for the politicians’ suited-up, tie-tight posturing? For the lies the radio blasts over the airwaves? For the guy who cuts me off in the rain to get one car length ahead and vrooms his engine like he’s some sort of big deal in a fancy car? Can I be thankful for the stench of the water that makes the sunflowers wilt too-soon because I’ve been neglectful? Thankful for my neglect? For the lack of enough attention that we give to a planet that houses us so gorgeously, day in and day out? Thankful for day out? How about being thankful for the headache that bends and threatens to break me, if not today then tomorrow? How do I be thankful for this death in the wings, for the heavy black wings, not fluttering? Teach me. Teach me to be thankful for this gnawing grief.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My First Trees



...A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain...


Joyce Kilmer


My mother used to recite the whole of this poem to me. As a little New York City girl, I never gave much thought to trees. I didn’t give much thought to outside. As embarrassing as it is to admit that, it’s true. I preferred books to parks, ceilings to sky and museums and the ballet to pretty much anything else, unless it was a restaurant with cloth napkins, waiters with white aprons and a shirley temple, two cherries, yes, please.

That was then. Now is now. And I love the Monterey Pines that shelter my walks, as if they grew there just for that, and the Live Oaks that must wish the pines would give them just a bit more space so the sun could touch their branches too. This time of year, where the oak leaves cover the paths, it’s like whole banks deposited their gold coins in gratitude.

My first trees were the Redwoods. Not the first trees I’d ever seen. Not the first I’d climbed. But the first I could say that in any way I loved. And I hold a boy named Patrick Brady responsible. When I was in 7th grade, Pat and I used to walk from my house to UCSC—the letters really stand for University of California at Santa Cruz, but they were quickly usurped to mean Uncle Charley’s Summer Camp. It was a long, uphill walk not to a small enclave of buildings but then to an assorted few buildings in the midst of a huge forest.

We’d finally get into that deep forest where the trees were slender giants, the ferns enormous green fans and the air was thick and smelled like mint. We’d sit down on a mossy log or lean against a tree together, close together. And kiss. He was my first kiss. I associate Redwood trees with his kiss. They are one and the same.

If you’ve never felt the bark of a Redwood, you really ought to. It’s got a softness unlike any other tree I’ve ever met. The bark is fibrous and tender. When you lean against one, you feel first a cushion and then the firmness of the unbelievably tall tree behind that.

Last Sunday I went up to campus; I’d not been there for a long time. Parking on the 5th floor of the garage, I got out of my car, stood in the stairwell as students hurried by, leaned out to the Redwood trees, breathing and remembering the whole forest of them.

Not only did I go back to my early adolescence though. I didn’t have to go nearly that far. In the back-backyard of Michael’s childhood home, there’s a cluster of trees that his parents planted a long time ago. Today, those Redwoods are so tall you have to lean your head way back to see the sky they touch. I wonder, might Heaven have Redwood trees?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Who’s Holding Whose Hand



At first, I thought I was holding grief’s hand, that I was taking grief out for a late morning walk, that we needed to get some fresh air together. Nearly every walk I’ve taken, during this year of walking, has been on the park’s west side. I’m not sure why. It’s a bit less dark over there. And since I walk so much alone, that seemed to matter. Right now, the darkness is where I want to be.

Shortly after leaving the pine needle covered parking lot, with a let’s get going step, I felt a hand at my chest making that international symbol for STOP! It hadn’t taken grief long to assert dominance, to slow me down.

Wendell Berry has a poem, The Peace of Wild Things, which I love. One part says,

“I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief....”

Those words keep returning to my mind like the tide. Roy’s been sick nearly a year now. My own father was very ill. There has been a lot of grief already. It was yesterday that I realized I’ve not been taxing my life with grief in the wings. There’s grief and then there’s more grief. And at times, we have to live with it the best we can.

Some days grief is a too-heavy suitcase. On other days it’s a pebble in my shoe. Often, when closest to my surface, it’s a damp face. It can make me say silly things because I’m distracted. Like yesterday when I saw Shannon at Trader Joe’s and we hugged and kissed. “Oh, Shannon, I left ice cream on your cheek.” It took her looking at me funny to realize I said ice cream instead of lipstick.

Yesterday, grief held my hand. It led me on my walk. It slowed me down. It showed me beauty along the path that I feel blessed and lucky to have seen like the reddest fallen leaf and the cluster of white berries.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When the End Gets Nearer



When the end gets nearer, my inclination is to apologize and walk backwards. What I’m apologizing for, I don’t know, but if I said I was sorry, wouldn’t that make it all OK again and vivid, the way it was before? I had lunch with my sister yesterday. We do that every now and then, after having not do so for way too long. Sushi. It’s good to share a fondness for raw fish with one’s sibling, I think.

I was remembering out loud when I was a kid and my pet mice died and how awful I felt about it and how much more awful my mother made me feel. There was a lot of guilt knocking around our house. Turns out, I just this found out, from my sis, it wasn’t my fault, after all. Ah, the power we think we have. The power that gets bestowed upon us that we don’t even think of as power.

So why don’t I have the power to take the ashen color off Dad, my father-in-law’s, face? Why can’t I apologize to God and do it? Things were going along just fine. Now death comes not knocking, but getting ready to kick down the door. And I am sad. Everything about me is sad. My eyelids are sad. My hair hangs limp in its sadness. Under my breast bone, where my heart is, something’s biting me, and hard. My feet are so sad, they want to walk the other way, down the path of happiness.

When we celebrated Thanksgiving with my in-laws, Dad invited me to say Grace. I’ve been a member, a loved member of Michael’s family for many years now, but this was my first Grace. I thanked God for the Bounty of Love at the table. I am thankful for that yet.

But not even a walk this morning with Roxane, in my most beloved woods, is going to fix this sorrow. No this sorrow, the trees may hold for a while, but this sorrow, is going to be mine to keep for a very long time. I will simply, for days and day and days, ask the trees to listen, ask the paths to hold my feet as they attempt to go forward. Or maybe I will walk out there and just stand still. And soon, I think, I may need to walk out to a farthest point, as away as I can get, and curl up or lean against a goodly tree and weep.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Molting II



There were birds that made the feathers

and the sun that made the light.


Barbara Ras,
from
A Book Said Dream and I Do

Just when I thought they’d changed their last feather, I find an assorted array of discarded plumage on the trail—there’s more than one too-delicate, startling white, unbearably soft feather, another that’s black with shiny hints of green and purple. Others caught only out of the corner of my eye that I don’t stop to notice closely. And I, who’ve been known to fall asleep dreaming about what I might wear the next day, am led to imagine this: what if we humans only got to change our clothes twice a year and only a few threads, a single sleeve or a mere shoelace at a time? Yet the birds don’t seem to mind...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

News of the World








News of the world lay in the rain...

William Logan

It is difficult to get the news from poems,
yet men die miserably every day for lack
of what is found there.


William Carlos Williams

What if, instead of turning on our televisions, our radios and looking at our hand-held devices, we went outside to get the day’s news? And what if, what we found out, wasn’t whether the democrats or the republicans were crossing the aisle or not, but whether the scrub jays were crossing the sky right above the trail exactly where our feet were? What if the news was the wind that today was blowing in from the west, offshore, as opposed to yesterday when the wind was coming from here, there and every which way?

The other day, I found an animal’s skull, a small animal, but bigger than a skunk. The skull has a polished look to it; the critter had obviously been dead a long time. Someone had found it before me though. The skull was impaled on a stick stuck in the ground. There’s news for you, a whole story I’ve caught only a fragment of.

If the dark-eyed juncos or the upside down spider were to report on their day’s headlines, what might they say? Or rather, what are they saying, each and every day, that I’m too thick-skulled to understand? What’s the report coming in from the dried oak leaf that fell into the green arms of a pine bough? Does it feel isolated there, away from its kin? Or unique and celebrated? Are the pine needles cackling like so many senators, “We’ve got us one over-the-hill oak leaf, today, folks.”? Which news will you to tune into today? Whose truth? And whose truth will you put your belief in?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Autumn Molting




Animals shed things. Insects shed wings. Not necessarily by choice, lizards shed tails. Birds shed feathers. Mammals shed old hairs, old couches, clothes that no longer fit. Some humans have a hard time with this concept. The ones who have a kind of hard time with it, have desks that look like mine. “But I might need that exact piece of paper with those exact two words written down on it, someday.” Humans who’ve really not got the shedding thing down at all, rent storage lockers. From what I’ve seen of them, they put my high school locker to shame; it should have been called a locket.

The birds out in the park don’t have trouble with this concept whatsoever. Best of all is when the Orange-Shafted Flicker gives up one of its feathers, and I happen by. They’re my favorites—a dart of bright light running between black and white.

A lot of birds shed feathers, or molt or moult, in autumn. I’ve been waiting to not see anymore feathers on the trails before writing this. I don’t know why. Something along the order of, let them finish their work before telling the world all about it. If they’re still shedding, I feel sorry for those birds, because I think they’ll be getting really cold. It’s dipping down pretty low these nights.

But that’s probably, like most of my worries, unrealistic, since when birds give up feathers, there are new ones at the ready, growing in. Birds don’t shed all their feathers at one time. If they did they’d look really silly and they would be really cold. Feathers help them to regulate their body temperature and assist them in repelling moisture. When birds molt their wing feathers, they have to find safe places with lots of saved up food because at those times they can’t fly.

Did you know that feathers make up to 12 percent of a bird’s weight? That’s one heavy coat. At certain times birds produce feathers that are called postnuptial plumage. Does that mean Michael and I ought to get under the covers together for a while and then go coat shopping? (Sorry; I just couldn’t help myself.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Us Storytelling Animals













On Monday, Salman Rushdie was being interviewed on the radio about his new children’s book, Luka and The Fire of Life. The bad guy, Nobodaddy, says to Luka, the main character, a young boy trying to save his father who’s a writer, “You should know better than to call something “only a story”.... Man is the storytelling animal. We are the only creatures of the world who do this. Nobodaddy asks, ‘Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants elephantisize? No, they don’t. Man alone.’... One of the things I wanted the book to communicate is how important it is to us, as human beings, the business of telling and receiving stories.”
(NPR’s Here and Now, 11/29/10)


See these little beings in the photos? I had them in my pocket for several days, hoping I’d have the chance to take the walk that had the red mushroom on it, while the red mushroom was still there.

Onto my hands and knees, I went, gleefully, for I’d found the mushroom, a little worn from wear, but still trail side. Odd, for a Tuesday morning, two women walked by. One looked at me down on the ground and said, “Cute.” If I’d been less engaged, the comment would have made me cringe. I only smiled.

What stories do you find here and in the woods when you’re out walking? What’s the ballerina with the gold lamé top and the crinoline skirt dancing about? Is she in love with the mushroom or the horse? And the knobby antlered deer, is the mushroom his best friend?