"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Autumn Dawn

One of the best parts of any day is early morning when the light first breaks through the trees. I'm often sitting here at my east-facing window, beginning my work for the day, when night surrenders. The view of sky and beyond is mostly held prisoner behind the bars of cedars and firs  that line that side of our place. But the light always pushes through eventually, and some pink almost always glows from behind, and new day always arrives no matter what.

Some mornings, like today, the view is further muted by thick fog rising from the ground like memories, drawn out from a place of dark stillness. Blocking panoramic vision, but allowing shape and color through. Cool fingers of moisture playing guess-who against my eyes.

I feel both comforted and constrained by the gray mist and gray-green sentinel trees that cushion me from the vast unknowing and freedom on the other side.

The world on this side is soft and cocooned, silent, safe. Since all is shadow, there are no lurking shadows to fear. Dim light allows for just enough vision to promise night doesn't last forever. It's a soft nest of gray down held in the protective arms of Mother. No longer asleep, yet not quite fully awake in this time, a part of me wants to stay here forever.

The world on the other side tugs at me with its tourmaline blush and sapphire promises. Light sparkles through my eyes and pulls from within - inviting, urging, singing.  "Let go." "Come play." "There's lots of room."

"You can't fall."

With the rising sun, light continues to brighten the sky, scatter the fog, and declare victory over darkness once again. It won't be denied, but neither will it insist I step out of the shadows. The choice is mine.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bear in the Woods

The phone ringing in the kitchen woke me up. A bleary glance at the clock told me it was after 9:00, which meant the call wasn't going to be good news. I'm an early-to-bed-early-to-rise person,  and all my friends know that. No one calls that late unless they have to.

"Debbie, it's Courtney. I wanted you to know there really is a bear. We got pictures this time and caught him in the neighbor's garage. Be careful when you're walking Toby."

Courtney is one of my favorite people in the world. Twenty something, she lives in the neighborhood below us, a group of lovely homes strung out along the river farther along the small peninsula where Toby and I have our adventures. Because she's been our critter sitter since she was eleven, she knows our routines, and she loves our animals.

She had mentioned the possibility of bear on the peninsula before, but there was no real evidence and there were lots of other possibilities to explain the knocked over garbage cans and noises in the night. That neighborhood is full of dogs, for one thing. Plus there are raccoons, opossums, coyotes, deer, and bobcats here. The likelihood of the culprit being a bear seemed slim.

Her last message was not welcome news, and for days after, I found myself frozen with fear and frustration.

The thought of losing my walking route with Toby was deeply upsetting, and made me realize how much I treasure every bit of the trail and every minute I spend there with my dog. It's my church and my meditation and my best entertainment. Whether it's spotting my beloved eagles or allowing the sound of the river to soothe my heart or simply soaking up the beauty of Toby's unfettered joy - the best part of my life happens on our walks.

I was left with a huge dilemma. There is clearly a bear in that area and he's probably been around for a while. We've walked there for over two years without incident, rabbits and deer the only four-legged life we've encountered. But now knowing about an ursine presence changed everything.

My first thought was that I couldn't risk walking there again. You can't un-know a thing, and now if we did run into the bear, and Toby got hurt, it would be my fault. Toby hurt under any circumstances would be difficult to endure. Toby hurt because I was wrong would be unbearable (pun unintended but perfect).

I spent hours and hours going back and forth in my mind exploring reasons on both sides of the argument. I decided that it was silly to give up the trail. The bear had never been seen that far up the peninsula. I looked up black bear scat, and knew I'd never seen it anywhere Toby and I walk. I know bears are shy and will run (unless cubs are involved, and that's not the case here). Even at that, I found reasons not to walk for several days.

The fear was a real and physical force and it was not going to let me move.

So yesterday, I moved. Toby and I returned to our trail, without incident. I stayed aware, not letting myself drift inward at all, kept him a bit closer to me than usual. Fear kept me company, but her voice was a whisper, not the heart-stopping scream of days before.

I'm not certain I'm making the right choice. All I know is that I can't let fear of anything choose for me. I can appreciate her concerns without allowing them to be the only voice in the room. I'll stay informed and alert and careful. And later today I'll thank fear for her help, and head out with Toby for another adventure in the woods.

photo from firstpeople.us

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One Perfect Pear

The rhythm of the seasons is reflected in the produce available at my favorite farmer's market. Starting with strawberries in June, through the summer's abundant variety of fruits and vegetables, to the pumpkin patch this month. Each visit offers me something new, some delicious treasure I've been waiting for since the year before. The arrival of the first cherries, or the first sweet corn, or the first new crop apples makes me as happy as an eagle sighting.

Some of the produce is from other parts of the state - areas known for the perfection of the conditions  for growing orchard fruits in particular. So when I walk into the market so see huge wooden bins in the center, I know I'm in for a treat. Recently one of the bins was full of Bartlett pears - huge hard green knobby things holding nothing more than the promise of sweetness available only to those willing to be patient.

With my hands caressing the new fruit, I traveled back fifty years to my childhood home where Mom would wait eagerly for the truck from Yakima carrying crates of peaches and pears - fruit that couldn't be grown in our short North Idaho summers. I could smell the simple syrup and the pressurized steam and the hot pear perfume created as we canned what would be our winter desserts. I could see her usually stern and angry face softened by the heat and contentment.

I remembered getting to choose one pear from the boxes, which we'd been watching for days to catch the fruit at its perfect point of ripeness. It was not an easy choice. There could be no bruises or green showing - not too ripe or too unripe. I wanted the biggest one I could find. I wanted perfection.

The first bite was always the best. Teeth sinking into flesh that resisted only slightly and then a mouth filled with sweetness that was too much to contain and that flowed down my chin. Not chewing exactly, but pressing the fruit against the roof of my mouth so that the flavor filled my head. Then bite after bite, not waiting to completely swallow the previous mouthful, until their was nothing left but a stem with a clump of seeds hanging from it. And a deep deep almost drunken sense of satisfaction.

In the time between that childhood and now, I found myself living with a group of people who were as self-sufficient as possible as part of our belief system. Canning pears was a different experience shared with three or four other women in a kitchen meant to be common ground but really the territory of the eldest in our midst. We put up enough - not just pears, but peaches, cherries, beans, tomatoes, applesauce -  to feed four families and visitors through the winter.

As the newest member, a handmaiden, it was my job to peel the pears just as it had been in childhood, which I didn't mind. In part because it allowed me to quietly choose and set aside one perfect pear for my own enjoyment. Personal pleasure was frowned on, as was anything that wavered from a strict set of rules. But somehow no one ever noticed my claiming that small jewel of delight as we worked in obedience to our calling.

The resident cat, a young marmalade tom, strolled through the market bringing me back into the present and scattering ghosts like so many mice into the fall air.

I don't can any more, haven't for years, so didn't need to ask for crates. The women who were my guides, for better or for worse, are gone from my life now. Mom reduced to a crone-like body in a nursing home conversing with ghosts of her own. My fellow followers gone to lives far from my knowing.

 But still there is the power to choose one pear, to bring it home and set it in a place of honor where I can watch it ripen into perfection. And where I can indulge in the singular pleasure of losing myself in the sensory wonder of fragrance and juice and flesh, the experience a spark bright enough to carry me through to next year.

photo from healthmed.com

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Moment

The happy warbling of goldfinches as they hopped from sweet gum to feeders brought me out of my book and back into the sunny fall afternoon. Bundled against the distinct bite of air already owned by winter, I was surprised to hear such a summer sound. When I looked up, I could see the finches only after a search. Their distinctive golden breeding plumage was replaced weeks ago by drabness meant to camouflage as they travel to warmer climes.

As I watched them feed, only a half dozen or so, and listened to their musical chortles and murmurs, I realized I hadn't seen our grosbeaks for a very long time. And I couldn't remember when I'd last been aware of their presence. They were with us all summer, mixed in with the finches and jays and chickadees and nuthatches and doves and sparrows. I marveled every day at the simple beauty of the particular arrangement of their orange and black and white. Their tails spread in flight reminded me of the flared skirts of Flamenco dancers. The fledglings, and there were so many this year, made me laugh in wonder and amusement as they learned to fly and feed themselves. 

How does that happen? One day life is a certain way, nicely drawn in reliable lines of comfortable familiarity, colored in a reassuring rainbow of the season. I savor and observe and immerse myself in the magic of everyday. And still one afternoon I realize I've missed an important shift.  

I used to comfort myself with the belief that there was always next year. If I didn't take the time to appreciate the wealth of finches so thick they dripped from the feeding tube like molten gold, there would be another time. But over the years I've begun to  realize the danger in that thinking. After several summers of finches so abundant we couldn't keep the feeders filled, the last couple have given us only a couple dozen.

This year the abundance came in the form of grosbeaks and jays. Next year - well there's no way to know or predict. And not only about the rhythm of the birds. 

I don't mind the changing of the seasons. I don't mind getting older. I do mind how much faster the whole process seems to be with each successive year. Just when I finally understand how important each moment is and how I can't count on a second moment to absorb what the first has to offer, time has seemed to accelerate. 

On another day recently, a very different warble brought me out of my chair and into the yard, my eyes searching the sky before I was even completely on my feet. Sounding for all the world like someone whistling their dog home, with a plaintive and urgent quality, I recognized the voice as that of a raptor. What I saw was a bald eagle, mature female judging from size and color, leading two other eagles across the sky. They were smaller, their plumage just beginning to show the distinctive white. All three were close enough and low enough for a time I could tell the whistle came from the bigger bird. 

I stood, watched, listened. I opened up every part of me to absorb as much as possible, not entirely certain what I was seeing, but knowing without doubt this viewing was a once in a lifetime event. The trio wheeled and soared its way across the sky until all that was left was the faint chuckle of the bigger bird's call. Finally the empty sky and stillness released me to ponder the message, which eluded me until now. 

Without exception, whenever a bald eagle is present, I am the most fully present I'm capable of being. Every moment they're available to my awareness is complete and focused. The result is that I am full of eagle moments. Vivid pictures with sound, scent and color that are as much a part of me as my eyes.

And that's the answer. Full presence without worry about what's being missed. Each moment absorbed and completely lived becomes a part of me, regardless of the speed of its passing. Each moment intentionally embraced slows just long enough to be captured.

No moment claimed is ever lost. Every new moment offers itself as a gift. We have the power to live those gifts - starting with this single moment.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


"Deb, would you like to demonstrate a sit-up for us?"

It was toward the end of my most recent yoga class, well into the floor series, and I was in a groove of knowing the hardest was behind, and a nice long savasana and cold water were within reach. At first I thought Eric was asking someone else. There are two other Debs who practice often at the same time I do. But then I figured out I was the only Deb in the room.

The second I realized he meant me and he was serious, I found myself back in seventh grade, the first year of junior high.

The year I turned twelve. The year my period started. The year I knew for certain I would give anything to be someone else.

P.E. was required. Uniforms, full participation and group showers were mandatory. A complete nightmare for a girl miserable in her own body whose favorite physical activity was turning the pages of a book.

Memory transported me from cute stretchy yoga clothes into the junior high P.E. uniform, a royal blue short-sleeved, short jumpsuit with snaps and elastic waist that binds at every possible intersection of body parts. I'm praying the snaps will hold as I throw my torso forward from the floor toward my bent knees, hands behind my head, elbows flapping like the wings of a desperate bird. A classmate, someone as overweight, out of shape and uncool as I am, holds my feet and counts. The teacher, who after all these years is nothing more in my mind than a whistle and harsh judgement, walks around making sure we keep trying and don't pad the numbers on our recording sheets. Sit-ups aren't the worst thing we have to do. I can at least approximate those, unlike chin-ups which are as beyond me as the cute boys in ninth grade.

The problem is that I'm trying not to sweat, and I can't get a decent count without sweating. I've figured out that if I make it to the locker room after class without sweat, I can usually slip back into my school clothes without showering. The chaos and steam and fact that I'm not a part of any group work in my favor. If someone notices I'm the first one dressed, I just say I was fast.

I will do anything to avoid exposing my round body with boobs barely more than bumps in a room where all I see are beautiful, thin and shapely girls. I will even choose to be less successful than I might otherwise be to stay as invisible as possible.

Invisible. That thought dropped me back into the heat of the yoga studio where at least I've learned to sweat comfortably. While I've accepted that I'm not ever going to catch up with my mostly younger, and incredibly flexible classmates, and I've gotten good at focusing on my own practice, I've also shown up every day with an invisibility cloak draped over my yoga uniform.

I don't want to be noticed. Acceptance, at least the way I've managed it so far, does not include wanting to be seen attempting a practice I'm not that good at in a body I'm still, after all these years, trying to learn to love. And until the last class, except for an occasional gentle adjustment or word of encouragement, the teachers have honored my cloak.

"Deb, would you like to demonstrate a sit-up for us?"

 Lying flat in savasana on my mat, I rolled my head toward Eric's voice and with my eyes asked, "Are you out of your  mind?"

"I'm serious. Everyone, watch Deb as she does this sit-up. Pay attention to how she exhales."

And so before my brain had a chance to offer me any advice at all, I pointed my feet back toward my face, raised my arms over my head, joined my thumbs, breathed in pushing my lower back to the floor, sat up, grabbed my feet, and exhaled sharply twice. Eric praised. The class clapped. I grinned.

One of the most amazing things I've learned in my life, is that as alone as I felt in childhood and adolescence and young adulthood, I was not alone in that feeling. The world is full of people wearing invisibility cloaks, some wearing many layers of them. What I think I'm still learning is that when a person is willing to shine light on their invisibility and to risk exposing what is vulnerable and tender, the resulting glow reveals beauty beyond any previous definition.

Image from virtualdali.com

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Mystery of Enna Scott

I love a good mystery. Starting with Nancy Drew, through Miss Marple and Rebecca, to Kinsey Millhone and Harry Bosch - the characters in those books were as real to me as the people or situations I was reading to escape. They became my friends and my models and my heroes.

So I'm thrilled to find a new mysterious character has entered my life.

It started with an e-mail from an address I didn't recognize, inviting me to visit a new blog. The name of the writer was intriguing: Enna Scott.  The fact that Enna is a fictional character, created by a writer who prefers to allow her narrator to hold the stage alone, does nothing to diminish my interest in her, or my curiosity about her story.

Even though it took me years to get over the news that Carolyn Keene was not a real person, after time to reflect, that actually made Nancy seem even more real in some way. Her being was not dependent on one person alone, but was in fact so powerful she still finds ways to be alive in the world. Some characters, while not in a human body, simply need to be in the world.

I think Enna is one of those characters. She's young. She's searching for something she can't quite define. She's spunky.

The story is still new enough that you can catch up in one easy sitting. Then you'll have new installments to look forward to when you're hungry for story or missing Enna, much like the serialized stories of times past. I hope you'll give yourself the gift of Enna Scott. She's eager to be known.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Weaving Reality

In the absence of information, I fill in the blanks, usually without much awareness that I've woven a reality out of nothing more than some impulses in my brain. Because of that, I often reach conclusions about people and situations that are wrong, and I never fail to be surprised at how one small brushstroke can change an entire picture. As is often the case, something will trigger a wondering for me, then life provides an abundance of answering.

The webbing was strung from one bush to another across at least twelve feet of open space. Its weaver hung at eye level, the sun illuminating the silk and her body so I saw in time to avoid destroying her work. At first she was alone, but after fussing with my camera, determined to get a shot of this arachnid in the air,  I looked up to discover two spiders, face to face with each other.

I stood watching them for the longest time, expecting the smaller to end up in a tightly cocooned bundle to be hauled away for the larger spider's dinner. I assumed the web was the work of the larger because I'd seen her there first. I assumed the smaller was at a disadvantage and could not figure out why she stayed, or why she wasn't consumed. I assumed they had to be enemies.

But aside from some leg waving, the two spiders did nothing to confirm my assumptions. Neither gave ground or seemed to try to push the other into retreat. I finally moved on, finished my usual circuit with Toby, and when we came back, the web was empty. I was left to write my own ending. Which I did, trying out multiple scenarios, but the not really knowing still haunts, just a little.

The spider encounter still fresh in my mind, I was at Costco checking out a few days later. The young man at the register was not one I'd seen before and he seemed much more interested in talking to the guy who was doing the boxing than he was in customer relations. He didn't look up once, or greet me in any way.  I studied him, deciding he was probably a snotty narcissistic hotshot who was mean to his mother, and thinking Costco made a huge mistake allowing him on a register.

He scanned my items with skilled efficiency, all the while keeping up a running banter with his friend. He stopped with the latest issue of People Magazine in his hands, and inspected the cover as though it held the secrets of the universe. I amped up my stare, willing him to notice. He finally looked up, made eye contact for the first time, and said, "That obvious, huh?" The grin on his face made me laugh out loud.

We ended up talking about fame, laughing over a headline that declared an actress's big comeback as an appearance on Dancing With the Stars. From there he said something about how today's movies just didn't tell stories in the same way they used to. How nothing is like the old black and white films, like his favorite, Of Mice and Men. As I agreed that it was one of the greatest, he went on to say he not only watched it a couple of times a year, he also reread the book every year.

A Steinbeck fan. A literary man. With a wicked sense of humor. Maybe the other things I decided he was earlier weren't wrong - those could still be true. They just weren't all of him. And the new information turned him from potential enemy into a connection that has the power to make me smile even now.

I don't get to know the ending to the Costco guy's story any more than I'll ever know what really happened with the spiders. What I do know, if I can remember to remember, is that people, situations, and stories are always more complex and more interesting than anything the threads of my imagination can possibly weave.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Indian Summer

Restless. Edgy. Like a goose getting ready to migrate. The particular quality of light, and touch of sun that is both warm and cool, the urgent whisperings of a south wind. I feel longing, a yearning,  for which there is no name. Wings push against the skin of my shoulder blades like new teeth breaking through, wanting to carry me up to join the wind in her travels.

This aching in my soul happens every year at this time, on days of unusual warmth and brilliant blue skies and air full of mysterious and unpredictable motion. I used to think I needed to be somewhere else, to be loved more, to take action about something - anything at all. Except I don't really want to be anywhere else, I am loved to overflowing, and if I've learned nothing else, I know action for the sake of movement is not going to ease the pressure for long.

One of my first childhood beliefs was that the wind came to me bearing words of wisdom and comfort and hope. Even though I could never hear the message in my head, my heart always seemed to understand exactly what was said. I remember standing in a field, little, my arms outstretched, wishing with every fiber of my being to be carried aloft and away. With eyes squeezed shut, face lifted skyward and the wind at my back I knew flying. I felt the companionable wing winds of my fellow citizens of the air. For long stretches of time, gravity released me.

Much like the spring and summer just past, those seasons of my life were dampened and cool and not ideal for flourishing growth. I approach sixty (in another year) knowing autumn has arrived, a time of glorious letting go and muted colors and surrender to the inevitable turning. Winter is next and with it death. Death, both the little dyings of loss and physical diminishment, and the big final transition, is no longer hidden in fresh green shoots or bright flashy blossoms.

I've spent a fair amount of time worrying that I found my way to healing too late. Like the cosmos I planted late in the season, waiting for the rains to let up, just blooming now. The plants are not the lush growth of summer, but the few flowers that have managed to bloom are fragrant and beautiful and perfect cosmos. It's easy to miss that in my disappointment at what isn't.

After days and days of cold rain and nights and nights of cold air, we've had a short stretch of perfect weather. I wander my trails with Toby, marveling at mushrooms and the cast of light through the branches. I go to bed at night with windows wide open and fall asleep under the warm breath of the wind billowing sheers into the room like angels' wings. I wake up in the morning and step outside into balmy air with the Big Dipper taking summer into the north and Orion bringing winter from the south.

In North Idaho where I grew up, we had true Indian Summer - unseasonable warm days late in the fall after a frost. In the Pacific Northwest where I live now, frost doesn't happen until very late and some years doesn't happen at all. But it's the surprise of summer's gifts at any time in autumn that makes my wing buds itchy. And my heart yearn. And this year for the very first time, my ears hear that mine is an Indian Summer life.

The dictionary says it perfectly: " [Indian summer] A pleasant, tranquil, or flourishing period occurring near the end of something." It's not too late. Flourishing is still possible. The wind is waiting and my wings are growing.