Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lone Palm Poetry Lab


Retreat

The pump
and snap of modern life
charges us up
with relentless dreams,
infinite distractions. We strike
poses projecting purpose.

There is no peace, to surrender means to drown.

Instead: tranquil ennui
on magnificent, near empty mountain.
Hummingbirds dance to their own hurdy-gurdy music.
Rattlesnakes buzz a slow warning from
hidden places.

Each evening
brings a sleigh-bell song of crickets.
Each morning
brings the endlessly whirling flies.

Grasshopper days of summer draw to a close.
House filled with laughter now still in the heavy heat.
The dirt pants in thirst.
Scent of warm earth baking rises up in greeting.

Retreat
Retreat to the land of sunsets
and flying saucers.
What could be better?
Every flight has its price.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Coyote Girl

She's Big, she's Bold, she's Nocturnal and Imperturbable. 

She showed up on the deck outside my glass bedroom door at 2am recently, her fur sparkling in the moonlight. The shape of her body somehow so obviously not a dog.

As my puppy growled and I sleepily grabbed for the rifle,  I knew that I couldn't ever really hurt her,  all shining in her wildness under the stars. But I was determined to scare her properly with the cracking sound I hoped her species knows and fears in their bones.

Soon after she did a come hither move at dusk in the ravine below the house, beckoning the puppy towards her side of the canyon.  When he came running back a few moments later I could breathe again. Coyotes hunt in packs, but lure dogs towards those packs, and neighbors believe this big-as-a-german-shepherd-bitch coyote has a nest of pups a few slopes over and down the ridge.

A few evenings later Leonardo (smart as Da Vinci) and I went for a before dinner walk. The lupin was in full bloom, filling the air with a scent like warm grape jelly. Leo ran after the ball again and again and I figured its powerful magnet would keep him close.

Suddenly the wind changed, blowing directly toward us. Leo lifted his head, dropped the ball and took off like a shot down the canyon. When I looked over I saw Coyote Girl again, ready for her close-up, sitting in the lupin on the edge of the slope. Just looking our way, and mysteriously beckoning. A canine siren with the sun setting behind her.

As I hollered over and over for my dog to return, he ran closer and closer to her, approaching and retreating, up and down the slope, thrilled and in love. Finally I saw him run the last several yards straight towards her.

My heart sank and I dropped to my knees...then...she lunged at him. With an impressive yip from Leo and a bursting cloud of dirt he whirled and spun back down to the bottom of the canyon. Was he injured? Would I be bushwhacking down through the lupin, poppies and tall grass to rescue him?

Real waves of relief flowed over me as he came racing back up the hill. I grabbed his collar and knelt beside him, yelling at the Big Coyote Bitch still perched on the opposite slope. "Go away!" I shouted, again and again, as forcefully as I could. She watched me hold my puppy close for several moments, and at last she turned, looking over her shoulder at us, with curiosity or disdain, and disappeared from view.

Leo had a tasty bone, and I had a very large glass of wine that evening. Despite the fear or perhaps because of it, meeting Coyote Girl stimulated an instinctive, ancestral kind of knowing, helpful for more domesticated creatures like people and dogs. I know she knows that Leo is loved, and I know Leo knows she's not a suitable playmate! In the magnificent setting we enjoy here, we really can get along.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saving the World, One Book at a Time



 "It will be a great day when all the Libraries are paid for and the Military holds a bake sale to raise funds."

Well, we're not there yet, so the Friends of the Big Sur Public Library hosted their annual Book and Bake Sale this last Memorial Day weekend. Since I have always loved to read, I happily joined in the fun, selling $1 and $2 paper and hardback volumes to book lovers on Saturday morning.

It was wonderful to see people browsing through tables overflowing with books on the library lawn, sorted into sections like Poetry, Psychology, Travel and Biography, Business and Health. An abundance of children's books filled one table, and it was a particular joy to sell for $1 a thick, doorstop-sized Harry Potter book to a little girl of about 8. Her eyes lit up at the price, a bargain-hunting bibliophile already.


The start of the sale attracts all kinds of readers, from those who stop by on a whim, to others who plan their annual Memorial Day holiday around the sale, staying at the campgrounds nearby and filling their well-worn Friends of the Big Sur Library cotton tote bags.  

It all made for endlessly interesting conversations. The couple who picked up Robert Johnson's slender volumes of "He" and "She": "We have 'We' at home," they laughed, a little in awe at their find.

A family bought sheet music and orchid books, twin boys found a trilogy of fantasy stories, others found enough fiction to last several summers, signed editions of history books of the Big Sur coast, high quality art books and more.  Happy customers all.

People enjoying the simple pleasure of a treasure hunt for books, and the serendipitous quality of what they found, was profoundly reassuring to me, the daughter of a former librarian now devoted to her Kindle.

"There were lots less books donated this year," says my co-volunteer darkly. "I think we could be seeing the effect of the Internet." So we redoubled our efforts, reminding folks they can donate books for next year's sale year-long, by dropping them off during Library hours. (Wednesdays and Thursdays 2pm - 6pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11am - 4pm).

Inwardly I was shouting enthusiastically, "Hooray! People still read!" since I'd come across an article by Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," reporting that our ability to think deeply is eroding thanks to all the "power browsing" the Internet provides. Maybe readers will return to books the way music lovers have embraced vinyl as the earlier, superior technology. A retro high quality experience, infinitely better for your brain.


As books are read less often and our collective cognitive abilities decline, one can only wonder if life will soon be imitating art, รก la Fahrenheit 451.  Will we end up in a dystopian world where people no longer think for themselves, or even, really think at all? Just consume, like an enormous tribe of hungry ghosts?

It is through reading that I am who I am. A childhood as a bookworm, hiding behind my glasses, protected by ideas and dreams I found on the printed page. Books gave me the experience of sustained focus, and taught me how to "self-soothe". Now they expand my heart with empathy and teach me how to live as graciously as possible.

Reading is a contemplative, spiritual practice. Applied individually, one page at at time, it really can change the world.

Thank you, dear Big Sur Library, for reminding me of my first true love, books! And now, off to read.

                                                                         The lovely Zosia, a happy reader!


My own personal haul, for a total of $23, included the following titles:
The Last Days of Socrates - Plato
Diamond Heart Book One- A.H. Almaas
Madness and Cures - Regina O'Melveny
Identity - Milan Kundera
Traveler's Tales: India
The Prado - A huge art book of the museum's images and my most expensive purchase, at $10
The Book of Hindu Imagery - Eva Jansen
more art books - Victorian Fairy Paintings, Timeless India 
and, just in case I need to book a flight to Rome in the near future - 
An Italian / English bilingual visual dictionary



Saturday, March 29, 2014

Puppy Love and Poison Oak



Well, here he is, now ready for prime time, Mister Leonardo Jones. A little hesitant, looking up at me from Mom's hallway, but perfectly suited to the warm tones in her carpet. Perhaps it is a magic carpet, that will fly a little dog back to Big Sur, minus the three hour car ride?  

Rescued from the Monterey SPCA, Leo was part of their outstanding Take the Lead program. He came with "papers", notes from the at-risk kids who reported that Leonardo would be "as good as he could be" and assured me that he would always comfort me through tough times. 

Leo survived Parvo and institutional living for the first 8 months of his life, to land on Partington Ridge as my companion animal. And that last bit he takes quite seriously, giving him what my dog trainer friend calls "velcro dog" status.                                                                                          

When I met Leonardo, my heart was still bruised from the loss of wonder-dog Kipling. But when this gawky little guy tried to climb up into my lap at the shelter, I melted and the pain around my heart lifted. This is not a metaphor, but was a tangible experience. I felt a genuine out-breath escaping my body in relief. Love.

And then, the adventure began. Too nervous and young to be left at home alone, Leo joined me in the office at first, barking frantically when I left the room, chewing up papers, and everything else, with abandon. Clearly, more SPCA training was in order, where a fellow dog-mama asked me if Leonardo was "as smart as DaVinci". For weeks, my wonderful work colleagues patiently shushed him, fed him treats and generally found him to be adorable, even when he jumped up on them. The words Off,  and Leave it! became staples of my daily vocabulary. 

As a cat lover, Leo's perception of my furry-booted friends as intruders and / or prey, was disturbing to say the least. Months of associative learning, "Good dog...nice kitty. Treat!" followed. Now, I'm quite proud to say that, unlike husbands, dogs, as least, can be trained not to chase pussy-cats. I had my doubts on that one. 

After swabbing the inside of his cheek and sending the results to Wisdom Panel, I learned that Leo is a Cocker Spaniel, Toy Fox Terrier mix. I was hoping for Appenzeller Hound from the Swiss Alps, but then, there aren't that many of them running around Central California. This mix explains his sweet face, hunting instinct and delicate build. 

While I trust him to run the coyotes off the property, he also could be vulnerable to their charms: A couple of weeks ago a coy wolf, probably female, showed up around 3am right outside my bedroom door. She was just looking, and perhaps coaxing him to come out and play. About the same size as Leo, her wildness was immediately apparent. A dog - coyote party is never a good thing, so I was glad to hear him growl as I sent her on her way with a blast of the BB gun.

In the last month, Poison Oak has blossomed all over Big Sur. Big, pale green leafy branches of burning venom. As Leo has now graduated to being the property dog-in-charge, a relatively smooth transition from more fearful pup, he has run through the forest and collected oak oil on his soft coat of sleek fur. Which I managed to pick up on my hands and, woe is me! my face. After weeks of experimenting with several treatments, my skin has more or less returned to normal.

What can I say, the little guy is worth it. The best part is when people, usually children and older folks, gasp with delight when they see Leo. Hearts open, lift and soar. Puppy equals goodness, like warm bread baking, fresh cool milk (with cookies, of course.) To this feeling of goodness I'd add the scent of just bloomed flowers, fresh cut grass, and the innocence of morning birdsong.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Samsara in a Bottle



Big Sur serves up Fire like no place else on Earth. There's the epic grandeur of the destruction, framed against ocean and sky. Giant flames that dance like demons through the forest, racing towards your home. You already feel you're a tiny part of the cosmos here, and that sense is amplified by the terror of fire. 

Of all the possible rock-bottom, soul-twisting life events, fire comes near the top of the list. As several of my dear friends learned this past month, great loss and radical shifts of perspective go hand in hand.

Sometimes those shifts are subtle, like a whisper, other times stark and in-your-face, but the gifts fire brings are always profound.

Life turns on a dime, as my Dad used to say, and the fast-moving Pfeiffer Fire which began just before midnight on December 15 was a shattering example of this fact. A few key individuals who happened to be awake, who saw flames and smelled smoke, sounded the alarm that saved several lives. People fled with the clothes on their backs and nothing else. 30' flames in driveways and gardens led to emergency convoys over back roads and down the mountain to safety.

So many acres, so many homes, so many people displaced, disasters are always reported with numbers, as if the numbers can help us to digest the event and somehow convey the power of the story. Those who are living the reality of losing, almost losing, or fighting to save their homes, know that integrating this particular fire into their personal experience is going to take the tincture of time.

And then, the soul gifts, just in time for Christmas: 

We are connected, none of us is really alone. The Pfeiffer Fire produced an outpouring of love and support, donations and concern, bringing all of us closer into the circle of community. Also, we are stronger than we know. Especially I think of my friend who fought the fire for hours in her flip-flops (and probably could have done it in her heels.)

You are not your stuff. What an amazing feeling it is to walk away from a lifetime of collecting belongings and know that you really only deeply miss one or two, or well, maybe, 3 or 4, things. And what you miss takes on a special significance. Your favorite painting. The silk robe, the teapot. Grief over these losses is offset by the simple fact that you and your loved ones are alive.

Renewal and rebirth really happen. As hard as it may be to believe at first, bit by bit we come back to our selves, transformed by fire into something stronger and more brilliant than before. We know our depths - everything is more precious to us - and so we can re-create our lives from that place. Spring is coming, and with a little blessed rain, it will be magnificent.

Shortly after my 30th birthday my home burned down in the Oakland Hills, part of an urban firestorm that took thousands of homes and 25 lives. For a time I lived in a state of grace, where every person and object seemed to glow from the inside, reverberating with light. I had just begun to learn about Buddhism, and the concepts of nirvana and samsara were fresh in my mind. 

One afternoon I found myself fascinated by the contents of the medicine cabinet in my friend's 1940's era apartment. Everything I looked at during those days I saw simultaneously whole and exploded into ash. Peering behind the mirrored door of the cabinet one item jumped out at me from the middle shelf, a small perfume bottle, labeled in red: Samsara. Samsara, the turning wheel of existence, the world of suffering and desire. 

Days before the fire, I recall stopping and really looking, almost absorbing, the fresh blooms of the Lily of the Nile in my garden. I treasured that moment for years, and still see it as a way to step off the merry-go-round of suffering, and into the richness Life offers us every day. 

Now for another gift that fire brings: a deeply felt conviction that we have only this moment, and that living fully in each moment brings us peace. May this peace be our New Year's wish for our neighbors recovering from the Pfeiffer Fire, and for all of us in the years to come.



Pfeiffer Fire photo by Linda Sonrisa

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Playing with Time


All my watches are broken. They sit in a bag in my closet, waiting to come back to life.  This past Sunday as Daylight Saving Time concluded for the year, I found myself pondering Time.

As a chronically tardy person, arriving on time would be a breakthrough, while arriving early would be revolutionary.

It's a comfort to know that I share this condition with others. The moral superiority of punctual people is lost on us. We dash off to each date with the high drama of the White Rabbit.

As the pendulum swings from the to-the-nanosecond accuracy I vow to follow with each time change, my clocks creep forward. The timer on the microwave is 20 minutes fast to keep me moving out the door and into the world, while the car clock is a quarter of an hour ahead, to keep me from driving like the proverbial bat out of hell down Highway One.

Playing with time, I hope, eternally, to arrive on time. (Only my wall clock is stopped at 4:20, in honor of the dear friend who bequeathed it to me, his time having run out.)

Unless I am at work, where I confess to being a bit of a clock watcher, I guess-timate time throughout the day. Perhaps the garden needs a sun-dial, the original clock,  to monitor passage of that big ball of  fire in the sky. Maybe I should acquire that most poetic of timepieces, an hour-glass, and watch the grains of sand slip away.

Right now, as I write this, the sun filters throughout the leaves of the elm tree above me, and I imagine it's after noon, but not by too much.

And now, the light has moved again, as I sit under the trees and feel it on my back as it spreads across the lawn at an oblique angle. What a privilege it is to feel the sun move across the sky, to sense the hours of the day move forward, measured only by the changing quality of the light.

I hear sea lions barking from a cove to the north of here, the sound travels all this way.  In the dawn I heard the yipping of too-near coyotes and multitudes of chirping finches. Sometimes the canyon air carries the breath of spouting whales, from the ocean way below.

Raking maple leaves, I watch them fall delicately, slowly, around me. I take laundry off the prettiest clothes-line in the world: removing a sun-dried white sheet to see the coastline to the south, the fog hugging the ridges like a soft down blanket tucked up into each canyon, up against each cliff.

Perhaps knowing the accurate time is over-rated, another side-effect of modern life. Living in the present moment can be accomplished gently, too. Maybe all I need to remember is the line from that wonderful old song, "Enjoy yourself... It's later than you think."

Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think



Saturday, September 21, 2013

First Rain



We are so happy when it happens, ideally on a sleepy morning cuddled under the covers. First, there is the sound, that gentle splashing of water on roofs, decks, lawns.

It begins slowly, and perhaps you think it's drippy fog. But no, this morning it was genuine, grade AA raindrops. Then, an hour into the moist symphony of sprinkles, the rhythm picked up and it is Rain, Blessed Rain, for real.

Little birds wake up and trill their delight, fluffing their feathers between splashes, feeding on freshly washed seeds. Each drop lands with a perfect still note, a precious daub of wetness touching earth, stream, tree and flower.



Precipitation is protection here, the beginning of the end of late summer when we review our valuables - packing them into boxes next to the front door for a quick exit in case of forest fire.

So the rain means freedom from worry, as well as a time to reflect on yet another turn of the seasons.

I sit up in bed, drink coffee and pet my cat, relishing a moment of domestic bliss. All the beings in the garden rejoice in the refreshment.

Now I must sacrifice comfort for adventure. Out the door to dance on the grass, to lift my head to the heavens, to wash my soul in the freshest, purest water there is.


and from e.e. cummings:

...nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility: whose texture compels me with the color of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens; only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands -- from W, 1931