Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Winged Life

"He that binds to himself a Joy
does the Winged Life destroy.
He that kisses the Joy as it flies
lives in Eternity's sunrise"  
                                          --William Blake

I've been listening to birds a lot lately. Watching them with fresh eyes, too, especially when they take their wee swims in the birdbath outside my door. A little water, a little green, a feeder or two, and you too may notice we are living in an aviary.

This Spring I heard Loons for the first time. Their melancholy evening songs unfurled over the lake as I almost missed the moment, running around trying to record their long moaning hoots and tremulous spiraling calls to each other.

The nickname of one of my favorite feathered creatures is the Be Here Now bird, also known as the Olive-sided Flycatcher. The more prosaic description of its call is "Quick Three Beers".  But if you are listening to him in the Springtime at Esalen Institute, you too might hear him singing, "Just Be Here..."

Recently I spotted (true words of a birdwatcher) a small yellow-chested bird with a beautiful song. She flitted, as only a tiny bird can flit, among the branches of a purple flowering bush, chirping in what was surely delight. Ah, the Lesser Goldfinch.  (Quick note, if you have cats, playing these recordings will drive them nuts!)

The Flicker gives a bark-like "Kyeer" call in the daily dawn chorus, sometimes punctuated with drumming on oak trees. This is the kind of sound that can make you laugh under the covers as you prepare to meet the day.  There are other members of the flock among us: Woodpeckers, Crows, Hawks and the unmistakable heavies of the bird world, the Ravens.

Birds have provided our philosophers, dreamers and lovers with poetic opportunities for centuries. From condors to hummingbirds, they spark our collective imagination as they lighten our hearts.  These angels of the animal kingdom are so far still abundant here in Big Sur, with its ample forests and meadows, along with (this past year at least) abundant rainwater blessing springs and streams.

A friend told me once over coffee that one of the best things about waking up spiritually was to finally, finally hear bird-song in the morning. Thank you dear friend whose name I cannot remember. Your words are with me still.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

In the Land of Point and Click

Once upon a time, many years ago now, I decided I wanted a more peaceful life. So I put my stuff in storage and spent a year in the goldfish bowl at Esalen Institute, learning to cry, build healthy boundaries, and look people in the eye when I talked about my feelings.

Next stop was re-entering the world of work, again, but in a kinder, gentler way. I learned to make cappuccinos as a barista, and to curl ribbon as a shop girl. Stepping out of the corporate hustle that had been my professional life to date was a blessed relief.

Then, I found I was buying groceries on my charge card. Milking goats and making cheese wasn't ideal for retirement planning. So I dusted off my resume and jumped back in: front-desk jobs, librarian gigs, executive assistant, factotum. At one point, I worked three jobs for over a year.

When I joined the management team at a local historic Inn, I was thrilled to go back to school, earning a professional certification in Human Resources. Made sense, I thought, as so many of us spend our lives working for The Man (whether we know it or not). Why not make it a little easier and more respectful?

I loved understanding and implementing fundamental and compassionate workplace ethics. A community where work could really be "Love made visible" as Rilke says. I breathed easier every time I entered the door, smelled the hearth fire and heard guests laughing over their breakfasts.

Today, I embrace again the path that recalls my original dream: a life that, with continued good luck, hard work and prayer, will grant me peace and success in this beautiful land. Nuestra hermosa tierra.

Big Sur is the Land of Point and Click, where simply holding a camera to your eye and pushing a button yields beauty. And beauty, to paraphrase Tolle, makes the mind stop. Which is also what gives this coastal community its endless appeal, to millions of visitors each year. When the mind stops, no matter how briefly, we find peace.

So here is another of my recent offerings to the tide of beauty that ebbs and flows in Big Sur, depending upon your openness to her gifts...

With love,

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Orange Groves and Aerospace

Small town
Daughters of the road ­—
We traveled far from frigid plains
to find sun-splashed beatnik beaches
in the wildest west we knew.

Orange groves and aerospace
set the stage for our Space Age.
We became Ladies of Lockheed, NASA's darlings.
Toiling at typewriters for bright, shiny paychecks,
tanning poolside at the Royal Gardens
just off the freshly-built freeway.

After work we drove our second-hand cars
on oleander lined byways in welcoming afternoon sunshine.
We danced at office parties,
Drank, and sent men all the way to the moon.

Mom followed us
from the farm with her escape plan.
Exploratory mission:
rescuing kittens and a few lost astronauts.

Together we found
struggling scientist and wannabe hipster,
Casanovas of different stripes.
from the tips
of their cowboy boots
to the roots
of their pomaded hair.

Camp followers of Fortune
We marched new families through the years
of our youth.
Hearts fractured and fused,
crucified in the zeitgeist.

The men left
for other, newer women.
Children, bruised like flowers,
grew up and out
of tidy tract homes,
beside newly-hatched shopping malls.

We dangled our pretty bare legs
across benches at amusement parks.
Smoked cigarettes
sipped Coca-cola
leaving bright lipstick stains
On the lips
of cups.

We’d landed on the moon
and splashed down
into life.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Romancing the Sur

Like a mighty ship of the high seas from centuries ago, those of us who live here refer to Big Sur as a "she". The curves of the landscape are her curves: mountains sloping down to the sea become thighs gently opening to incoming tides. Ridge top valleys rest in the afternoon sun like concave tummies, swelling hills are really high round hips, breasts and dimpled bums.

Loving this rough and tumble, wildly beautiful Big Sur isn't easy. She's tough, and she's worth it, but sometimes you wonder...

She's fickle, and when she does treat you right, there are no guarantees that her love will last. She demands real-world sacrifices, which you often make for years before clearly seeing your choices. She's touchy, and sometimes harsh, as anyone will say who's felt the sting of local gossip, or paid the price for a wrong move, especially on the road.

You're cold and out of firewood, and she doesn't care. You're lonely and far from friends, she laughs. You struggle in your daily life and party to forget your troubles, while she just goes on dishing out her own dramas, oblivious to yours. You watch yourself grow older in the comfort of her company, but you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, too.

Devastating fires, treacherous rock slides and torrential storms contrast with gentle days that you wish could last forever, sunsets you'll remember on your deathbed and an existential solitude that heals your soul.

When she reveals herself, it's only in those moments when you are authentically open to her charms. She'll surprise you as you drive around a bend in the road: There she is, veils of mist swirling up to her sturdy knees, those classic cliffs plunging down to the ocean and receding down the coast, so beautiful that you just want to cry.

She'll seduce you with the lightest touch: moments of profound, eloquent stillness in the mornings. She takes your breath away with her baby pink dawns and scarlet sunset skies. Always changing, she teases with her great majesty, plays hard to get with her astonishing beauty. Now you see her, now, as you focus on your own puny life, you don't.

She is Queen of the sounds of silence: serenading frogs, whispering owls, rumbling surf, moaning trees, wing-beats. Most of all, she is a great teacher, probably more teacher than lover, really. When she gives of herself it is when we are ready, when we have done our work, when we have shared our joys, and pursued our passions.

The lunar Goddess must make her home in Big Sur, too. She rises full above the ridge-top, a redwood tree silhouetted against her bone white orb. She spills her bright light down canyons onto the expansive ocean, and we are transformed.

photo by Toby Rowland-Jones

Monday, January 12, 2015

Forgive the Dream

Forgive the dream
that carried you
on your golden litter
through long, hard-fought campaigns
for love.

A lucky rabbit’s foot
soft, bloodied,
traveled with you too,
until you arrived
and tucked it safely into a drawer
with pink candy hearts
Be Mine.

A woman stands on the beach.
Her elaborately crafted sandcastles
wash away in the tides.

She makes sweet wine
from bitter grapes.
Heals wounds
when she can swallow truth
like honeyed dates.

She scatters sparkling confetti heavenward.
Tosses origami swans up into the sky.
Follows their landing pattern,
seeking in stillness.

We stumble away from the party
leave our footprints in the sand
We dance in the fire until
our pain, unnoticed,
like a timid guest,
slips away.

are what we wake up from
when we learn how to forgive.                                                           

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hawk Calling Card

Sharp Shinned

I fly
      Wind lifts me
            Up warm spur of earth

I seek
   Light, water
      Small furry, feathered
           pulsing energies that flee –

To soothe my morning hunger

Thriving lush
           scent of water

Fluttering leaves scatter
          into bright dancing prisms

I fly
Strong steady beats 
      to rosy nimbus of flesh
            that stands near shiny upright pool

                Flash of light

Wait! Not right!

Strange aura deflects my flight
     Sharp unknown scent of human breath

                     I bank right
Settle in cool leaves

Watch her
 with my golden eyes.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lone Palm Poetry Lab


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

Escape: Tranquil ennui
on spur of mountain range reaching
down to the sea.
Hummingbirds dance to hurdy-gurdy music.
Rattlesnakes buzz a slow warning from
hidden places.

All night
Orchestral crickets sing a sleigh-bell song.
At daybreak
Endless flies whirl by.

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 to the land of sunsets
and flying saucers.
There’s nothing better, and yet
Every flight has its price.