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.                                                           

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Welcoming the Wet

Welcoming the Wet

Soprano winds swirl past
the shores of the house -
Swells of bass notes lift
slumbering branches.

Elm, Oak, Redwood, even
giant Eucalyptus sway together
like tranced-out temple dancers.

the Goddess
lets down her hair,
tilts her face to the sky,
releasing a cathedral of leaves.

She swirls gray taffeta veils
across a steel blue sea.
Torrents of teardrops,
full-throated sobs
soak thirsty earth, fill gasping streams

Jeremiah shouts his joy from the pond!
Translucent white-gold fungi
raise small umbrellas in salute.

Warm beside wood fire in the burrow
(just a few drops, inside, this time)
cups of  tea, cuddling, gazing through glass -
clouds retreat, reveal the land again,
trembling, on new legs,
purified, reborn.

How we welcome
the wet.

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.

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