Monday, September 28, 2020
Saturday, August 15, 2020
Humor, I think, tops the list of requirements. It’s the slippery oil that greases the tracks, the non-stick spray that releases us from melting into a puddle or sizzling to a crisp. Instead, we glide (more or less) through the bumpy moments.
While complaining about having another adult human to hold is not good etiquette during the pandemic, when so much is turned on its head already, there are times when so much togetherness just feels…weird!
Here’s a list of the valuable skills (so far) that I suddenly have lots more time to practice:
Learning to give breathing space – i.e. when to come together, when to be apart.
How to understand and express what I need, without blame or self-doubt; and
When to laugh it all off, and dance.
Routines are key, as if we were on a long Buddhist retreat, so we have developed a few. Meditation, dance and yoga in the mornings, writing breaks at tea-time, preferably with elaborate snacks, the occasional game of chess. And meals.
Some time ago a co-worker (back when I had a job) asked me who did the cooking at my house.
“Uh, well,” I stammered, “Neither of us!”
“Huh?” she responded, and then I admitted,
“Neither of us ever had to cook before, really. Our previous partners were gourmet chefs, so the kitchen was out of bounds.”
“So how’s that working out for you now?” she laughed.
“Let’s just say, it’s an adventure!”
And it is. Who knew there were so many meals in a day? A week, a month?
Thank goodness for the garden, but I have to laugh when I look at my crop yield, remembering acres of uniform fruit and vegetables growing in Watsonville, or the produce aisle at Safeway. One zucchini, one squash, one lemon becomes quite precious in my little plot! Fog sidelined the tomatoes, again, though I’ve had luck at last with lettuce, arugula, bok choy, and chard. Another round of delightful sweet peas bloomed, with that delicate, crisp linen scent.
And wonder of wonders, I’ve baked a few loaves of bread, courtesy of my (worried?) sister-in-law, who sent me the world’s easiest no-knead recipe.
One favorite ritual is watching the sunset together, whenever our day evolves in a way that we can. Two nights ago we (I) missed the mark, distracted indoors (probably by a text, miraculous contact with the outside world!) while my husband took in the show.
“You missed the Green Flash.” he scolded.
“No way!” I cried.
“Yep, you did,” he answered. Then he carried on about how special it was. How the green light shot up in a gigantic arc above the sinking sun as it nestled into the faint fog bank at the horizon, how the heavens opened wide above him and the angels sang Hallelujah, and I’d missed it all!
He actually had me going for about an hour, mad at myself, researching the Green Flash on Wikipedia (is it real? Yes it is) etc. Then he confessed he was teasing. Perhaps he was reciprocating for my coaxing the dog into bringing him a dead rat that morning? I wonder.
It may be time to take a trip off the mountain sometime soon.
Sunday, April 12, 2020
That bridal egg hunt got me thinking. It's much easier to connect with neighbors in springtime than to host a Christmas party when big storms cause power outages and impassable roads. The eccentric, sturdy folks who live on this mountain sometimes disagree - over water use, access roads, fence placement, outdoor lights, short-term rentals, controlled burns and more. But a truce is declared for those who attend the Eggstravaganza on Easter Sunday. We are Switzerland, one neighbor said, as we watch toddlers, young children and teens search for chocolate bunnies across fields of wildflowers and freshly mown lawns. Each year I hope to create an experience that lives in communal memory until the following Spring. Over the years, as we watch the children grow and play, there's a sense of continuity along with wonder. Sometimes, we can return to the garden.
The story of The Selfish Giant, written by Oscar Wilde for his two young boys, inspired the Eggstravaganza, too. A very selfish Giant returns from a year long visit with this friend, the Ogre. Outraged, the Giant throws the village children out of his garden, where they have been playing every day after school. When Winter comes, Winter decides to stay, and invites Snow, Frost and the North Wind to join the party. For years the Giant wonders why the flower and fruit trees don't bloom, why Spring never comes back.
One day he sees that his fence has fallen down in one corner of his orchard and the children have returned. They sit happily in the branches of the trees, they skip and play along the paths. Spring has returned, the birds are singing, and all the fruit trees and flowers have burst into bloom. The Giant's heart melts and he decides to share his garden from then on, knocking down the fence and welcoming all the children. "I've been a very selfish giant," he laments. In this way, the Giant is fulfilled. His soul grows wiser and kinder as the children become his friends and enjoy his garden for many years.
Bringing happiness to others makes us happy, and as our heart opens the world is more beautiful. In this way we create a life that flows with love.
What do bunnies do? What humans used to do in a pagan festival a little later in the Spring. At Beltane in ancient Celtic lands, villages and farm-folk built great bonfires, herded cattle into higher pastures, drank copious mead, danced and, like the proverbial bunnies, swapped sex partners. A child born from the Beltane celebration was a good omen for the community.
"What's Easter about?" asked my friend Lisa years ago. She'd been raised Jehovah's Witness and was curious about all the holidays. "It's about Beltane, babe," I replied and explained the ritual to her. "Oh!" she sighed beneath her Easter bonnet as we trudged through the meadow, hiding eggs. "Let's do that!"
Spring is when Lone Palm's lawns, elegant old trees and landscaping really shine. There's golden poppy, raspberry vetch, yellow lavender and purple lupines on the hillside above the house. Daisies, daffodils and birds of paradise emerge, wisteria and jasmine festoon the garden. It's a perfect time for colored eggs, Easter bonnets, and champagne flutes filled with jelly beans.
On Easter Sunday we frolic on the lawns, swing in the hammocks, mingle at the picnic table or on the yoga deck. Whales spout in the ocean below, curious condors swing by above. One year, we even had face painting. Kids and adults sprawled on the blankets on the grass as playful artists decorated their foreheads, noses and cheeks with multi-colored tendrils, arrows, dots and feathery shapes. We became a tribe of Easter aboriginals.
It's always a potluck, thank goodness. The dining room table fills and empties, then fills and empties again throughout the day. One year I counted six plates of deviled eggs on the table at once. There's a variety of salads, often from greens straight from neighbors' gardens, multiple kale dishes, pasta and lasagna, wheels of brie, baskets of crackers and homemade bread, slices of roast beef and ham, spicy tamales, Bundt cakes, elaborate pastries, fresh watermelon and mango, and more.
Guests are asked to bring "nice bubbles." In other words, NO Barefoot Bubbly! If someone brings something cheap, eyebrows go up and sniffs are audible. We may be hillbillies, but we know our sparkling wines. One year we filled a small claw-foot with bottles of Champagne, the colorful labels on the bottles making the tub as pretty as a basket of Easter Eggs.
There is a home-grown innovation to the ritual: a champagne glass hunt. Those over 21, in order to have a glass of bubbles on Easter Sunday, must first go and find their goblet in the grass. Sometimes, this makes grown-ups grumpy. "How do I get some Champagne, again?" said an exasperated Dad who the following year simply brought his own glass.
A decade or so ago it was an all-weekend bash, beginning on Friday night as guests arrived to help with preparations. Stalwart Moms, notably Margaret and then Peggy, have made so much of the magic happen! Handmade glitter eggs and vintage tchotchkes from the Oakland Museum's White Elephant sale, candies galore. We'd dye the eggs the old-fashioned way all day Saturday and get up super early on Easter Sunday morning to stage the hunt, before the littler kids woke up or arrived. We'd start drinking the good Champagne early in the day, with poetic toasts, of course.
Each year I place a small wooden baby blue stop sign, the corner gnawed off years ago by my puppy, at the main entrance to the maze. It says, "Easter Bunny Stop Here."
At high noon, I stand on a chair, make a brief speech and ring a gong to kick off the hunt. Big kids, 10 and up, enter the elaborate narrow maze cut into the tall grass of Lone Palm's large meadow. Children 5-9 follow another, slightly easier path. Wee ones under five have their own "children's garden," a tiny spot filled with sparkly treasures and sweets, amid scarlet geraniums, bunny-soft Mexican sage, and fragrant sweet peas.
An additional bunny visit is often required for the little ones whose parents bring them late to the party. "You are the Easter Bunny!" said my neighbor in mock awe. A Navy Seal Vet who reminds me of the Marlboro Man, he'd spied me, basket in hand and wearing bunny ears, re-seeding the children's garden with treats.
Today, it's more Prosecco than Veuve, and the partying is gentler. The dozens of kids seem younger, the parents, too. I feel such joy connecting with neighbors and discovering new friends of all ages. Some little people become great fans of the Big Sur-style Easter Bunny, and bring a passion to filling their baskets each year.
As the hostess, my Easter costume is key. After years of playing around with everything from a pink corduroy pantsuit plus a top hat to the gaudiest floral table cloth mini-dress I could find at Goodwill, I think I've found the best one yet: a skirt, camisole and jacket in a lustrous pale green fabric, with iridescent pink and yellow threads sparkling through it. A white felt hat with a veil, simple flat sandals, and off I go, Egg Hunt Mistress of Ceremonies.
In the office the teenaged boys I'd met as toddlers were playing card games. They looked up at me as I emerged from the bathroom in my finery, so on impulse I asked them, "What do you think?" To my pleased surprised, their budding gallantry shone forth.
"You look lovely," said Theo, now studying at Vassar. "You look like Easter!" said Blake, who plays the Chinese board game Go with my husband, and cooks breakfast for us all.
Two years ago, one of the first young ladies to come to the party was one of those children. Now 14, Emilou's golden tresses spilled over her jean jacket and her smile was the smile of an old soul. I popped a wide straw hat, crowned with orange paper flowers, onto her head, and snapped another photo.
Years ago, there was Ryan, with his wispy, curly hair that hadn't been cut since his birth, his eyes a soft chocolate brown. People thought he was a little girl, until he started climbing the tallest tree in the yard, a 50' Norfolk pine. I can still see him, wearing the world's smallest red plaid fleece shirt, holding the itty-bitty black bunny I'd adopted up close under his chin. I remember Ryan's sister, Kaili, scampering in the meadow in her corduroy jumper, dancing with our herd of goats. She'd pet the long-legged babies' tiny faces, then lean her head against the nanny goat's dark withers as if they were having a chat.
Then there was Isabella, destined to be a teenage rodeo queen. You might remember her if you hold onto copies of Smithsonian magazine: in 1999 she made the cover. She stands barefoot on top of her honey-colored horse, on a hilltop above the sea. She looks directly at the camera, her eyes serious, her face wistful. "Big Sur, Life on the Edge," the headline reads. In my mind's eye Isabella holds up a royal purple egg, a diamond pattern in white crayon peeking through the paint. Her long brown hair frames her face as she smiles a Mona Lisa smile, freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheeks.
Towards the end of the Eggstravaganza late one April Sunday, I netted a mermaid just before sunset. I gave her some big fluffy towels and a glass of Champagne and plopped her into my claw-foot tub, where strands of passionflowers swirled around her like kelp.
Her handsome, red-headed boyfriend sat and chatted with us on the nearby deck, a sheepish smile on his face as he glanced over at his girl in the bath. Lukie, all grown up, gamine and beautiful. Her close-cropped thick black hair and aquiline features, her deep amused laugh and her sweet youthful self covered in bath bubbles and flowers. The perfect finish to a day of celebrating Spring.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Read that daunting book you’ve had on your shelf for years. For me, it's Old Path, White Clouds, by the beloved Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh. Relax a little - eat pasta and ice cream. After that, take a bellydance class via Zoom! Have a kissing marathon with your shelter-in-place companion. Find solace in prayer and meditation.
When we face our fears with as much grace as we can, we become heroes.
He says, “I put my palms together, like a lotus bud, and pray that we all find peace.” May it be so.
Saturday, January 11, 2020
There's a sweet little bird I watch daily here, a Black Phoebe, whose plaintive call, tee-hee, tee-hoo, is punctuated by her action of flying out from her perch, then back to it. She flies out, tee-hee, then flies back, tee-hoo. Pretty goofy, really. Apparently she swoops out to catch insects, then, conserving energy, flies back. It's kind of like what we do each day: we wake up, sit down for coffee, sing out, then go out into the work world to gather necessary insects, um, resources. Then we fly back home. At any rate, I feel like this is what I do, tweet the old-fashioned way, go out into the world, tweet, return home to my perch.
Call it reverse anthropomorphism, seeing our similarities with the world's fragile and precious creatures. I just finished reading The Bees, by Laline Paull. This is some of the most imaginative writing I've read, a complex page-turner told from the point of view of Flora 717, a most daring and inspiring worker bee. The bees' hunger for community and devotion is as great as their lust for nectar; they live in an elaborate hierarchy, but each, from the priestess to the sanitation worker, feels the unconditional love of the Holy Mother.
Winter time brings a level of quiet that is unsurpassed. Strong winds blow away the clouds and the afternoon light falls at an oblique angle on the land. A few days ago, in the early morning, I spotted a devilishly large bobcat strolling up to the woodpile behind my house. Bobcats are the gangsters of the neighborhood, with body-builder shoulders, wide, sly faces, dramatic black fur tips on their ears, and undignified, stubby tails. We both did a double-take, and I said, "You're not my kitty..." She trotted away towards the meadow, and when I followed her I felt her watching me from the edge of the oak forest.
Now the leaves from the maples, sycamores and elms have all fallen, the shoes of the past year have all dropped, the verdict is in on 2019. As the days lengthen slightly, we make resolutions, the jonquils bloom, and it's bar closing time for the Great Horned Owls as they stop hooting and start nesting.
Sensing ineffable impermanence in the stillness of winter on the coast is a gift; it distills into daily life when we interrupt the frantic pace that can consume us. Someday, each of us will "fall off our perch" as they say. May it be in a fulfilled state, a blissful surrender to the light.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
is as soft and yielding as water.
Lao-Tzu, Tao te Ching
Last night we dined on sardines with wasabi sauce, served with a flair as “poor man’s sushi”. We’ve found the time to read, do yoga in the intermittent sunshine, to breathe and to think. I’ve finally opened Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, and am finding inspiration in every well-crafted phrase.
As soon as the rain stops for a few days and it gets a little warmer, we’re going to put dirt into two large circular canvas pots and sow these mysterious seeds. It’s a miracle that something so tiny will create a plant that we can eat in the months to come, and we are hopeful.