Sunday, December 19, 2010

I want to ride a Seahorse

The holidays are a time for togetherness and sometimes, if you’re lucky, for family healing. Last Sunday we took my Dad to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we marched him all over the place for about two hours, a significant accomplishment at age 82.

With his artificial hips and game attitude, he watched the feeding of two plump, playful sea otters, touched bat rays and starfish, stood beneath a crashing wave and laughed as a diver exclaimed nervously about a hungry eel that was tapping on his mask.

At the end of our visit, up an escalator and waaaay down at the end of the hall, we found the most exalted exhibit of all: the Secret Lives of Seahorses. I had forgotten that seeing these creatures inspired my original desire to visit the Aquarium, so seeing them felt serendipitous, a bit of extra magic for the afternoon. (These outrageous life-forms will be there until 2012, plenty of time to have them render you speechless on a few occasions.)

On a pilgrimage from the Bay Area many years ago I attended the arrival of the Jellyfish at the Aquarium (they're still there). It was a melancholy time in my life, and as I wandered among the mysterious, slightly psychedelic jellies they gave me a strange kind of hope for a simpler, more pleasant existence.

While the Jellyfish could be from Outer Space, the Seahorses are the stuff of pure childhood fantasy. If they didn't exist, Disney would have had to create them. In fact, their shape recalls sculptures of ancient Greek horses, or the square physiques of the centaurs in Fantasia.

Coming close to each tank, our faces light up with delight. As the glow of beautiful living habitats reflect in our now young eyes, I remember the words of proto-environmentalist Rachel Carson, "What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?" Such profound beauty opens my heart.

My favorite, priceless gift this holiday season: my husband and my father quick-stepping around the corner of the Seahorse exhibit like two little boys, interrupting my reverie over the leafy sea-horses. "You have to come see this," they announce proudly. "The males give birth!"

Apparently seahorses are the only species on earth where guys have this privilege. So I promptly follow them to watch a video of a big daddy sea horse working hard to pop the cutest little baby seahorses (13 total, we counted) out of his pot belly. Seahorses mate for life (surprise!) and as they dance at dawn to celebrate their love, they rub bellies and the female slips the male her eggs. Isn't Nature brilliant?

Of course, this past week I shared my story of the wondrous Seahorses. After singing Christmas carols all over Big Sur on Wednesday evening, (and being fed sumptuously by Deetjens Inn afterwards) I confess my new, secret passion: "I want to ride a Seahorse!" I cry out, as I walk beneath the winter stars, good food in my tummy and Cabernet in my bloodstream.

"Oh Linda," replies a friend, "You can't do that. Seahorses live under water!" "I'd hold my breath," I insist. Perhaps I'll hunt down a bottle of Alice's "Drink Me" (in order to make myself the right size for this adventure). Later, my husband assures me that in order for me to join my tiny aquatic friends, there will be a special bit, bridle and scuba gear for me under the Christmas tree.

Photo courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Being Thankful

This week I paused on a city sidewalk to admire bone colored ginkgo leaves, each one tipped in amber, fluttering in the wind against a royal blue sky.

In the mornings I sometimes wake up to the whirring of a hummingbird drinking nectar from the red sage blossoms outside my bedroom window. Beyond the tiny bird's silhouette is the Pacific Ocean, blanketed with fog and tinted pink at the horizon.

Some of my gratitude rituals include: sitting in my garden (or bathtub) and seeing shy little birds as they land on the feeder, making it sway like a swing. Watching trees through a window as they blow about in a storm. Feeding the fish, their mouths wide open in happy anticipation as they feel my footsteps on the path to the pond.

To this list I'd add doing the dishes, warm bubbly water flowing over my hands. (I've heard if you look at your palms, you will see your ancestors.) Making coffee. Smiling into my husband's eyes. Smelling the surprising late winter blooms of the tiny Cecil Bruner roses at Deetjens Inn. Sunrises. Raindrops on windows. Dewdrops on anything. Brushing my hair. The feel of silk, well worn cotton and the mysterious promise of lace.

One thing that living in Nature makes perfectly crystal clear is that gratitude is the key to happiness. I repeat: gratitude is the key to happiness. It's our little secret in Big Sur, that by simply observing the natural world we can tap into this magical source of presence and contentment.

If we could put it in vials, like voodoo medicine, we'd call it the Mother Lode. After almost 20 years in Big Sur, I find that Nature shows me her beauty everywhere I stop to look, including at my Mother's, where I am on this lovely Thanksgiving morning.

This process, known among spiritual seekers as "Wanting what you have", is a way to let go of Life's constant imperfections and disappointments. Stop, look and listen: it unlocks the jail of the mind and for a while sets us free from worries, obsessions and regrets. It gives blessed relief when the inevitable snafus hit.

When Nature fan-dances across our consciousness at year end, with all the wake-up calls of the season, I feel encouraged to lay down all my personal battle flags, to stop wanting something else, something more. It's time instead to see beauty everywhere, even in those perfect "imperfections", and for today at least, to feel grateful for it ALL.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Going to Town

It's what we do when we run out of food, gas, or entertainment. A one way trip can take anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. Fog, rain and wind are a factor in the journey, as well as traffic volume. The experience changes seasonally, and can be dramatically different if you are driving your pickup filled with treasures for the dump v. say, the hotel's van on a laundry run or an SUV load of kids going to a soccer game.

"Going to town" is an expression that works both metaphorically and literally: We go all out when we go to town, most of us making that drive at least once a week. According to Rootsweb, for our American Wild West ancestors the phrase meant going where the action was, while the Urban Dictionary reminds us that in Ye Olde England, the phrase referred to something a little naughtier.

The Big Sur Town Trip phenomenon proves that yes, it is possible to run errands for 6, 8, 10 hours at a stretch. Detailed town to-do lists are generally left behind on the refrigerator, and often an odd juxtaposition of tasks takes place. This can be comic, as when we get our teeth cleaned on the same day we get the kittens spayed, or a real pain, say when I had our taxes done in the morning, and suffered through a mammogram in the afternoon. Squeezed mercilessly twice in one day!

Strange things can happen on the road: not just the frightened drivers who navigate Highway One at a snail's pace, the occasional motorcyclist with an obvious death wish, or the sad-faced hitch-hikers with signs that say "South". Once I found a delicate gold wedding band abandoned on the blue tile sink of a gas station restroom. Another time, when I was traveling at 50 mph, a vision-impaired owl smacked the top of my windshield and flew on, leaving a few soft feathers glued to the glass.

If "the Road" is a metaphor for Life, then the citizens of Big Sur live that poetic reality every day on Highway One. At one end of the spectrum, some make a dedicated effort to rarely leave their nests. At the other end, one can (as an old boyfriend of mine once claimed) suffer the "Jack Kerouac Syndrome" and constantly be on the road, again.

And this process of reflection has led me to recall the lovely Sikh lullaby:

May the longtime sun
shine upon you.

All love surround you
And the pure light within you
guide your way on.

Now, that's a song to come home to.

Photo "Bathtub view" by Linda Sonrisa

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ages pass, and still you pour

Ages pass
and still you pour
and still there's more
to fill.

Your infinite gifts
come to me

only on these very small
hands of mine.

Ages pass
and still you pour

and still there's more
to fill.

For Julia Ingersoll, who spends her time painting, teaching and exhibiting in Tuscany and Big Sur, this mystical prayer by Bengali poet Tagore comes as close as words can to describing her experience as a landscape painter.

Julia and I chatted a few Saturdays ago at what she calls our local "piazza": Loma Vista. Back in the 80's, when I was escaping the City, I remember it as a sleepy gas station next door to falling down greenhouses filled with peaceful pastel begonias.

In those ante-diluvian times, the sign with the marquee style plastic lettering on the highway said simply, Gas, Cactus, Beer. People were always asking for the "Cactus beer" when they stopped in to fill up their tanks. Now it's the site of a delightful cultural center and famous restaurant, but you can still pitch coins into the moss covered fountain for the volunteer fire brigade, and enjoy the view of Mt. Manuel to the north, especially beautiful at dusk.

Julia had one of those challenging but blessed childhoods that seem to create fearless artists: Growing up the child of academics with a dose of wanderlust, Julia was schooled in Paris, and lived in a village in Morocco. She spent summers in Greece, Portugal and Austria. Coming back to the US, she rode horseback in the shadow of Mt. Shasta and bicycled in the Colorado Rockies. It was, she says, similar to what Big Sur kids experience. "No one told us there were things we couldn't do, so we did everything we could think of, without fear."

It's no accident that she now teaches painting in Tuscany for Women's Quest, an organization that offers retreats all over the world, and whose slogan is a quote from poet Mary Oliver, "What will you do with your one wild and precious life?" As I write this post, she is teaching landscape painting in medieval Tuscan villages, having just launched an exhibit of her work as part of an art and poetry festival in Bolgheri, Italy.

In college in Boulder, Colorado (where she graduated in Philosophy), Julia developed a passion for mountain biking, competing internationally for almost a decade. Her career included racing for the National Team in the World Cup. These years gave her the opportunity to travel, make money and pursue her love of drawing and painting, something she has done all her life. During her last race, she vowed she would "never pin a number on again," and chanted "all I want to do is paint" to herself as she crossed her final finish line. Later that same day, she signed up for a live drawing class in Boulder.

After apprenticing 5-6 hours a day with painters she admired, her hard work earned her a spot in the Florence Academy of Art, where she thrived. During her travels she became a self-proclaimed "Italophile" adding Italian to her fluency in French, and looked at lots of religious art. "Madonna con bambino, Madonna con bambino, over and over" she says with a flourish, adding that "and in the backgrounds of all these paintings one sees landscapes."

"The presence of the sacred was a huge part of everyday life in the Renaissance world," Julia says. "And today," she adds, giving credit to the great 19th century American painter George Inness, "instead of characters from sacred mythology imposed on a landscape painting, you have it emanating from every leaf, the sacred shining through Nature itself."

Which brings us to Big Sur. Julia's been living here for 4 years, mostly on a coastal property with panoramic views of the Ventana Wilderness "back country". Like many Big Sur pilgrims, she had no idea she would be starting a new chapter in her destiny when she stayed briefly at Esalen Institute, which she calls a kind of "butterfly sanctuary". But one thing led to another, and now she's one of us.

Today, when she rides her bike on the Coast Ridge road and looks east towards the Ventana Double Cone, and west toward the Pacific Ocean, she muses on how the ocean is infinity in terms of space, while the mountains are infinity in terms of time. Big Sur and Tuscany compel her to paint like no other places on Earth.

"The veil between the worlds is very thin here," Julia says. "Spirit is in all the land, not just in a few sacred spaces. But in places where the land has been abused, spirit retreats. Here in Big Sur, the land pulsates with spirit. Everybody feels it. You can feel your heartbeat in the waves, the soaring of birds, you can't not notice that all life is one."

"All of this is so vivifying," she adds, flashing me her million-dollar smile. "Sometimes I think that being a painter is just an excuse to be out there in IT," she laughs. "You can't paint what's really there, anyway...It can be hard sometimes to be face to face with this ecstatic quality of Nature. It can push at your limits of what you can receive."

After our chat, Julia rides home on her bike. "Hey, where's your helmet?" I call out, and she just smiles that smile back at me. As I drive away, I repeat softly to myself "Ages pass, and still you pour, and still there's room to fill."

The Gathering Hour, Oil landscape by Julia Ingersoll
At Loma Vista
November Cypress, Oil, 24 X 30, Julia Ingersoll
The artist in her element

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Late Summer Walkabout

Sometimes, when we're looking for that land over the rainbow, unlike Dorothy, we have to go farther than our own backyard. Although I live in the soul-opening majesty of Big Sur, I still feel a touch of wanderlust. Due to the "recession" we are mostly in stay-cation mode, but work, long overdue social and family visits, plus a compelling art exhibit called us out of Oz into the larger world.

San Francisco's De Young Museum exhibit "Birth of Impressionism" was mind-blowing, and dovetailed nicely with my husband's gig as a wine sommelier at the SF Chefs Food and Wine Festival. We dreamed and sighed over the Impressionist paintings on loan from the Musée d' Orsay in Paris, sharing the audio tour as we wove through the crowd.

Seeing the canvases in person (v. looking at reproductions) is like listening to live music instead of recordings. You are there beside the artist making the brush-strokes. These paintings hold immense energy. How radical these painters were, to paint exactly what they wanted, and to show so perfectly what they saw. In the early works (think: Bouguereau) I decided that no, that was not paint, but luminous flesh on the canvases holding those figures lifting lamps or sprouting wings.

I have so many favorites from this exhibit, and am eagerly awaiting the Post- Impressionist show at the De Young beginning later this month, but what stands out to me now are Renoir's The Boy with the Cat, and Stevens' The Bath. Sisely's painting of The Barge During the Flood, Port-Marly occasioned this comment from my husband, "I was there!" I had to laugh, but then was surprised to hear him mentioned on the tour as a former patron of the pub on the edge of the Seine (kidding).

Later we dined on the best pub food I've ever enjoyed at the Phoenix Irish Bar on Valencia St., followed by a drive across town to the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square (despite the encouragement of a girlfriend, we did NOT have an amorous encounter in the fast-moving glass elevator).

Toby had pulled some very interesting strings and scored The Windsor Room on the 31st floor, a large and corporate style suite (with yummy red wines and chocolates strewn about). Queen Elizabeth II stayed there in 1983. We felt rather regal, at that. Apparently the Queen and Prince Phillip had bumped then-President Ronald Reagan downstairs into another room, and in the photo of the hotel lobby you can see them toasting, Reagan wearing his signature strained smile.

Next came a quick trip to Discovery Bay, to see one of my oldest, dearest friends, and her fiancée. After watching the bride-to-be do flips on a sky board behind their speedboat, we christened her Our Dolphin Lady of the Delta! But before we made it out of the murky city fog into the blazing heat of the central valley, we had to pass through the clogged arteries of the megalopolis that the Bay Area has become. Mysterious road crews performed arcane deeds, their minions directing traffic below overpasses and onto the Bay Bridge. I tried hard not to think of that 7.1 shimmy California's tectonic plates did in 1989.

Instead, I thought of one of my favorite books of all time, where caterpillars climb enormous pillars composed of their fellow squirming worms. Obsessed with reaching the top, they discover that transformation comes only by jumping off the damn pillar. Which is what I felt I'd done when the roads finally cleared around Concord, as I headed east on Highway 4 to the Delta.

Yes, in search of that elusive summer sunshine, we went far afield, including even a quick trip to Lake Tahoe, a visit of surprising gifts. There is just no substitute for actual contact with the branches, leaves, and acorns (not to mention the odd squirrels and wing-nuts) of one's family tree.

We need to breathe the same air, to laugh and break bread together in order to make it real. So we did that too, on this last summer trip. Our reward included not a rainbow, but the heavens shined on us after all, and showed us love.

Photo by Toby Rowland-Jones

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dansayoga Surprise

This past weekend I took my slightly hungover self to Dansayoga, a wonderful two hour yoga and improv dance class held Saturday mornings at Big Sur's Grange Hall.

There were only two students, myself and my businesswoman friend, and two teachers, a lovely dark-haired yoga instructor and Dansayoga's founder Carlotta, the wild and creative Swedish expat who guides us weekly in our improv dance adventures. The four of us checked in briefly, complaining a bit about life's ordinary stresses, and (a common theme) the general malaise of mid-life marriage.

Halfway through the yoga class, two beautiful (and I mean beautiful) shirtless young men joined us, forming "planks" and then standing with us as "trees". I said a silent prayer of gratitude. I tried to catch my friend's eye, but she stayed focused on her poses. Later, I raised an eyebrow and she winked back at me from across the hardwood dance floor.

Yes, these two would be EXACTLY the kind of angels we would dream up: handsome friendly faces, perfectly sculpted (and lightly tattooed) torsos, a willingness to play. The kind of young men who make you smile inside and sigh a little, too.

The energy in the room shifted perceptibly when we began to dance together. First we moved on our mats, un-kinking our bodies from the hour of yoga. Next we stood up and began to work through those first self-conscious moments. The music inspired me, and I lost that dance-floor awkwardness pretty fast.

My friend was a professional dancer in her former life so the two of us began to play with more confidence. The young men jumped into the pool as well, moving in their own unique ways. Carlotta encouraged us to "steal each others' moves" pairing up to follow each other, taking turns with different partners. Everyone moves differently, and I love mimicking moves, it gives me a subtle sense of being someone else for just a moment.

As the music warmed up, so did we, and soon the Grange Hall became the hottest dance club on the coast, all of us stone-cold sober on a Saturday morning. We kicked into overdrive: spinning and leaping around the room, grinning at each other as we tried out all our own different moves. The music possessed us, we glowed with perspiration, it was divine. There's a reason why Carlotta calls this "Dance Church".

At one point, encouraged to so some contact improv, I thought of the tradition of couple's dancing: socially acceptable ways to touch and be together on the dance floor, the old-fashioned way. I suddenly saw my shirtless young gentleman in a cowboy shirt, hat, jeans and boots, as we did some modified swing dace moves. Men and women dancing together feels deep in the race, civilized and kind.

The light is soft in the Grange for Dansayoga, with candles and sparkling white string lights along the edges of the floor. And so, Dear Readers, the moment of truth arrived (as it always does) as we sat in a circle and passed around a small book of Rumi poems.

In the stillness after all that dancing, we read aloud the first poem we open to for inspiration. Yes, I had to extend my arm as far away from my body as possible, and squint, in order to read the damn words. My friend didn't even try -- when the book came to her she walked to the window, and she read her poem in the brighter light.

Our two visitors were on their hero's journey through Big Sur on a holiday weekend. They confessed they'd never done anything like this before, had only seen the sign on the highway the night before and decided on the spot to join in next morning. They both sincerely thanked Carlotta for creating the space, and quizzed us on the best options for another night's stay. Oh, how I wanted to offer them the hammock in my backyard!

But, as we learn with age, discretion is the better part of valor. As my friend and I left the Hall, off to our busy Saturday schedules, our dreamboats stayed behind. "Who dialed up Hunks R Us?" she asked, and we doubled over in laughter in the parking lot. So, will we see you at Dansayoga this next Saturday morning, at 10am?
Photo by Carlotta Persson

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Big Sur Bee-tox, Or, A difficult week in the beauty department

Well, I know how it happened, and there's no one to blame. That little girl bee (who must have been furious and scared) got under the bill of my baseball cap, and as we mutually freaked out (I batting her away, she, quickly stinging me and presumably dying) the poison entered the soft flesh on the point of my cheekbone, a finger's breadth away from my eye.

I turned and walked rapidly back down the mountain, cutting short my before dinner walk with my dog. While my face hurt, and I had a sense of dread about what would happen, but I didn't see any sense in getting emotional at that point. It was a beautiful evening, and I'd just had another Big Sur experience. It couldn't be as bad as a rattlesnake bite, or a scorpion's kiss, right?

When I reached home I realized the stinger was hanging off my cheekbone and so had my husband Toby pull it out with a pair of tweezers. Then we carried on with entertaining our guest, eating pasta, drinking lovely red wine, reading Tarot cards. As the evening wore on, both my husband and our friend commented on the transformation of my face. "I think it's not going to get any worse," said Peter, "I think it's as swollen as it will get." Dream on!

All night long I put baking soda compresses under my right eye (and watched the poison spread across my face). My left eye was swelling up as well, my cheeks were inflating. In the morning I put on a hijab and went to work (thinking I could take my mind off the pain) but an hour later two sweet guardian angels took me to our local clinic, where the country doctor gave me a steroid shot and told me I'd be fine in no time. Small town hazard: he teased me about blogging about my sting. Later he emailed me a link to an article he'd written about apitherapy, which the ancient Greeks practiced. Ouch!

Back at home I sank into the grass (ignoring the bees dancing around me) letting the blessed sun warm my body while I held an ice pack across my face. One of my guardian angels had given me a bottle of homeopathic anti-anxiety drops to offset the steroid's effects. That and some leftover codeine tablets calmed me down somewhat. The product, Dr. Garber's ANX, is Buddhism in a bottle: it promises to reduce anxiety, stop nervous irritability and obsessive thinking. Toby wants to buy me a barrel of it.

But massive swelling had yet to occur. Here I am at my worst, and now, perhaps, I can banish vanity from my life, at least a little. This is where I turned into a 100 year old Tibetan lady. My face became a mask of swollen skin. It hurt and it was scary. Worst was when I felt the venom flowing down my throat, enlarging the whole right side of my face and neck. A friend stopped by and was properly horrified. "I hope you get your face back soon," she said. So did I.

While I knew in my head it was temporary, and tried to feel compassion for those in the world who suffer more painful permanent conditions, it still, well, sucked. But here's the silver lining: I'd been standing on the edge of the pool, staring into that whole world of "women of a certain age" processes of expensive recurring treatments, wildly priced magical creams, a life of wearing hats and sunblock. Suddenly, the normal discolorations that happen on a late-40's face seemed just not very important to me anymore.

So, I guess I have to thank that tiny distressed bee, who gave her life so I could renew my dedication to growing old gracefully. Now, when I touch the spot on the tip of my cheekbone where the stinger deposited its poison, (it is still there, the littlest bump) I almost hope it stays. To remind myself that bee-tox is better than botox, and to be grateful for the face I have, which (Praise be!) came back.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jack in the Beanstalk Land

All right then, the fog is back. At this point, we'd welcome the bugs that come with hot, sunny days in the country. The ridge is wrapped in cloud, all is quiet, even the birds' dawn chorus is silent.

All edges soften, as if we've burrowed into drifts of cotton gauze, and shapes on the horizon blur. Up close, the colors of the garden pop with intensity. Condensation falls like raindrops from the trees, damp cobwebs shimmer in the grass. Today we can watch a movie, drink hot chocolate, play scrabble. Yet, we are longing for the sun.

Yesterday morning, we had a few delicious moments above the fog, one of my most favorite experiences here. It's as if we've become residents of a mystical archipelago, with ridge-top islands stretching up and down the coast. All we have to do is summon a golden boat and sail over a sea of clouds. So felt the lucky few who made it to the top of Mount Olympus, home of the gods.

Grandiose metaphors aside, the one we prefer in our rustic, hobbit-home, is the story of Jack in the Beanstalk. We must give credit for this romantic, fairy-tale vision of Big Sur to the gentleman who owns the property we live on. Witnessing the fog-blanket phenomenon some years back, he exclaimed, "It's Jack in the Beanstalk land!"

Yes, we can imagine happy Jack emerging from the clouds at the top of a giant beanstalk. The great green stalk sways in the muted light of a foggy day as Jack steps across the fog-carpet to the hillside below our house. Like us, he had no idea what his impulse buy of those mysterious beans would bring. He's curious and determined to explore this magical land.

Sometimes doing the eccentric thing, like trading a cow for beans or jumping off the merry-go-round of mainstream modern life, can bring unexpected riches. The goose that laid the golden egg, the talking harp, and the giants (minus the fee-fi-fo-fum bit) are all here, on the top of Partington Ridge.

Photo by Linda Sonrisa

Jack in the Beanstalk illustration by Jackie Willcox Smith

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bug Sur

After what seemed like months of depressing drippy fog, we in Big Sur are opening our hearts to the joy of these past sunny days. The smells of sun-warmed roses, wild-flowers, sweet-peas and sage fill the air around us, up the ridges and into our gardens. Ahhh, finally we have our Summer.

We dance on the grass, we work on our tans. And we bring out the mosquito nets and bug spray. If we're feeling really vicious, out come the electronic tennis racquet thingies that zap the nasty little monsters into oblivion. As I write this in the early morning, sitting outside on my blue Adirondack chair, gazing down at the fog-banketed sea, I'm about to get up and saturate myself in OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VII. West Nile Virus be gone!

There are lots of bugs in in Big Sur, and they tend to be larger and more omnipresent than they are elsewhere. Big, hairy tarantulas crossing the road signify rain. Multiple scorpions in your house tell you to "wake up!" Wolf spiders (which no longer scare me in the middle of the night) scramble across bathroom tiles, while the dreaded "No-see-ums" attack our scalps on warm summer evenings.

Recently a neighbor introduced almost a hundred beehives onto the ridge right above us, a truly daunting colony of fierce honeybees. They are apparently very thirsty and spend most of their day racing at great speed up and down the mountain from the hives to our pond, where they hang out above the water lillies, freaking out the pond's resident fish and visiting dragonflies (not to mention us.)

The bees' industrious buzzing mimics the South African Vuvuzela horns of the recent world cup soccer matches, especially in their incessant quality. To date we've received a total of three painful stings, one on the tender bare foot of yours truly. Unfortunately, one cannot herd bees, but since their sheer volume is annoying to many, we're told they will be leaving soon to make their honey for other brave bee farmers.

Coating oneself in bug spray is not conducive to love-making (think kisses followed by grimaces) and yet, to be indoors during this time of year would be absurd. Thank goodness for cool breezes, slightly lower temperatures, and for natural repellent oils, patches and sprays.

Yesterday evening, as we alternately sprayed ourselves and smashed mosquitoes between our palms, we heard news of a genetically modified mosquito that would not carry malaria. "But what will it do to the birds that eat them?" we wondered. How are we impacting the whole chain of life by tinkering with genetic material? Big questions about a little bug.

"Why did god make mosquitoes?" I asked someone recently. "To piss us off," he replied. If anger and irritation is our teacher, a way to learn non-attachment, then mosquitoes are profound instructors. The Buddhist perspective here would mean not becoming Alpha Mosquito and waging war on them, but on co-existing with them peacefully. To have compassion towards all sentient beings includes extending it to the tiniest of insects, which flee from their impending deaths at our hands. Spiritual awakening through mosquitoes? Well, why not?
Dragonfly photo by Linda Sonrisa
others courtesy of

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Solstice on Middle Earth

This morning The Shire is calm. Fog rolls in from the ocean below while the sun comes up over the ridge-top. Birds sing their morning chorus, and green lawns stretch to the horizon.

Last night, the shortest of the year, I stepped outside my bedroom to the gentlest of sounds: wind chimes tinkling, critters whispering, earth humming. Stars sparkled, and the moon spread her light on the sea, shining on my doorstep, on me.

Peace and tranquility beyond my dreams, a glimpse of heaven, really. If only I could merge with the earth, the breeze, the dark sky, to be one with Spirit for longer than a breath.

It's hard to believe that two years ago yesterday, on June 21, 2008, one of Big Sur's biggest traumas began. A gigantic wildfire, eventually consuming a quarter of a million acres, sparked from a lightning strike within sight of my home (see above.)

A beautiful summer afternoon, bizarre barometric pressure and human fallibility conspired to create a scenario that for the next two weeks scared many of us out of our wits, and / or stressed us beyond our imaginations, providing the adrenalin high of a lifetime.

There is something profound about a community united in purpose, and on Partington Ridge we felt it in spades. Renamed Renegade Ridge, here a small band of determined people made a stand to protect all of our homes.

On this anniversary, we honor them: Toby Rowland-Jones, Christian Nimmo, Martin Hubback, Kevin Southall, Kate Healey, Sula Nichols, Kevin and Lyle Southall, T.S., Dave Smiley, and the Dubois brothers. We thank our neighbors who joined in, from north and south: Aengus Wagner, John Knight, Tevya and Branham Morgenrath, Krystal and Tom Gries, and other brave souls. This group was joined later by hot-shot crews from multiple states, and the USFS.

This gracious ridge, with rolling hills sloping down from 3200' to the sea (with a handful of homes from 1900' to 700' ) is known to many of us as The Shire. Like Tolkien's Middle Earth, here we live in (relative!) peace with the land.

As if to confirm this we have a high number of residents originally from Jolly Olde England. It is possible on this mountain to hear some plummy British accents, drink Earl Grey tea, and be affectionately called "ducky". My theory is that the love of the land, while it runs deep in all of us, is perhaps especially strong for those who come from that chilly little island.

Today I contemplate the peace, while remembering the war. The sky thick with smoke, the hissing and crackling of the fire, the terrifying bright orange flames so bloody near. Unable to take a breath during those weeks, today I relish the deep cool air of The Shire. As summer begins, and another fire season looms, it is good to know that nightmares end, and that peace always prevails.
Photos by Toby Rowland-Jones

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Horsy Girl

Ever so often here in Big Sur something happens that reminds me with perfect clarity of who I was as a young girl. When I opened my front door yesterday morning I saw an amber colored horse standing on the edge of the meadow. He was nibbling grass, his golden coat reflecting the sunshine just emerging from above the ridge-top. Naturally I grabbed some carrots and my camera and paid him a visit.

The horse is both a prosaic and romantic creature: when they've come down in the past to feed on the sweet grass in the meadow, they came right up to the front door asking for apples. Later, though, in the hot summer weather, we realized they brought flies and um, other gifts, that made their presence less desirable.

I was one of those little girls that loved horses, passionately. My childhood was filled with books that took me to places where I raced the wind across Arabian deserts, trotted through the streets of London and galloped down blustery beaches to the sea. All of this was a great escape from suburban streets and shopping malls.

The usual jokes about horsy girls aside, a wise woman revealed to me recently that a girlhood love of horses is an archetypal response to the lack of an emotionally available father. Sigh. That was probably true, though now I'm happy that Dad is just a person who needs love and understanding, like us all.

But back to the horses! I had a collection of figurines (raise your hand if you did too, you know who you are) and arranged them differently depending on the stories they were playing out on my shelves. (I do remember Dad building me a special cabinet just for my horse family.) They were much more interesting than Barbie dolls to me, with fiery or gentle characters, brilliant coats and sparkly saddles. They had dreams of living life roaming the wild western mountains, or kicking up their pretty heels in the circus.

Rather than wanting a horse (which I eventually acquired after years of riding lessons, in the brief window before the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence) I think I wanted to be one: big, graceful, slightly dangerous, and full of ancient mystery.

Later yesterday, as I drove to work, my equine friend, who had wandered down the path towards the gate, came trotting back towards my truck, startled by a car. He pranced past me into the meadow, head and tail up, backlit by the morning sun.

In that moment in my mind I ride him bareback (middle-aged vertigo be damned) over this wild land. I smell the animal scent of his coat, feel the warmth of his withers, and connect with his powerful spirit. Ah, the romance of the horse is alive and well in my neighborhood!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Big Sur's tiniest hitch-hikers

Peep and Poodle, two impossibly happy Partington Ridge Rat Terriers, left town early last month, picked up by tourists driving a Land Rover south on the highway. Like Jerry (of Tom and Jerry's Mouse in Manhattan), they most likely didn't plan on an adventure that would take them who knows where.

Despite the fact that the dog-nappers were aware that these wee beasties were lost (they asked a State Park Ranger about them) they ignored the Laws of Karma and did not deliver them to an animal shelter.

This we know because the family who is desperately missing Peep and Poodle has searched these places, including going all the way down to the shelters of Los Angeles to bring them home.

These are not dogs who would enjoy being in a starlet's purse! And while I can imagine them eating caviar in Beverly Hills, I'm sure they miss the wild smells of Big Sur, riding shotgun with their Mom up and down the ridge, and curling up together beside the fire.

A couple of days ago I stopped into the Heart Beat Gallery here, and met a lovely lady who showed me a colorful deck of cards. I chose one titled "Calling the Spirit Home". This reminds me that no one in the world greets me as my dog does, all smiles, wanting a hug and whimpering his pleasure at my return. When I'm with my funny-faced dog, who guards me and loves me, I'm home. A quiet cat or a beloved bird can do the same thing: these creatures bring us home to ourselves.

Breaking news: Peep and Poodle were found by a friendly animal rescue worker who saw the family's flyer, and identified them at a feed store in Morro Bay. They're now back home where they belong!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Message in a bottle

The Moving Finger writes,
and, having writ, moves on:
nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back
to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears
wash out a Word of it.
-- Omar Khayyam

How much do we actually connect with other human beings using these bizarre, ephemeral tools developed in the last decade? Via email, blogs, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, the mighty Iphone? And now, the horrifying and fascinating Chatroulette?

I woke up this morning thinking about how with these things we are never alone. Or rather, we have the illusion that we are not alone. The status update we send in the wee hours or the text message we receive during the workday keep us "connected", providing our intravenous drip of the milk of human comfort.

Since we are constantly looking for this feedback from outside ourselves, we are actually, I suspect, eroding our ability to authentically connect with others. (Not to mention our attention spans. Have you read a book lately?) We’re in the land of smoke and mirrors with all these toys. Like a veiled woman, we peek, then hide.

Perhaps these tools are perfectly suited to this age, when we are over-stimulated in so many ways. We prefer the drip of human comfort to the overflowing cup that might overwhelm us. Our most sensitive antennae have retracted, we are fearful of being smashed like bugs on a windshield of the information highway.

Now even in Big Sur the "Digital Divide" is shrinking. Thanks to strategically deployed satellites, T1 lines and so on, we are no longer handicapped by lack of access to the web. This helps our functioning in the business and social realms enjoyed by our more sophisticated neighbors.

I once asked my elderly neighbor Bob what people did in Big Sur before all this technology was available to us. No HBO, no Internet, no cell phones, just National Public Radio. He replied laconically, "There was always ice-cream."

Our “old man on the mountain” was really a faux-hermit. Bob would practically break out in hives when his phone line went out, needing his constant stream of callers and visitors to keep him in touch with the world.

A friend of mine says we are like any primates foraging for grubs: when we achieve success in our hunt for contact, our dopamine receptors sit up and say, "Thanks! More please." Now we can hunt down our prey day or night, anywhere in the world. We can shop, chat, have fake sex, or put a new piece of data in the quiver of our brain, basically non-stop if we choose.

The art of sitting still is leaving us. Like rats in mazes we’ll keep using our cell-phones (which may be killing us) texting while driving, and twittering our way into eternity. No doubt we are evolving, but into what?

The fundamental truth, expressed by Khayyam so many centuries ago, persists: Nothing we do can alter the passing of each moment. The moving finger writes our destinies, moving across keypads instead of stone tablets. Replacing fine feather quills on parchment, our grubby digits now tap out our fates. In the unique journeys of our lives, we are still at the mercy of Time.

So I send out my message in a bottle with this blog. I too, want validation, comfort and love from the world. Sitting on top of a mountain is wonderful: I can do yoga, eat ice cream and watch the condors fly past, but I am a modern social animal, too. Shhhhhh, here's the Secret: if we're properly grateful, we may just be able to have it all.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What scared me this morning

Ah, country living. Waking up in the morning, stepping outside to a spring breeze swirling around my ankles, walking on wet grass, smelling a flower.

Watching the moon sink faintly into the fog bank on the horizon. Throwing the ball for the dog. Taking deep breaths.

Back inside to make coffee. Chatting with my guest, cleaning up the mess from last night. Reaching for the bag of beans on top of the microwave, and then, Crack! Morning tranquility shattered by my primal girly-girl scream. And what do you think I saw?

Eek-a-MOUSE! Collapsed picturesquely beside the sugar jar. The yellow Victory logo on the mousetrap all too ironic. Admiring the still life quality of the scene, my impulse is to capture the beastie's demise. My guest joins in the photojournalistic venture, documenting me documenting the drama in my kitchen.

After one more gratifying horror movie queen scream (emitted after picking up the totally disgusting package) I show the not-so-tiny carcass to my recently adopted girl cat Petunia, to see if she will keep the ancestral cat's bargain from Just So Stories. Startled by the rodent hanging off the trap, she quickly runs away. Oh well. Off to the compost heap for a quick burial.

So, do we contemplate the memento mori aspects of this event? I'm afraid not. As my wise guest comments, "Not every invitation to meditate on mortality needs to be accepted." Instead, we sit on the blue Adirondack chairs outside, savoring our hard-earned cups of coffee, and plan a beautiful May Day of gardening projects.

And now, for the very brave, a view of what gave me an adrenalin surge this morning. Viewer discretion advised.
Photos by Linda Rosewood and Linda Sonrisa

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Survision does the Big Easy

On this wet and stormy Big Sur Sunday, with hail and branches whipping down onto the muddy dirt road to my home, it’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago I was in the French Quarter, ground zero of the sleepy, muggy center of the Southern Gothic: New Orleans.

My destination includes a special treat: when I walk into the elegant courtyard of Soniat House I find a picture of a famous writer’s craggy face, fresh cigarette dangling from his fingers. The 24th Annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival begins tomorrow!

The land of voodoo, alligators, Mardi Gras beads, jazz and gumbo is offering up to us a bit of southern culture: a five day conference celebrating the work and the life of this giant of American literature, who lived in New Orleans off and on from 1939 onwards.

After a hilarious mad dash to the airport (parking by the hour for six days so as to not miss the flight, my companion phoning me from her seat as I dropped my shoes into a bin, almost losing my ticket to a standby traveler) we took off to Dallas.

My friend loves the world, especially its sacred places, and considers New Orleans a home of her heart. We were late to the airport that morning due to our pouring over family pictures, after a night of champagne and scotch (to give our trip the proper start, of course).

The beauties of the world are in her home too: a harlequin mask beside the candelabra, palm sized multicolored glass fishes swimming on the windowsill. The walls are covered in tribal art, feathers, butterflies and scarab beetles. Religious figurines, rare stones and ritual objects of all kinds fill the shelves. It’s Spring, and all of her brilliant orchids are blooming.

My virgin trip to the Big Easy! If only I didn’t feel so un-easy about flying. We meditate on board and put golden light around all the shiny, important parts of the airplane’s engines, flight instruments, and of course the pilot and co-pilot’s minds.

That evening, I walk down Bourbon Street and make a quantum shift. After a lifetime fear of flying objects (the fate of a four-eyed girl who preferred the library to team sports) I reach out into the air and grab a silver necklace of Mardi Gras beads, falling from a balcony into my open hand. Naturally, I wear it to the opening night reception of Tennessee’s festival, which consists of a cocktail competition and a screening of A Streetcar Named Desire. (I also wore my wife-beater white undershirt in honor of Stanley.)

Three powerful cocktails vied for the award, prepared by local mixologists and titled “Big Daddy’s Stella” (a ghastly mixture of bourbon and fruit something or other) followed by “Pink Honey” in lovely pepto-bismol pink (flavored with half & half and some mysterious horrid liqueur) and finally a tequila number called “19th Hole.”

Naturally the evening became a blur, and I think the winning drink was “Pink Honey” nicknamed “Shirley Temple’s Underwear” by someone in the crowd. For the duration of the Festival you could go to the Chateau Bourbon hotel and shout “Stella-a-a” just like Stanley and imbibe two Pink Honeys for the price of one. I’m so there.

The following morning we went to a scholarly discussion on Williams’ coming out on the David Frost show in 1970. Frost quizzed him about writing from both male and female perspectives, and Williams replied that we all have both sexes inside us.

Frost pressed this point and Williams replied (he was not particularly sober during this interview, said one scholar dryly) that, “Let’s just say I’ve worked the waterfront.” While out already to those in his world, that statement apparently made the rest of America go A-hah! More evidence that words can and do change the world.

A long discussion of Queer Theory, the Stonewall riots, etc. followed. One surprising idea to me was the concept that Blanche (from Streetcar) was metaphorically speaking, a drag-queen. Not so, say the experts. This idea irritated Williams, who depicted the many variations of both genders with such subtle grace. I found myself thinking of Georgia O’Keefe’s reactions to the hints (people only dared to hint this to her) that her enormous flowers were really womanly sexual parts. Georgia didn’t think so, and she should know! Art and how we interpret it, endlessly entrancing subject matter.

Which leads me to another highlight of the Festival: meeting San Francisco writer, entrepreneur and hands-on philanthropist (826 Valencia Project) Dave Eggers. Author of Zeitun, a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the Where the Wild Things Are screenplay and more. Wonderfully personable, he extolled the virtues of writing on a computer sans Internet (where “distracting cat porn is just a click away”) and encouraged all of us to write our stories, whether cathartic, poetic or socially significant.

After a carriage ride to the St. Louis I Cemetery, we lit candles at the tomb of the “Voodoo Queen” Marie Laveau. We made some X’s for wishes in red lipstick on her marble crypt. Then we separated and got lost in this city of the dead, calling each other on our cell phones to find each other again. Cell phones in a 19th century cemetery, truly a 21st century moment. What would Dennis Hopper say?

As I struck a dancer’s pose before Marie Laveau’s tomb, opening my arms up into the sunlight, my mind flashed on the potent waterfall currently flowing through Castro Canyon in Big Sur, traveling from the redwood forest to the sea. This image was so vivid that for a few seconds, time stopped. I think my wish will come true…

Flying out of town at sunset: city lights sparkling, full moon with a single strand of pearly cirrus clouds below her, surrounding bayous and Mississippi River below, the gulf stretched out forever. We nicknamed this adventure our Mojo Restoration Trip (MRT) and the mysterious feelings from this journey still flow quietly inside us.

Playful and poignant, like Mardi Gras beads on a cemetery angel, this great American city offers time travel to the distant planets of the imagination. It is a place of both earthly pleasure and spiritual power. Yes, I’ll be back!

Quote of the week:

“When you die, if you want to go to Heaven,
you have to walk down Bourbon Street first.”
This from NOPD (love that acronym) cop.

What I remember most:

  • Music in the streets, Mardi-Gras beads in the trees.
  • A young blond Sicilian man playing the guitar, singing his heart out in Italian, carriage horse hooves clopping down the street beside him.
  • Handsome 73-year old Jesse bringing me coffee, biscuits and jam in the morning.
  • Me in my silk robe, sitting beside the splashing fountain in the quiet courtyard, listening to a mockingbird.
  • Deep talks with my traveling companion about Truth and Life.
  • Gumbo, chicken fried steak, oysters, Martinis. Gumbo. Beignets. Tarot readings and love potions at Voodoo Authentica. Wild dreams. Did I mention Gumbo? And more…
Photos by Linda Sonrisa

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Perfect Morning

“The Kiss of the Sun for Pardon,

the Song of the Birds for Mirth.
One is closer to God in a Garden
than anyplace else on Earth.”

My Grandmother carried this poem inside her all her life. It’s one of the first verses I remember, and it still pops into my head today, especially on a beautiful Spring morning when I’m looking forward to getting my hands into the dirt.

With my Grandma, I experienced the fairy smell of Sweet Peas that draped deliciously over a high wall in her garden. There was the dark mystery of the moist African Violets on her kitchen windowsill, and I learned that you could grow Geraniums from cuttings by sticking them into the soil and watering them dutifully.

Right now (as I write this) I’m watching a hummingbird drink from the furry red sage blossoms hanging over the deck outside the glass door to my bedroom. Its magenta throat feathers shine brightly in the morning light. Happiness and bliss flow into me as I see this, the simple, timeless pleasure of birds and flowers together.

The phrase "Ten minutes in nature is equivalent to a year in therapy" strayed into my life this week. Along with the statement was a picture of a tranquil garden, glowing, wet, lovely. Comments to this post included the kind of longing I know so well: to be in Nature, to be healed of our worries by quiet sunlight, birdsong, a warm breeze.

And yet, it’s not Nature that heals us, exactly, but our openness to Nature that nurtures us without fail, throughout our lives. That is the trick. I can say this with confidence after almost 20 years of living in Big Sur, with all its dramatic ups and downs. There is just as much psychic pain here as among humans anywhere, with the small difference that if we step outside our doors, take some deep breaths, watch a sunset, or go for a walk, we feel immensely better.

Without beauty of some kind, the human soul shrivels, angst festers, lives go off the rails. Staying open to nature, to art, to love, by feeling this pulse of energy, we stay in touch with Life.

I visited not one but two precious City gardens this weekend, and the Geranium cuttings my friend Hiroko gave me have inspired me to get dirty today in my garden beside the claw foot tub on the edge of the canyon. My vision is that our guests will scent their steaming baths with various types of fragrant Geraniums, as well with the Lavender and Rosemary nearby, so I’ll plant the stems with the soft sweet-smelling leaves, their shape repeated in purple in the center of each leaf.

Then I will weed, because I promised to. And my mushy, confused modern heart will be soothed by the love of our greatest Mother. She is the one we can always turn to, the one who lives in the Earth, the Sky, the Sea, and deeply, truthfully, inside each of us.

Perfect Morning
The Gram I remember
Photos by Linda Sonrisa

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Seconds to Go

Overheard at the Seconds-to-Go Resale Shop on Fillmore Street in San Francisco one Friday afternoon recently: "I'd wish you luck, but I see that the Shopping Goddess has already smiled on you."

Those of us who secretly love the pursuit of stuff, yet take pride in doing it on the cheap, find this whimsical goddess smiles on us in second-hand stores, especially classy ones. This particular temple on Fillmore re-sells donated goodies for the benefit of the SF Schools of the Sacred Heart, raising over $1 million dollars in financial aid over the past three decades.

My companion on this last adventure found my wedding dress for me at a little place called Second Time Around, in San Luis Obispo. I remember Nat King Cole singing Unforgettable on the radio as we browsed in a large closet-sized room filled with wedding dresses of nuptials past. As I inhaled the gentle, mature fabrics, some crisp, some soft, some still glittering with the joy their owners had felt, I knew that this moment would be unforgettable for me, crystal clear in my heart, all these years later.

She pulled the dress off the rack, I tried it on, decided immediately, then we went to have a delicious Thai lunch. (It's a pattern we've repeated over the years on other shopping expeditions.) The dress was perfect: subtle rainbow irridescent beadwork, elegant tapered sleeves, a multitude of cloth-covered buttons up the back. Plus the skirt spun beautifully! I felt a moment of pure silence in my soul as my new husband twirled me around on the lawn at the Henry Miller Library, the white satin flowing outward in a dramatic crescent, soft green grass whirling past.

Now we shop for our husbands, her son, and each other on our dynamic meanderings in the land of thrift-store serendipity. It's a game for us to find just the right item, to seduce each other into buying, say, the perfect pair of shoes. After all, what are friends for? To teach you how to love yourself better through their generous understanding. And to help you enjoy sexy footwear, of course.

Finding the unforeseen ideal object requires openness, and a quality of presence that is refreshing. When we pay attention, who knows what we will find in life, or what will find us, at any moment? I actually consider consumer browsing a meditation of sorts, and why not? The Shopping Goddess is real, and loves to smile grandly upon her devotees!

The magical dress

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Golden Chanterelle

The country's only Chanterelle Festival! A week from today it begins: those who love the moist, golden fruit of the forest will gather at the Big Sur Lodge, to prepare their wild mushroom mixtures for the rest of us fungi-loving folk.

From soup, to beer to ice cream, (and everything in between) you can savor tasty dishes with delicious matching wines, from six different local vineyards, on both Friday night and and Saturday afternoon and evening. There's a contest among local chefs to see who can create the most magical mushroom meal.

Personally, I like them deep fried (comfort food, of sorts) and have fond memories of a feast of chanterelles prepared this way, along with mussels from the cove and lots of yummy red wine. Finding the little beasties is great fun, too. We scuffle around the oak leaves, baskets in hand, gently slicing the saffron colored marvels off the forest floor. Even I can impress my gourmand spouse by cooking them in butter, and plopping them onto rice, or eggs.

If you're in the area, don't miss it! You can buy very reasonably priced tickets for different 'shroom events: a FUNgus hunt, the Cook-Off!, the Awards Dinner, Sunday Brunch and more. Plus your contribution to the Big Sur community will help fund an ongoing project to create sustainable, organic gardens throughout the area.

Mushroom found and photographed by Toby Rowland-Jones

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Joy of Friendship

"A friend is someone who, while leaving you with all your dignity intact, obliges you to be fully who you are."

I can't cite the source of that quote, but remember reading it on a bookmark about twenty years ago. At the time I was a recently returned ex-pat (from my college year abroad) dealing with culture shock: No, there is no café-style night life in my home state, nothing like the expansive boulevards, ancient hidden plazas and sparkling evenings of tapas and copas* with sophisticated bohemians that I'd found in Madrid.

Suddenly, I was just another college senior in a big university, one who hadn’t a clue as to what she would do next. But Uncle Bill invited me in to his home, essentially rent-free, in exchange for cleaning up after his cat and accompanying him to cheap Chinese restaurants in downtown Oakland.

Plus, we talked. “You should always eat right,” he admonished me, after witnessing my dysfunctional college diet of donuts, coffee and whiskey. Exam time usually put me into a panic, and Bill provided me with an anchor, discussing my studies with me. I took the bus to the campus from his tiny Montclair bungalow, which had been his family home since the 30’s. He had a girlfriend, and occasionally he’d be out all night, a mischievous sparkle in his good eye the following day.

He is the one who gave me that bookmark, and who asked me if I was on track to live up to my potential, the first adult to do so, endorsing what has become a life-long process of questioning myself on this point.

Who can live without friends? Who can grow without love? Friendship can have a sweet, short arc, or be spiritual ballast for decades.

My friends have taught me how to cook, how to dance, how to love. By example, they've taught me self-love. They’ve shown me how to laugh when the chips are down, how to work smart, how to play like nothing else matters. I have risen to many challenges in my life because I have received the love and grace of my friends, and I want to be in a position to give that back. Shared laughter in friendship is pure joy.

Which brings us to Kipling and Vinnie, pictured above. Two funny guys who have found each other, and who have many daily loving rituals. Animal friendship is not to be discounted, as it inspires us to join their world: the eternal present.

Every morning petite and pugnacious Vinnie trots over from his house to my bedroom door, looking for Kipling. “Time to come out and play!” he says, or, “It’s a beautiful morning, let’s go for a walk,” and sometimes, simply, “What’s for breakfast, dude?”

They’ll roll in the grass, wrestle with each other, mark territory everywhere (first one, then the other) and generally have a good time. They’re constantly together, and never seem to be bored. Mostly they’re quiet, other times Kip will patrol the perimeter of the property and Vinnie will bark his little-dog head off. Acceptance, companionship and play, essential requirements for any good friendship.

Uncle Bill understood animal friendship, too. He's the only person I've ever known to train a cat: his would sit up on command and beg for bits of food. He gave a puppy to his nephew (my step-Dad) and this story causes everyone's eyes to well with tears, because Uncle Bill left us too soon. He reminded us that life can end suddenly, in an unexpected way, making those guiding words we say to each other, and our loving gestures, more poignant.

There is a beautiful urgency in what one soul gives to another through friendship, this loving permission to be ourselves. We find a powerful treasure when we are fully who we are.

*copas = cocktails, of course!

Photos by Linda Sonrisa

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Robins are coming!

I step outside onto the soaking green grass this morning, the slate colored ocean and rain-bearing sky looming beyond me. It is the always changing backdrop here, subdued now in gray tones.

It’s late Winter, and a refreshingly wet one. This time around, we’re experiencing an unusual avian phenomenon: Robins — Thousands and thousands of them, massive flocks swooping down to the forest behind the house every evening.

Normally we see just a few of these plump red-breasted birds as our seasonal indicators, placidly plucking fat worms from the grass. But this year, we’re absolutely flooded with them. Robins anticipate wet weather (the "early bird" element) because saturated soil makes it easier to hunt for earthworms, who burrow up to the surface to avoid drowning.

Last week I hiked up above the house at dusk, and literally had to dodge hundreds of Robins as they careened down the hill to the forest. As night falls we hear them chirping and twittering up a storm as they settle down to sleep on the branches of the oak and bay trees. They’re not breeding yet, or nesting; they’ll nest when they migrate back home. This is their hunting party.

Mornings are best, as we listen to a luxuriant dawn symphony of bird song, alternating with the drumbeat of hundreds of wings as they fly off in groups, beginning their day with a clear sense of purpose. The moment that they take off, feathers rustling in unison, calms the soul.

What do they do each day? It seems they forage for berries, eat worms, sing flirtatious songs, fly around, then come home. Sounds familiar.

The Robin visitation is unique to this property (known as Lone Palm): we’ve checked with our neighbors on other ridges and up and down this mountain and it’s only happening here. I’m considering it a good sign.

Birds represent the healing cycle of life, our connection with the Divine. The multitudes of Robins visiting Partington during these weeks are part of our habitat’s regeneration after the ’08 fire. As my clever spouse points out, they poop out seeds, (hmmm, is this why their scientific name is turdus migratorius?) This process enriches the land, which means more plants, more insects, more small animals, and so on. Exponential growth.

So, may the blessings of the Lone Palm Robins be upon you. May they bring fruitful abundance and effusive joy to your current flight path!
Robin photo by Linda Sonrisa
Flight picture by Toby Rowland-Jones

Friday, January 1, 2010

Telling Fortunes

Humans are "meaning making" creatures, and I think about this a lot at New Year's, this time of interpreting the past and plotting the best possible future, which of course includes copious resolutions.

On the last evening of 2009, my songbird friend calls on her way to an all night dance party in the Big City. "Make a list of what you appreciate most about yourself this year," she counsels (Courage, risk-taking, trusting love, learning new skills). Add to that what you want to let go of in 2010, things you want to banish from your psychic landscape (Worry, angst, impatience). On New Year's Day, make a list of your intentions. Then, let's share, ok?" As I hear her musical laugh, I commit, as I always do. She is my sparkling, wise muse, after all.

I like to believe that what you do the first 24 hours of the year sets the tone for the next twelve months. So this morning we ended up (finally) replacing the seat to the loo. But the rest of the day? Housework? I think not. Hiking, dancing, and cuddling on the couch are in order. Sitting quietly watching the koi in the pond, I spy a bright yellow breasted bird, with black pirate stripes atop its head, taking a discreet bath amidst the water-lillies. Yes the first day of the new decade, so many things to do well, including doing nothing at all. Choose carefully!

"On Monday, I'm back to water and gruel," moans a friend who has, like so many of us, dined and drank liberally this past month. The perfect storm of winter inactivity, compounded with rich food, obstinate colds, and hot toddies...Oh well, perhaps we need a few extra pounds of blubber in case global warming causes the seas to rise and we evolve into seals. Blubber could also come in handy if you engage in a New Year's Day "Polar Bear Plunge" into the nearest body of freezing water. Brrrrrrrr.

Last night's full moon was a blue moon , (which won't happen on a New Year's Eve again until 2028) so we sang that silly song we all know as she rose above the ridgetop, veiled in swaths of gray cirrus cloud. Word of a lunar eclipse (in the eastern hemisphere of the world) gave us a feeling of astrological magic, auguring well for new, once-in-a-blue-moon type beginnings.

My evening included the company of happy, uninhibited souls, laughter, dancing, singing, with hugging and kissing at midnight. A grape for each stroke of twelve brings good luck. Noisemakers chase away evil spirits. Champagne bubbles carried us away, back up the mountain and home.

The Tarot card for 2010: Six of Cups, Pleasure.
From Angeles Arrien's interpretation:
  • "This card represents emotional pleasure that is healing, like the copper cups, and revitalizing, like the orange lotus blossoms, and renewing and regenerating, like the snakes coiled within the cups. There is an emotional determination to bring pleasure into your life that is renewing, revitalizing and regenerating. The emotional nature is going through a healing process, a disappointment is being released, giving way to a feeling of pleasure. Out of this experience of pleasure, one can give pleasure to others."