Saturday, November 09, 2013
It is an old one.
Seems a guy…or maybe it was a girl, wildhaired and dusty from her travels, or maybe it was an old guy, weary with memories of war & loss—but anyway, the wanderer came into the village.
Times had been pretty rough. Some of the crops that the villagers counted on had failed. Rain came at the wrong time, or rain didn’t come at all, or rain came in floods and sputters. Crops seeded when they shouldn’t. Crops molded as they stood. Those who thought they had good, prosperous work, were turned away. You could count the ribs on the village dogs and even the mice seemed thinner than usual and the town gossip was all about tragedy and loss, down the street, across the world. Didn’t matter.
They were for sure hurting.
The traveler had been on the road awhile & she was hungry. Or he was, or they were (maybe a band of kids, maybe a lonely man with a dog on a string and a pack on his back).
Oh, go away, cried the town folk. We ain’t got a crust to spare, and who do you think you are anyway, did you grow up here in the dry hills, were you born in this dust. We been here a long time, cried the town folk. A hundred years, or two years, more’n you. But you..you are new and the problem.
The town folk said yeah, you with the tangled hair, you with the packs, you with the wandering feet, you are ones to blame. You made the rains not fall or called them down. You seeded the crops. It’s you, you who make me want what I can’t have. You who are at fault that my love’s eyes seek someone else, that my house is falling around me, that the messages I get are only demands for payment, that my baby frets, that my heart aches.
We ain’t got nothing to spare.
But the traveler had a big cooking pot, and set it down in the public square. And some kid got some sticks. Or someone cooked up the propane or the magic heater, what do I know, it’s just an old story.
And asked for water.
Well, water’s not all that much, just a pailful. Someone brought it. And the wanderer took a fine round speckly stone, the sort that catches the sunlight, the kind that makes you think of summer nights and childhood, a good stone, and put it in the pot. Good thing, said the traveler, that I can make a fine, fine soup of water and this stone.
You do know the story, right?
And the wanderer tasted the delicious stone broth and said “oh, a bit of salt, and it would be perfect”. And then…a handful of parsley, a sprig of rosemary, some carrots, an onion…and so on.
The soup fed the whole village. And someone knew a song, and someone knew a story, and there were leftovers for the dogs too.
And they all realized…they did have something. They did have a bit to share, and together it was…well, it was soup. Or maybe (we can get all metaphorical if we like)..as each shared their gifts, it was community. It was home.
And the tangle haired stranger showed them the way.
Yeah, it’s only a story. But I think about it a lot.
(there has been a great deal of hatred directed towards the travelers and the poor in my area; I was thinking of that when I felt the need to write this little piece)
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
In the present, simply
The acorns started falling early this year. The first ones dropped nearly a month ago. Now they fall in quick bursts and startle my dog, who looks up at every click of acorn to stone, to grass, to dirt.
Or on a careful grave, since we often stop a while in the morning amongst the comfortable graves of friends in the little graveyard to the north.
Champ is confused and alert as the acorn volleys hit. But he soon figures out that his person doesn’t need defending and the squirrels are too far up to catch. So he sprawls in the grass, ecstatic and silly, wriggling to scratch his back, crying out in yelps and moans to the ground and the sky and the trees and the birds. It’s a good day.
Sometimes I scoop up a few acorns and put them in my pockets, then into pots of dirt. I’m always hoping for trees, for sprouts, for continued and renewing life.
And life does thrust through.
My times in the graveyard with Champ are part of what keeps me centered and in the moment. At least for a moment.
Though, well, I’d be lying if I told you my thoughts didn’t sometimes stray to the past. I’ve walked there and sat there under the oaks and cedars for 40 years. There are memories, funny ones and sad ones. The stones leaning or standing or laying flat hold names of people I knew well, and of course of many who lived and loved and died long ago. They all remind me of a crowd of my beloved dead whose bodies are now dust, part of the sea, part of a hillside or mountain, or dissolving into earth in some far away corner.
But here my thoughts don’t spin forward. That’s a good thing in these days of obsessive what if, what will happen, what should I do.
It’s a sort of daily vacation amongst the dead.
Oh, soon enough I sap back into the present-dashing-to-future. To lists and practicalities. To anxieties, phone calls, the lure of the cyber world, a glut of information, stories, petitions.
As Champ and I walk south again we see other early morning walkers on the highway or hills. Some have carts, some carry bundles. There are heavy backpacks, bicycles, dogs. Some walk on hurting bare feet. Some are young and lovely and laughing.
The morning fog touches us all with a calm equality. I was just reading a UN report on migrants. In our world there are now over a billion people on the move, leaving the places they lived, hoping for a better future. A quarter of those cross national boundaries, but the rest shift within their countries, carrying what they can. Vulnerable people. Hopeful people. Children, women, men. Just people. As I’ve sat in the graveyard, across the country UN experts have been debating human rights of migrant peoples.
In my town the migrants have been yelled out, beaten, threatened.
Acorns in hand I return with Champ to the daily, busy world. My migrant friends from Spain or the South Bronx or Portland or North Carolina may stop by for conversation, water, mail. Maybe an apple or two, a smile, a greeting from my dog.
Acorns take a long time to mature to big trees, but if you don’t plant them you won’t have those trees at all.
Compassion and kindness and understanding of the stranger, the migrant, the neighbor, the annoying person who pushes every button you have—that might take a long time as well. But if you don’t start (I remind myself) how will it happen?
Only bit by bit, in the present, simply. And here, while the sweet air is on us and the acorns are falling and we are so privileged to wake and walk. Let’s be here together. Let’s just start there.
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
I'm Here. You are Alive.
I’m worried, she said. What’s going to happen to us?
She leaned confidingly towards her friend with whom she was sharing a snack. They were eating crisp seaweed, drinking strawberry flavored milk while the dad of one of them (I heard him say “so I asked my ex what she wanted for the birthday & she said ‘take her away for the day’”) waited for coffee and breakfast.
Her friend looked up and smiled, her pink sequined shirt catching the morning light. Well, I’m going to be a fairy, she said.
Her friend brightened. I’m going to be a princess, said she, and they were off into a discussion of the relative merits of fairies or princesses as life paths.
Later I saw the little boy with the superman figure clenched in his hand. He was striking up conversation with everyone at the Laundromat while pretty ceaselessly jumping, hopping, and twirling. When you are little it is so very hard to keep both feet on the ground & walk in careful straight lines. My mom always swore I wouldn’t put my heels down on the ground till I was 4 or 5. Tiptoe and bounce was the right way for me.
The jumping boy was excited to tell me “I can climb high trees! And someday I’ll fly!” I was impressed. And so was everyone else.
“Look! I can stand On One Foot!” and “I am Very Strong!” he said, as he and Superman swooped around.
When I was 4 or 5 I wanted with all my heart to grow up to be a ballerina (pretty costumes. Also you stand on your toes a lot) Or a cowgirl (I loved Dale Evans, someone many now don’t recall, the partner of Roy Rogers, ever lovely, ever smiling. I got to go to my aunt’s house—we didn’t have a television—to watch the end of the Roy Rogers Show, and sang along. Happy Trails to You, until we meet again…)
Or a nun. I saw a nun once. I liked her long black and white dress and the headdress she wore, and her pretty necklace, pinned to her gown, all beads and a cross. I thought it elegant. Someone like that must have a great life.
My mother, ever practical, told me I couldn’t be a nun. We were Lutherans. Lutherans don’t have nuns.
It seemed a serious oversight. I figured I’d change that when I grew up, between riding horses with Dale Evans and dancing a lot on my toes.
The future was bright. I don’t think I ever paused then to think or say “I don’t know what will happen to me”
At the time my father was a pilot in Air Rescue in Korea. We couldn’t afford a place stateside on his pay, so it was a good thing my aunt and uncle had some apartments near their big house where they were raising four sons. I was petted, cherished, & happy. I had kittens and a wild blackhaired Italian playmate named Gina.
Gina and I spent a lot of time looking for fairies. And of course finding them.
I felt safe.
Maybe no one talked of hard things around me? Maybe no one cried? I don’t know.
Sometimes childhood is a safe ground, but more and more I see kids who dance sweetly through uncertainty and brashly through change.
Traveling children, babies, 4 year olds, who sleep in a car or camp with a parent in the woods. Kids who would love to grow up to be fairies or superheroes. Or just grow up, maybe.
I love their beauty and strength.
So the other morning I saw a little video in which a 4 or 5 year old was featured. A sturdy, brave kid like my young tree climber.
But first the video was a confusion of adult men. Rushing, talking. One looked so upset, so stricken. He called out, over and over again at the full white heat of desperate love. His friends surrounded him. They were telling him something important, something he could barely believe. And then—the child! Healthy, unhurt. Upset, sure, and tearful, but not a hair on his sweet head was hurt.
He and his father clung to each other, surrounded by the father’s friends. The father touched the boy’s cheek, hair, face.
You are here! You are alive! I love you!
I don’t understand the language of the video, but human emotions need no translation, do they? The language of joy, relief, love—that’s universal.
I put my head down and sobbed.
They were Syrian. I thought of children all over the planet who wonder about growing up. Is it better to be a fairy or a princess? What does the future hold? I thought of friends and parents and this world we live in, full of hope and fear and decisions made by people I will never meet, for reasons I will never fathom.
And how I want to keep them all safe, all of us, everyone. Fairies, and cowboys and princesses and treeclimbers. And you. And me.
Happy trails to you, keep smiling now and then…
(the video is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYQe72F0Mc4)
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
the ground is rocky
“Um, no offense, not saying anything, but you are petting a dead kitten”
I told him I’m a bit strange. I think that energy lingers a while after death, that sometimes it is a slow and delicate transition.
And I kept patting the kitten, still telling it it was precious, it was wonderful, what a good cat it was.
He’d brought it by a while ago, cold & barely alive, rejected by its mother. But it had a spark; there was a strong pulse of life still there. When the cat opened his eyes and complained as I tried to massage it back to us, when he bit my finger trying to grab some wet catfood, I thought…yes. Yes, you will fight. You will stay.
The kid did all he could. He warmed the kitten against his chest in a pouch I hastily contrived of a knitted hat and some red ribbon. He offered food and water, eyedroppers if need be. The cat got to visit motels, carefully undercover, and pounce and play and be admired for his soft fur and his blue, blue eyes.
And eventually, upon waking in seizures, on a day with no vets open & no transportation, kitten and friend arrived on my steps as I was starting the day of paste up and editing and hard deadline.
Sure I’d stop it all for a kitten, for just a scrap of hope, for just one more breath.
Kitten learned to purr, and watch, and be fascinated by light, movement, this strange quick world.
I always thought it knew me and felt safe in my hands, and it was in my hands, to my murmurs of “you are a beautiful cat” that he died.
You don’t give up till the end.
And even then maybe you don’t give up.
Kitten (his name, bestowed only a day or so ago, was Joey Gizmo) is buried in my back garden, now with a potted Japanese maple marking the spot. The kid and I talked of death and ceremony. What do you do? I’d told him of my dad’s death (like kitten, in my arms). He told me how he hadn’t wanted to go to his father’s funeral.
Were you close? Well, yeah, he taught me a lot about ethics.
Sorrow and the scent of ripe, falling plums. These mark the day. Hard to know what to say. The ground is rocky.
Almost every day of my life someone asks about one passion or another, one cause, one struggle. They say pretty much the same thing. “Isn’t it a done deal?” “You can’t fight power and money” “No way one person can do anything”.
It’s kind of as if they are telling me I’m stroking a little kitten whose eyes remain fixed on mine, whose breath has just faded away, this mere handful of fluff & beauty. Why waste the time?
Well, you never know. And you can’t turn away. And though I wish with all my soul for the power to save, cure, and transform every hurting, dying, sorrowing bit of our universe I know what’s possible and what’s not.
And what is possible, what is always possible, is love. That’s what I’ll rest on and what I’ll keep on doing, in every breath and every soft or sharp moment. Living, dead, transforming world—here’s my love. It’s what I take from you and what I give back.
And Joey Gizmo, I was very glad to know you.
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
The World Spins
I attended a memorial recently for a young man I knew. Most of the others there were his agemates, buddies, past & present loves. And lots of dogs, a mass of flowers, & abundant weed. Plus plates and plates of food from one of the people closest to him because when all else fails at least there is food to offer. I think she spent three days cooking; she’s a generous soul who every day puts herself on the line for justice, kindness, connection.
I don’t even remember what we talked of; I admired the dead kid’s photos & the portraits others had done. He had a kind of goofy charm & a great smile. And he was around my younger kids’ ages.
What I remember, what still haunts me, was looking round that ragged circle of nomads and housies and dogs and all and thinking, hoping, wishing with all my heart that I could keep them all safe.
That nothing would hurt them. That no despair would cut their world into pieces. That they would live, thrive, find their way through the thicket of youth, poverty, ambition, drugs, hormones, frustration & joy & be the best they could.
There is no safety in this world, at least not that I can find or give out.
So I give out apples or oranges. At least there is food.
Two whales washed up on our beaches, juveniles. The science people tell me not to worry, there have been years in which twenty have beached and died. Two is nothing at all.
But there was the great flood of krill washed up on our beaches the week before, some still alive, some having mated, full of eggs. The scientists scratch their heads about this one. Possibly the ocean is too warm? Possibly—they don’t say this, but the thought comes—you know that radiation from Fukishima, still leaking, still making its way to us along with the wreckage of broken lives—could that be a cause?
My bold Finnegan, a Manx cat, brings me a snake. The snake is not very happy. Finnegan himself looks confused—what to do about the coiling, stretching creature? I thank Finnie for the gift and take the snake from him. It is still vigorous and seems unhurt. I tell the snake I’m sorry my cat grabbed it, and take it to a shady nook near my little fish tub, where it quickly disappears, I hope to safety.
If only I could do that with everything.
The world spins with accident, shock, revolt, and beauty.
A couple weeks ago I watched an expert tree climber ascend into an eagle’s nest and cradle the big eaglets in his arms, taking them to be measured and banded and then returning them to their home 95 feet in the air. He is infinitely patient and calm, talking to them in a quiet voice. They seem unflustered, and within a week or so they will fledge, fly from the nest, go out into the uncertain, beautiful world.
Today I watched a lot of cops take a protester from his perch in a wick draining crane down in Willits (the wonders of video & computers). Oddly, it reminded me of the treeclimber who tags eagles. The protestor, Will Parrish, had that sort of calm, and for once the cops seemed calm as well. Though I wonder why they needed dozens of cops for this one arrest (and the later one of Amanda “Warbler” for trespass in an area unmarked by no trespassing signs).
What are they afraid of, I wondered.
I know what I fear, and what I try to face straight on. I’m old enough to have a litany of losses and panoply of joys. I’ve seen change I could not have imagined or forecast. I’ve seen social changes I thought were set—eroded. Watching Wendy Davis live I saw in that rowdy, determined, brilliantly unruly gallery a lot of fresh young faces and some very staunch women who might have marched with me at the demonstrations of the 60’s and early 70’s. Oh, we thought then we had won the way for the generations to come. Peace and freely given (and protected) love. Barriers crashing.
We didn’t know. The story is change, nothing certain but the beauty of fierce determination.
About the wetlands protests one friend asked “well, isn’t it a done deal?” implying that a sane person would give up. But that isn’t an option, even when faced with the power of money, corruption, governmental sleaze.
It’s not an option, giving up.
Though we stand at a memorial, though we see the patterns before us, though the whales beach, though young souls take their lives, we must go on. We must keep telling the truth, offering our food or our solace, our passion, our wildness, cradling this world as the treeclimber cradled that eaglet.
Yes, it could tear our hearts out.
We do it anyway.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
the day started with the scent of rain
The day started with the scent of rain on the wind. During our morning walk Champ was alert to the change in air, pausing, sniffing, rolling in loud, abandoned glee, moaning and wriggling against the spring grass as only a pitbull can. The oxeye daisies are in bloom now, constellations of white and yellow. To Champ’s delight the ravens were flying low and coming to perch in the cedar tree, calling to us and hopping from limb to limb. Champ has ambitions. He’d like to climb trees. Sometimes he tries, but he doesn’t get all that far.
Still, our morning walk limbers both of us up, and sets my mind clear for whatever the day might bring.
And a good thing, since the day continued not all that much later with loud words and then, as I looked up, startled, from my keyboard, with a blow.
One young guy had hauled off and hit another. The injured guy flew, or stumbled, gracefully enough, down the north steps.
I was out the door in a flash with my “this is a safe zone, hitting is not okay” speech. The guy continued with some loud accusations and a lot of “he needs to go back where he came from” ranting, and walked across the road. There he was met by another guy, tall, with a sweet wide eyed puppy in tow. The puppy’s guy started yelling about how uncool it was to hit my young friend.
Oh, I’ve seen a lot of discussions like this. There’s lots of walking back and forth. Lots of “fuck you!”. Lots and lots of drama.
A friend joined me on the porch for a bit, as I watched and listened. The energy was still pretty rough, so I decided to cross the street myself.
As I waited for a opening in the stream of cars a local businessman drove by, rolled down his window, yelled out “get out of my town”. Okay, then…
And my third young friend, the one with the pretty puppy, was throwing his hands in the air, crying out “I give up! I just give up on all this rainbow stuff . Everyone is nothing but selfish!”
Well, I made it across. Introduced myself to the hitter. “I know you, Kathy” he said, but he offered to spell his name in case I needed to call the cops, who knew him pretty well, he said ruefully.
I assured him I wasn’t calling anyone.
He told me he’d been called a dirty traveling kid the other day. Him! He grew up here! And someone said bad things to his girl (she was waiting patiently in the dusty car, with her dog). He told me he just wanted all the kids to go home, to leave the town. All those others.
Meanwhile the slender punched out kid joined us, assured by the puppy’s guy that no more hitting was gonna go down.
In fact they all eagerly assured me no more hitting was happening. I told them I was glad of that, and I suggested, maybe, soft yelling if people had to be yelling. Just for the calm of it. They laughed.
So we had a discussion, there on the street with the promise of rain.
We talked about drugs and about bigotry. We talked about respect, tagging, the death of a much loved 16 year old gir. We talked of knives, fights, struggles, hurts.
Everyone apologized for bringing the struggle to my peaceful porch.
The kid with the bruised cheek decided he’d spend the rest of the day cleaning off the tags written on a few walls.
The kid who hit him thought that was cool.
The dude with the puppy checked for consensus, and the friend I’d spoken with on the porch crossed the road bearing a gardenia flower “for the peacemaker”. Thanks, David.
I told them they were leaders, I could tell. But what about all the kids arriving, coming to town, taking advantage? Asked the angry young man who’d started this all.
You are a leader, I told him again. And I believe we can cope with anything if we meet it with strength and kindness. And being together is much better than fighting one another.
He said “I have to start here, with me, with myself”. I smiled.
Later that afternoon I saw him downtown, laughing with some newcomer kids and a friend I recognized from last summer. “Having a better afternoon?” I asked him.
Yeah, yeah he was.