Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Days of the Red Winged Blackbirds

Sometimes, particularly when I am writing letters or working on columns, I find I am waiting for the significant moment, the definitive event, the special observation. And I let the ordinary days, those precious times, pass unnoted.
This post may be ordinary.

Yes, I've been busy. My days are complicated and my duties seem many. Let's see--a health fair, at which many bike helmets were given away . Oh, yes, blood pressure checks were done, and people got earnest information on all sorts of chronic diseases, but I was there with a couple fellow board members and our pile of bike helmets to give away--red ones, with flame markings; blue ones with flames; blue shiny ones with no flames; silver and black ones; and tiny ones patterned with flowers on hot pink. Four sizes. We've figured that if the youngsters who zip about the rugged tree lined streets and lots on their rusted bikes had helmets it might...just might...help the morale of our emergency room staff who hate to have little children with head injuries come in.

Yeah, I know. In many places of the world bike helmets wouldn't save the children. But here--well, we do what we can.

So I was fitting the helmets on the little heads, and getting the colors right, though it might mean dashing back to the storage room at the clinic to find the shiny blue one in medium, and having a great time of it. And the little girls had hula hoops. These circles of plastic were a fad in the 1950's, when I was growing up. I was, let me tell you, an excellent hulahooper, able to spin the hoop round and round my midsection by the hour, out on the summer lawns, laughing.

The girls were great at it. "Hey, come try!" they called, and of course I did.

I wasn't good at all, but I kept trying. "Maybe you need a bigger hoop" "Try like this". It was quite the project.

The media was present to take photos of the somber and responsible board members of the clinic as we did somber and responsible things. I was...over on the sidelines with my hula hoop and a bunch of little girls and a couple little boys who were also amused, and cheering me on.

I wish I could say I got it; my Queen of Hooping status restored miraculously. But I didn't, and I must say the media folks looked....oh, they looked so serious. It made me laugh more.

I realized, after an afternoon of helmet fitting and hooping and laughing that I may not have quite enough silliness in my life. I shall try to change that.

And the other night, as my youngest child and I sat in our battered car, waiting for his papa to bring the last things from the cabin, where we are still working on repairing bear damage, and I turned the car light on, Gabe started making shadow pictures.

Well, there was little else to do at the moment, and shadow pictures are always fun. Made me remember when my brothers and I were very small, and we'd stay up late at night. I had a contraband flashlight and would make bunnies and alligators and sometimes odd people and we'd tell long, fantastic, shadowy stories. I was perhaps 9 then, maybe younger.

I watched Gabe's shadows. They were very ornate; he made goblin faces and pumpkin shapes I wouldn't have thought of, and butterflies. I was thinking, happily, that this is evidence of his connection with cause and effect, that he can think out the shape, the light, the shadow, the story. He's so bright, I thought fondly, watching a particularly nice goblin take form.

And then, as so often happens in my life with my youngest child, I remembered he will be 18 in the spring, this pretty child who was so enraptured by the shadows his fingers cast. I remembered that most of the people outside the family do not understand a word he says. I recalled that just a few days ago, as I said something about some number--I no longer recall just what--and he looked up and said "what dat?" and I said..seven, you know, like seven things. You know, as we count things, one, two, three. He looked at me and snorted "people say dat, but fake" . Not fake, Gabriel, I said, we count things with numbers, look, here are two apples, and now three, and we'd write them like this: 2, 3. "Too silly" he said, and went back to looking at the pictures of muscles in the anatomy book he likes.

But you know, I was still very pleased with his magical shadows. It's complicated, having a so called "special needs child". I am constantly astonished by the gifts, and tripped up by the fears and challenges.

I suspect there are all kinds of intelligence.

And I was thinking about this during one of my Women in Black vigils, as I watched the setting sun glow through the red and yellow leaves of the liquidamber tree, and the usual flocks of blackbirds seeded the sky, wheeled, perched on the church across the street, flew to the redwood trees, turned...and flashed, suddenly, from the blackness, the bits of scarlet. Yes, a group of redwings had flocked with my usual somber Birds in Black, and were flashing their bright, surprising shoulder patches with every swoop and turn.

I laughed aloud. That's really all I need to keep my heart well sustained--a flash of beauty, something unexpected, a little brightness in the dark.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Angels and Fire

First the bear, then the fire.

It's been a very interesting end of summer and early autumn. Now the rosehips are red, and the maple leaves are turning chrome yellow. The smoke has settled down, the fires over the ridge have pretty much come under control, and for the moment, all is well.

When you live at the edge of some of the last great forests of the world, fire is a respected familiar. When I first moved here there was a huge fire towards the coast, sweeping down the hillsides to where the sea otters play and the bears go in the late winter. That fire came to a stop just above one of the small settlements. I recall talking to one of the old settlers. "Got to figure you're gonna be burnt out at least once around here, " he said. "If the fire scares you, if you can't take the floods, then you ain't got no business living round here."

Of course, I keep hoping I will escape the flames.

We've had close calls before. When my youngest was a baby fire started at the top of the hill, just a few acres away. We gathered what we thought totally precious: the children, the dogs, the cats, and..a couple of my journals, a folder full of photographs, my poetry, my favorite pen..and started the trek down the hill, with the airplanes buzzing above, and the waterbombs falling.

A much more benign sort of bombing than many of my friends through the world experience.

That fire stopped short of our woods. And the latest one, which began across the river from the house of one of my solitary, monkish friends who watches the young falcons in the cliffside sanctuary, whose little home is a small jewel along the waterside--that one came within a couple miles.

I had not realized it was quite so close, though the ashes were falling and the air was hard to breathe, until one of the volunteer firecrew showed me the map. "Here's your place" he said, pointing, and I agreed. "And here is the fireline".

I stared at him.

"Well, it was a ridge away still."

The falcons are okay, and none of the houses were burnt. It was odd to hear the official reports though "Uninhabited area, pure forest land, old growth trees, no structures to worry about".
Another very outspoken friend went to the guys who'd been flown in from all over the state and drew pictures on their maps: here, here, here, here: homesteads. People. Dogs, cats, chickens. A few horses, some donkeys.

And probably the bear, wandering about wondering why the forest was blazing.

Makes me think a lot about perspective. If you glance at the hills and mountains as you pass through my region, you would never see houses. You might think it all national forest, all untroubled save for..well, a handful of happy bears, perhaps.

What we see on the surface is not all there is. The clued in traveller may see the wisp of smoke rising from a cabin in early morning. Maybe a shimmer of light by evening.

Kind of makes me wonder what I overlook, what I am not seeing.

The other day a woman came in looking for books on angels. Well, not an uncommon request, and we had a stack, ranging from theological discourse to pretty little sentimental books with bad poetry and Victorian pictures in them. She told me she'd just been out in the mountains and had come across seven angels, and needed, therefore, to know a little more.

"I have photographs" she said, pulling out one of those fascinating tiny cameras that seem to be all the rage these days.

Paul looked first, murmured something, "oh, yes, wow". She pointed out Raphael. Oh, and that might be Jesus himself, though of course he's not an angel...

She showed me the pictures too. I guess it's all in the eyes of the beholder: I saw a green forest with some white glowing shapes; could be the glare of the setting sun, filtered through the trees. To my eyes they were undifferentiated blobs, but who is to say that's not how angels appear?
I thought they were sunglare, myself, but thanked her for sharing.

"Now, what do you suppose I'm supposed to do?" she asked earnestly. "There must be some reason 7 angels came to me on the mountainside."

She's going to tell me when she figures it all out. And well, why not angels? Though for me, sunlight is pretty much a miracle as well, and fires that don't come visit us too closely.