The last day. 2011 is whittling away, hour by hour. Last night, there were fog horns. This morning, sirens and sun, more sun than has been around in the last few weeks, so much sun that I can smell spring, feel summer rising before the New Year even arrives.
This is that time of year when we all resolve to live joyously and peaceably, and I so resolve. I list my resolutions, noting well the first that pop to mind. I shall do no harm to myself or others. I will walk daily to discover beauty, taste grace. I will write daily, read daily. I vow to eliminate sugar from my diet (is that even possible?), eat vegetables locally grown, rice and millet, only eat soy if it has been fermented. I will laugh more.
I leave my house before 9am, hoping to find flowers happy in the new sun, and I am not disappointed. I expect to find only tiny flowers, nestled in strong waxy green leaves, thus protected from cold winds and icy night fogs, and I do. Small cheerful laurel flowers make me smile, but it's the flush of thousands of pink white bloom blanketing the ordinarily sedate jade plants that makes me laugh out loud. There is perhaps nothing more delicate, more hopeful, more joyful and ironically perhaps more robust than a jade plant blooming wildly in the dead of winter. It's a plant ready to dance.
I can imagine this great rounded bush, tossing its red-edged skirts of leaves, smoothing out the lace frock of flowers and calling out to seabirds Dance, dance dance! The great egrets I think would oblige.
Arriving home, I see that my Iceland poppy, stalled in bud stage for weeks, has sprung suddenly into spectacular bloom. I sit for a while on the steps, basking in the sun, thinking of nothing in particular, enjoying the flicker of sun as it settles into crumpled paper-like petals of the poppy, so exuberant, so brilliantly almost-fire-red. I hope the second bud unfolds tomorrow before noon; it's wonderful to have the sun so early and so close to the ground.
I think again how magnificent it is to live in a place where winter is so fragile that one morning of glorious sunshine can banish winter's sober mood, distill a damp grey morning to a fine aromatic liquor so lustrous that even the sharpest wind smiles and breathes. I am grateful for that.
If I glance to my right, I see my struggling rose, still damp with yesterday's rain and last night's fog, has also decided to bloom. A pale and perfect New Year bloom. If the poppy is the sun, this rose is my moon.
How pleasant to have day and night at my elbows.
How joyous to watch as seasons refuse the crisp divisions we humans have afforded them, instead join hands like cautious lovers, glancing shyly at one another. Spring poppies, summer roses, bare winter branches, happily at home with one another. There are even still the red leaves of autumn, made even more brilliant by empty spaces left between. Where once was green, now bare branches scratch up against blue sky. Winter cannot overcome the fall; spring is always pushing through and summer is never far behind. Our California seasons are a symphony.
Happy New Year.
May the coming year be alive with marvels, wonder, joy, and peace.
This entry was written some time ago (about a week has passed) but never posted. Sorry.
For the past week, we have been experiencing an atmospheric inversion over the Bay that settles smoke and grunge close to the earth, obscuring the horizon and making breathing more difficult.
The American Coot is common in the Bay Area during the fall and winter season
And so, I watch the birds, grateful for their resilience. If we humans complain about the increasingly foul air, the birds seem completely unconcerned. I love to watch them, and more than watch, I love to listen to their honks and trills. While geese honk overhead, hundreds of Least Sandpipers run in great drifting c0mmas up and down the shore, tinseling the air with their chorus of tiny peepings and pipings, sounding more like baby chicks than the full-grown birds they are. And then there are the great flocks of coots, grazing on the grassy stretches near Crab Cove, relatively silent and so uninterested in flight or water, they seem more like herds of placid fairy cows than birds.
preparing to fly
They race about on their strange coral like feet, drifting this way and that, unconcerned with the more vociferous and ever present gulls that come sliding down to land on rocks, on sand but rarely on the great lawns so preferred by the American Coots.
Many of the shorebirds seem compacted as they float about on these colder darker oh-so-grey days of mid-winter. Wings clasped closely, necks tucked low, they bob on cold waters with an enviable patience that I feel as strongly as I do the escaping sun, and I value that patience, breathe it, taste it, hold it deeply inside my lungs. I am ever grateful toe the birds for buoying my spirit, reminding me of the coming of the light, the coming soon of spring.
The great egrets are no longer as common along the shore as they were some weeks ago. I think they have perhaps flown further south, down the coast to zones where nights are warmer, days just a tad longer than here where the dark thins by 7:30am and returns before 6.
There are times when mallards, flying in groups of three, land on the water simultaneously. The water rattles, sounding almost like a stuttering bell, and laced silver trails open behind the birds as they slice into water. I love both the sound and the sight.
Watching ducks, herons, egrets, gulls, sandpipers,lifting from the ground, resting on air, bobbing on waves, I am happy, once again connected to my beloved sea, stretching out beyond the mouth of the Bay, miles away but the birds can take me there.
The violence of city streets disappears. The dark of winter is washed with the light of wings. I cannot fly; I am not a bird, but I am inside the wind. I can taste it.
Last evening, I was in San Francisco, helping out at a Christmas performance at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and wandered briefly amongst buildings lit against the darkest days of the year and thought happily of the coming of the light. December is a difficult month for me. The increasing dark drains me; the shopping frenzy alarms me. Sometimes I just hibernate.
Last night, I left Oakland just as the sun was setting and arrived in San Francisco minutes later in the deep dark. Boarding the train, I was unable to find a seat and stood near the door next to two taciturn police officers, one of whom nervously checked his watch. Two more stood at the far door of the car. I suppose their presence on the train was supposed to reassure shoppers bound for Market Street, but I was not soothed by the sight of unsmiling men in uniform with guns and tasers strapped to their waists. For a moment, I felt as if I could not breathe.
Exiting the train, I felt so disoriented, so anxious for fresh air, I turned and walked away from my destination and very nearly bumped into a trailer parked on Market St to serve as temporary police station, also meant, I'm sure, to be reassuring but for me unsettling. I find it disturbing there needs to be such a visible and determined police presence. It is, I suppose, indicative of a creeping dis-ease within our society -- both an admission of the increasingly wide gulf between those who have the resources to shop at Nordstrom's or Macy's and a sign of the rising fear that those who don't have will attack those who do have because they, too, want to have. All this emphasis on consumerism has sickened our society. I think of what Ericka Huggins said recently, and I quote loosely, We need to remember we are citizens not consumers. As citizens we care about community and each other; we can open our hearts and be generous. As consumers, we give in to desire and greed.
As shoppers passed by, jovially jostling one another, I looked upward to the sky made blacker deeper darker by the wonderful lights painting with bold strokes color onto the buildings below. I felt grateful for the gift of the light. It was enough to breathe that color, a more delicate and succulent food than any buttery pastry, any savory tart and far more valuable than a diamond encrusted watch.
I am not an angel, and as it turns out, I'm far too solitary to be an effective social activist, but I do what I can. I don't shop; I don't steal. I approach my world honestly and with open eyes. I have given up thinking my ship will "arrive"; I am content to let it sail, and if it wrecks on some rocky barren shore, ends as rooted to the earth as this one is, that's okay. If I am marooned, I can walk through my world, acting, I hope, with compassion, grace, and kindness. On this night, there is enough light to fill my heart. Tomorrow, the sun creeps back.
San Francisco snow: light
It will take longer for the return of leaves , but on this night trees are washed with ice blue light and the tiled ground below swept to green with flood lights that transform the dark. We have our nighttime sun above, a glowing orange-lit window dancing with its rays of darker red, but soon soon the noonday sun will grow warmer and brighter and fuller as the season turns. There will be blooming hillsides soon enough.
For now, we must content ourselves with flowers of light, bursting into bloom on pine boughs, barren branches, and sometimes on street cars. This passing bus was peculiarly empty of passengers but nonetheless smiling and cheerful as it laughed its way down the street, avoiding any turmoil.
A patient being.
riding with the light
But not all vehicles festooned with lights are cheerful reminders of a season of giving. Just before leaving Oakland, vehicles with flashing lights, non-celebratory lights, parked quietly in front of my house. A man who had been volunteering for WSWA on the corner suffered a seizure, and emergency personnel arrived promptly, which was great, but what followed was not as wonderful
not the kind of flashing red lights we want to see
The neighborhood thugs reared up, acting with a grim meanness that was both cruel and unnecessary.
As the firemen put away their life-saving tools and as the paramedics removed the man to the waiting ambulance, kids in cars decided to assert their authority, confronting the emergency workers by careening at high speeds in the near-by intersection, leaving circular tracks of burned rubber on the pavement.
Thick black smoke engulfed the fire truck and covered the emergency personnel as they quickened their pace, trying to hoist the man into the ambulance before his troubles were made worse by the toxic smoke. That heavy oily smoke lingered for many minutes, settling on trees and flowers, smearing windows and seeping into lungs. Eventually it blew away, but the toxicity of the insensitivity and inherent cruelty demonstrated by these 'doughnutters' cannot be as easily dissipated. They meant the mark left on the street – black circles seared into the pavement created as emergency lights flashed – as a challenge to authority but instead it served us all as a reminder of the loss of heart that is more and more evident in our daily lives. It was an act of violence not of innocence, violence directed not towards individuals but toward the community, their own community. That these kids would choose to pollute the air at a time of great need, when a life hung so precariously in the balance, is both pathetic, shocking, and profoundly sad.
we find our futures by walking through light
I hope for the end to this senseless violence. I await the return of the light.
Sometimes for some words have little meaning. Especially, if squirrels are present.
Leashed and sedate, this pup is less of threat than are the resident geese
Huck Finn, please write. A new encampment has set sail on Lake Merritt.
Some very inventive Occupiers have used discarded plastic barrels as the necessary floats for a quite spacious and gracious raft that has been further decked out with a roof and mosquito net curtains.
Occupy: Oakland has morphed into Aqua-py the heart waters of the mind.
I must say when I first saw this raft, I smiled and imagined how peaceful it must be to be out there on the water, just floating about, watching the ducks dive and dip.
I love the courageous simplicity of this raft, its freedom, how it rests so easily against the soaring wings of the Cathedral of Light. If the Cathedral is meant to provide access to the skies above, this home-made raft allows us to remain firmly attached to the world of fishes and wishes, the streaming of dreams. Yesterday, when I first saw the raft, I yearned to return after dark, see if it would be flickering with lanterns. I was unable to, but today I came back and found to my delight that the raft was spawning. Tiny little floating tents were setting sail off its prow. One had floated nearly across the lake.
Like thoughts released, these tiny baby tents will follow the tides. I'm sure they will bump against some far shore, and someone will find them. . . just as one who walks the shores of human culture finds bits and pieces of thoughts and dreams washed up by waves of dreaming, storms of disagreements, seas of disappointment. Set sail, set sail, and aqua-pie.
How very delicious.
After the high hot winds steal the fog, I wake again with a bloody nose, this time more robust. When a nose bleeds, it bleeds fury. Every Angel is terrifying.
Rilke wrote his Duino elegies so that he might illuminate the space between humans and angels, understand their differences. He believed, as I do, that human beings are alive so that they might experience the beauty of ordinary things, something Neruda also knew as truth, something I feel in my bones. I don’t think we humans are meant to be fierce warriors, engaging in the violent exercise of power. I believe in the strength of peace rather than the power of war. I don’t think we should act like dragons, roaring fire and dragging the glittering jewels we can find into our separate caves so we can sit atop them, hoping, I suppose, that all that glitter will hatch more gleam.
But what to do? Those who refuse to engage with the brutality so celebrated in our warrior society, who prefer to walk in nature, breathing gardens and dreamings, are cast aside as weaklings, described as unwilling to confront the evil, unveil the ugliness, but there is so much ugliness in our world that if we spend our time describing it, we only shore it up, make it more visible, even more acceptable. I can’t believe we should make art that focuses primarily on ugliness. I don't want to go on and on, bristling about remorseless pain and convulsive activities meant to display power or ensure control. Perhaps the only real power or control we can ever have comes to us through an awareness and assimilation of beauty.
A brush of sunlight on an otherwise drab industrial wall, a bit of trash hovering about filthy streets on the updraft of a gusty winter wind. Beauty. A blue crease in aging flesh, almost a memory of infancy. Beauty. A bird chirping on a street awash in traffic noise. Beauty. A poppy unfolding is often more beautiful than one with all petals smoothed to the sun. A bare winter twig with a single dried leaf is as beautiful as one with swelling buds. A lone rock on a green field. Beauty. A child asleep with open hands. Beauty. A hubcap tacked next to an open door, its center painted red. Beauty.
If we understand beauty as that invisible yet shimmering border between the expected and the unexpected, we know that border is fragile, easily missed or broken and if the awareness of those edges, the space between, is 'power,' it is the the power of grace, the letting go, knowing that seeing is not having; feeling has nothing to do with possession. Grace is grace precisely because it evaporates. The spark caused by any sudden unexpected clash of difference burns brightly, illuminating the life, and then is absorbed into the void.
I went out this morning in search of December trees. Autumn is an extended season here in the bay area. By early December trees are still fully garbed in red and gold. I found some bright red trees just beginning to lose their leaves, but what I didn't expect to find and did were angels.
Angels guarding graves. Stone angels. Marble angels. Angels with one arm up, the other down. Angels holding roses, books, garlands of flowers and fruit. Angels with aprons overflowing with stone flowers or trailing grape vines. Angels dressed in free-flowing robes, and angels with bare chests and muscled legs. Angels looking downward while gesturing toward blue skies. Angels stepping out.
On our way from the Post Office, somehow Mr. E and I ended up walking across the lush lawns and rolling hills of St.Mary's cemetery off Pleasant Valley Road just north of Piedmont. This is an older cemetery -- many buried here were born in the 19th century, some here in CA, many in Ireland -- and quiet. We were alone, my little dog and I, wandering about the graves. Mr. E sniffed about hoping to find a ball or a stick; I walked carefully, offering respect to those who lie beneath the grass, protected by these carefully carved angels, barefoot on stone, too heavy to fly but lifted above the grass and mud below.
I'm a creature of the sea -- more a fan of mermaids than angels -- but I love that humans imagine otherworldly creatures looking much like themselves but with great wings that can carry them above clouds, past stars and out into the deep vastness of space past asteroids and cold dead planets so unlike our verdant breathing laughing paradise.
What do these angels have to say to the universe? Do they whisper color, breathe out butterflies and hummingbirds, scatter autumn leaves across the Milky Way? Or when they fly do they leave trails of memories, great piles of jumbled words in their wake?
I like to imagine all those years of void between the earth and Jupiter as not gaspingly empty after all but delicately constructed of zillions of small memories snipped from billions of lives that are no longer remembered here on earth. Stretched between this moon and that asteroid would be the smooth feel of an apple picked green from a tree long gone wild attached to the surprise of grapes squeezed from their skin and then spot glued to the bright green of new grass on a raw patch of land in some 19th century industrial zone, which might in turn link tenuously to a baby's first cry or a hand waving good-by diffused in the scent of baking bread or the aroma of burning plastic. No one would think such attachments strange. After all, every little bit, every scrap, every dust bunny is necessary when constructing an infinite void of muchness.
If these angels were to leave their perches and fly from earth into the void, it is lovely to imagine them pushing memory before them with every beat of their wings and dragging behind them long diaphanous trails of scents and sounds, all that has been felt or heard or seen in a lifetime, expanding and even creating the universe as they fly.
Why not imagine our universe as a 'muchness' rather than a 'nothingness', the vastness of space thick with the language of life . . . all of life, its agonies, its simple boredom, and its beauties.
Maybe I'm just recalling the end of Tony Kushner's Angels in America when Harper, the straight wife of a gay man, leans her head against a plane window, and speaking as much to herself as to anyone, says:
When we hit 35,000 feet we’ll have reached the tropopause, the great belt of calm air, as close as I’ll ever get to the ozone. I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening. But I saw something that only I could see because of my astonishing ability to see such things: Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them and was repaired. Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.
The net of Indra, the flight of angels, the Rapture. All imagined events designed to organize the chaos of the human world, describe as real the painful progress of a building expanding universe, dreaming ahead and leaving nothing behind. The trees switch from green to red to black; the sky bleeds through, and those of us below keep walking, endlessly walking.
December tree in Oakland