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What is your gift today?
From the Journal | February 9, 2023
For those new to this e-community, I periodically offer my readers & clients snippets from my daily writing (tidied up a bit ;-).
January 20, 2023 | Friday
Shaking, the house is a rattle. I wake to my mouth speaking on its own, “earthquake, again.” Brief, mild, then still, peaceful.
Eyes filter darkness looking for light. Lifting a clock, 12:01.
“Are you okay?” I whisper to my husband, realizing that between sleeping and hearing loss, he’s oblivious to me and how our house has become an instrument the earth keeps wanting to play.
Sitting up, listening, my face and shoulders cold, I go looking for the cats. Tabby boy is puffed out, ears spread wide, bravely holding his ground on the loveseat. Torti girl is under the daybed, parked, her eyes flash as if flaming portals.
Purring rumbles out of her cave. Humming out of me, then song, “I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky come tumbling, tumbling down.” I’m swaying, softly stepping, my feet in leopard slippers, shuffling and patting the wood floor.
What am I, if not more earth energy? What is dance, if not the antidote to worry?
Early evening, another energy. The heart is an electrical engine. The one tucked within my husband, slowly running down.
I see him start to tap just above his sternum, a practice that came to me, reflexively, after his first heart attack, when it was my fingertips frantic to do something. Now, his fingers get to work—knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock.
Caught in a fist of pain, he tosses back his head, saying, “I sound like a drum.” We both laugh for a moment.
What is laughter, if not the antidote to fear?
Someone wrote me recently asking what it’s like, a heart attack. “I don’t know,” I answered, “I haven’t had one. But. I know what it’s like to be alone in a shared space for hours, my heart speaking to another’s in trouble: love you, love you, love you.”
If you listen to the rhythm of your own heart, that’s what it’s alway saying.
January 27, 2023 | Friday
What thief takes a tiny wild lily? Fetid Adder’s Tongue—such an ominous name for a native forest flower that’s elegant and obscure, though not threatened, at least for now.
I crouch down to take a photo of the delicate, intricate blossoms. They’re the size of a thumbnail, with burgundy stripes and fancy, curly tongues that are actually the petals. Several days ago the first spears appeared of what would become oblong, purple-splotched leaves. Tough, they pierced the wet-dark winter decay. The next morning, the first bud beginning to break open.
“Quite a magic trick,” I whisper, leaning down, as if in some prayerful prostration, to sniff my botanical friends. “Shall I call you the why-wait flower? No, better, the bloom-now lily.”
Musty, but no legendary rotting-flesh aroma. Hmmm, a strange disappointment. The fetid scent must be only for the ants who will come much later to tote away the seeds, eating the fleshy part that’s sweet with fat and protein.
See, we all somehow nurture others. Remember that.
When I first ‘relocated’ the original specimen in May 2009, it arose from the deadness of rusty redwood needles and old slug slime the following mid-February. Each year it’s returned to me earlier and earlier. Some years I missed the flowering entirely, finding only the splayed open, mottled leaves and thread-like, headless stems, technically called pedicals.
It doesn’t say this in any book, but the proper name for what you see when you look into a flower is face.
Right now all I want to do is sit in damp earth stuff with this petite, lily village, smiling into the faces. Hello, hello, hello.
January 28, 2023 | Saturday
The wind-violent storms that began this year are still here, yes, still, a stillness in the shape of scattered tree debris. So many torn off limbs and mounds of muck all around the house.
Tending to the mess seems part holy, loving what the earth has created and desecrated. Also wholly good exercise for a body soon to finish another orbit around the sun.
Every so often, I pause to look through the window to my husband in his favorite chair. Okay, he’s okay. Since the last significant cardiac adventure, the same day of our last earthquake, he’s been having his own daily aftershocks.
Outer world and inner world frequently sync. Now, both are calm.
Three hours into clearing and hauling, my back is sticky warm, and that well-used, double-jointed thumb on my right hand is achy and swollen. As I fill the wheelbarrow with raked-up branches and twigs, cones and limp leaves, mosses and lichens that used to live up high in redwood crowns, the garden that is our front yard emerges again.
Surprise, already spring green under the wind rubbish. Funny, but in my head, I’m singing, “What’s growing on, Hey, What’s growing on, Tell me what’s growing on. Ya, what’s growing on.” Thank you, Marvin Gaye, you are still going on.
Squatting to pick up redwood feathers out of stones on a path, suddenly, movement. Something wet and shimmery. A salamander!
Every day offers a gift. I offer my gloved hand, and Salamander climbs on. She lets me admire her shiny-sleek physique, her permeable skin soaking in my happy, quickened breath.
She’s patient, showing me her big, dark salamander eyes as I memorize her, then capture her in a photo. I say her, though I’m not looking for her cloaca, her breeding anatomy. She just seems a she, and certainly not an it.
Not wanting to stress her by being too long in the gentle grip of a giant, I settle her down in moss at pond’s edge. As her last translucent toe lets go of my glove, she cranes her head up to look at me.
What am I to her? Monster, mirage, just some outlandish other?
Thank you, I hear, as a vague, thought-voice. Is that hers or mine?
Glancing up and over the pond, I count 11 gelatinous masses floating just beneath the surface—a combination of salamander and red-legged frog egg sacs.
The shimmering, dotted blobs are how the world says, “Good news, life goes on.”
February 2, 2023 | Thursday (US Groundhog’s Day)
Tabby boy is standing on my fleece-covered clavicle, kneading me, which I interpret as, needing me. “My day,” I whisper to him.
Silently I practice the Thich Nhat Hahn poem that begins every day. Waking up, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look with eyes of compassion upon all beings.
Both cats begin prancing and scuffling below the bed. They want their compassion in the form of food.
Stretching each arm toward ceiling-darkness, I capture palms full of ever-swirling dust and dim, particle-waves of light.
Walking into the kitchen to mews and prrrrts, scooping some brothy food into dishes, I tell the them, “Did you know we could be breathing saber-toothed tigers and the feather-tips of extinct birds, pieces of moon and mountain peaks, a smoky Frank Sinatra song, this very air holding some bit of Christ’s or the Buddha’s breath?”
When I put the bowls on the floor, there’s voracious slurping and lapping, though otherwise, they’re unimpressed.
“It’s true,” I offer, “I know you can’t read, so trust me on this.”
Torti-girl looks up with that hey-the-human’s-making-sounds-again look, the only cat I’ve ever adored with pure black whiskers. “Mewp!” she replies, trotting over to the other bowl to see if her brother’s left any morsel.
Stepping out onto the deck, I’m joined by tea under gauzy stars. Still dark, with a hint of dawn, steam rises up out of my cup, merging into the thin morning mist. Is there any better metaphor for the spirit, especially when it’s done with the body?
Reinhabiting the moment, I come back to my senses.
Spicy scent, tannic taste, that swallowing sound, touching the cup my mother once held in hands that exist only in memory and buried ash. “Well, I know what you were doing, Mama, all those years ago today. Ouch, sorry that hurt.”
Today, though, groundhogs are my clan—marmots, my people. Groundhogs are marmots, which comes from the French meaning, mountain mouse. They’re often considered pesky rats, or worse, varmints or vectors. Animal-family-wise, they’re more like big, pudgy squirrels.
What might a marmot do on her birthday?
When the sun comes, there’ll be a visit to the cluster of Adder’s Tongues, counting blossoms, and wondering under what wet rotting leaf Salamander is nestled. Then writing, writing, writing, breakfast-making for my owlman, a bit of downward dog and deep breathing, maybe a book in the mix, waiting for ravens and Anna’s hummingbirds and the trio of deer nosing the ground for grain, opening cards from people who know me and love me anyway, followed by dinner with dear friends and a big, elder poodle with dreadlocks.
Doesn’t take much to make a marmot happy.
February 3, 2023 | Friday
Nearly 3:30 am. Last night, the shadow of the groundhog came as whole-body pain tunneling my husband until a little while ago.
Sleeping now, fitful but welcome. Breath makes his ribs heave and relax, heavy then slow. Our tabby dozes, pressed into my leg, his stripey chest flexing and falling in its fast, feline way.
Be with this, says the thought-voice. Paying attention is how silence opens into a room pulsing with beings still in the process of being.
It’s easy to think birthdays are about getting gifts, receiving. Witnessing a beloved other struggle and writhe is never the gift you want. Being present with that someone, offering your presence, however imperfect, that is the gift, isn’t it?
Forget getting, receiving. You come into this world to give something only you can give. No, this isn’t fluff nor naive, and yes, I say this often, to anyone who will listen.
The gift on your birthday is you, and each breath as it enters you, makes that moment another birthday.
Think about that. Nearly 700,000,000 breaths in the average lifetime. A lot of opportunity, my snarky mind quips to itself, to be more a gift than a jerk.
Terribly tired and too awake. Might as well savor how good it is to be a mountain mouse, living among the bloom-now lilies.