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Who are your wild dogs?
From the Journal | February 28, 2023
For those new to this e-community, I periodically offer my readers & clients snippets from my daily writing (tidied up a bit ;-).
February 20, 2023 | Monday
I talk my husband into trying a ride, just the few miles to our ocean, a scenic lookout where the Mad River’s mouth empties into the Pacific and the Pacific purls its way up at high tide.
Memories are a tether, tying us together into this life.
Looking at his grey-whiskered cheek, I ask, “Remember the Burrowing owl that used to spend the spring here among huge piles of driftwood?” He’s looking through his binoculars, scanning for Harbor seals.
“Oh, and remember that rare Brown shrike, an Asian native, how people from as far away as Germany came here to see it?” As he lowers his binoculars, letting them hang around his neck, a nod.
“You showed him to me,” I say. “Walking the shifting sands, to that place where there used to be ponds before the river’s mouth moved this far north, we saw it, together.”
The wind gusty, I take his hand in mine. We watch waves, without words. Soon it’s too hard for his legs, his body, to stand in the cold. We must go.
Driving back home, he’s looking out the window. Long retired, he’ll always be a wildlife biologist.
I want to ask, Are they lonely, the birds blown off course—being the only one of your kind, making a life out of strange insects, flock-less, mate-less, an unfamiliar air sifting your wings?
But, I don’t. I know the answer.
February 21, 2023 | Tuesday
Coyote opens her mouth, her whole body
an instrument. Five barks,
A howl. No response.
She howls again, voice quivering
through trees and time.
It’s how her life speaks
to her, that voice coming home
to her waiting ears,
you are here.
February 22, 2023 | Wednesday
Watching a program about the Wild dogs of Africa, I’m back in Botswana.
Splashy-mottled fur, lean and loping bodies, big-round-bearish ears, the pack of endangered Wild dogs I’d dreamed of meeting, stop running. Turning back their doggy faces, with that one black stripe down each forehead, they are looking, taking in sound and scent.
Just as I wonder if they can recognize me as an individual rather than part and parcel of the dusty 4 x 4, one pair of shiny brown eyes, dark-amber pebbles, lock on my blue ones. Namaste, I mouth to her, a mother.
Curious, we peer into each other, then both look away. The moment’s not meant to be a challenge.
A Wild dog expert on the program brings me back into the present moment.
“Wild dogs grieve,” he says, explaining why Wild dogs injured or shot by local farmers die during rehabilitation that is otherwise going well. If treated as solo patients, “they die of a broken heart.”
“To heal, a Wild dog needs other Wild dogs.”
All night the Wild dogs gallop through my sleep. For awhile, I have paws, and mother-dog lets me go with them.
February 23, 2023 | Thursday
Surprise, I’m being softly pummeled by falling stars. Streak after streak of white in the beam of my flashlight.
No, it’s snow, day two of this rare weather phenomenon on California’s far North Coast.
The ground where I just planted spring bulbs, then replanted them because the local raccoons are either curious or contrarian, is now a petite Swiss village, fluffy flakes layered into lumpy hills and mountains, one daffodil leaf poking up, a steeple.
Daylight coming earlier now—thank you!—all I want to do is sit in a window watching white flecks tumble from above, silver sky sifting cold, the long limbs of redwoods weighed down in white sleeves, their green tips fidgeting as if fingers wanting a warm pocket.
Good to have such simple desires, because now the power is out. Stepping outside, crouching close to ground, I listen for the sound of white touching down on white.
I must need deer ears. I hear nothing but my own breathing, then the neighbors’ generators, which I pretend are bears humming, otherwise the silence would seem so destroyed.
As morning stretches into early afternoon, the air is a rosy-cheeked 38. Heading to the wood shed, a heavy rain drenches my hair. Looking around, it’s only raining on me. Ah, I’m under a redwood, thawing, a melting storm.
Splitting wood, bringing sledge hammer to log balanced on a blade, there’s an unexpected thrill with each quick, clean break. The wood-splitting gods are being kind today. Then kindling-making, seeing how slender I can go, part personal challenge, part connecting with the essence of each piece, as if a negotiation, no, a collaboration, two artists creating one moment, together.
I think of Gary Snyder’s poem, Axe Handles, written to his son, and quoting poet Ezra Pound, “When making an axe handle, the pattern is not far off.” Literal, then metaphor. The father is the pattern the son follows, generation by generation, the “craft of culture,” goes the poem, “How we go on.”
I have no child, so who can be shaped by me? No axe nor axe handle, just the weight of wood and words that, once used, somehow go on in their own way.
February 24, 2023 | Friday
Cat-happiness: An emotion, still unrecognized by psychologists (or even famed emotion-researcher Brené Brown), experienced by someone who lives in the close company of housecats.
It happens when … you’re practicing Adho Mukha Shvanasana, the downward-dog pose, your yogi body A-shaped, bottom in the air, head getting close to floor, focused in breath and stretch, and two frisky cats, chasing each other, bolt through that triangle of space below your belly, breaking your concentration into joy.
It happens when … you’re leaning over the sink with stuffy sinuses from dry winter and a wood stove, poring salt water from a neti pot through your nose, and suddenly a whiskered face is tickling yours, cheek-to-cheek, wanting to play with the stream passing through a nostril, and laughing, you nearly drown yourself.
It happens when … you’re walking through a room, oblivious to your own body but feet in a hurry, caught in the cascade of inner voices with all their demands and opinions, and your ample, tortoiseshell cat drops onto her back just where you were about to step, her silky belly an invitation to leave your mind to stroke her plushness, and as you tumble to the floor, you’re astonished, happily brought back into the present moment by a mindfulness master who purrs.
It happens when … you’re moving your hand-written journal notes into your virtual writing app, transforming them into meaning, caught in a blissful-timeless flow state, creating, creating, creating, taking what words can never adequately communicate—the depths and nuances of being—and trying to put it all into words anyway, and you feel a tap on the top of your head, as if God or some holy muse is encouraging you, until there’s a second tap, and you reach up and pet your cat parked on the top of your chair, who has, you now understand, the sublime wisdom to ask for love when he needs it, and you feel love back, love you don’t even know you need then, but do.
February 25, 2023 | Saturday
The first heartbeat isn’t a heartbeat at all. It’s a flutter. A clutch of unseen cells suddenly churning out quiet, electrical waves.
In the theater that is my mind, I see my sister, age 4, her barely-used, satin-soft hands, left over right, in the center of her chest, saying, “I think there’s a butterfly inside me.”
Swallowtails, Monarchs, Blue Morphos, Painted Ladies, Mourning Cloaks. Each butterfly, it’s true, is a winged heart.
If you are right, Little Sister, who knew the body could be pure nectar?
February 26, 2023 | Sunday
My sister-in-law texting me, Still here.
So much loss and struggle in my loved ones’ lives the last year. I add a heart emoji to her message, thinking, Yes, me too. Smiling, I’m grateful.
Later, an apology—working late, her text was meant for her husband, my brother.
My mind says, No, no accident. It was for me, too. Smiling, I’m still grateful for the metaphysical reminder.
On my iPad, reading a book, Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe, my eyes absorb the line, “We receive signs from our loved ones who have crossed.”
Immediately, a notification pops up on the screen. A person named Judith, my mother’s name, gone 20 years come June, just signed up for my e-journal.
When I look at the email address, the domain is iCloud.
Very funny, Mama. Welcome here, Judith!
Cat-alarm going off too early, I empty a pouch of food into bowls that causes a voracious slurping. “Do they put kitty crack in this stuff?” I ponder aloud.
Only 4:30. Coming to my desk, three odd things piled where I’m about to write:
My POW/MIA silver bracelet I wore as a kid in the 70s, with the name CDR James Dennison, then 1-1-68, the date he went missing in Vietnam.
A rubbery, teal-blue bracelet from Compassion and Choices that says, “my life. my death. my choice.” from my brief time with that nonprofit focused on expanding care and choices at end of life.
A small scrap of paper ripped from the top of a 1986 bank statement with a social security number that puzzles me, until I realize it’s my former husband’s ID, who passed away two decades ago.
I know where the POW/MIA bracelet came from—it lives in an open cubby in my rolltop desk, so I can keep my commitment to always remember.
But the other bracelet? Haven’t seen that in years and only worn once—not a first-choice fashion statement.
And where in the world did that scrap of paper come from? I’m clueless. Weirder is a flash memory: early in our long ago marriage, I’d sat straight up out of a dream, declaring, “I’m a bank.” We laughed at the absurdity, so young, so full of future then.
Suddenly a chill, then heat rising through my body. I’m caught in some human volcano of emotion erupting in tears.
What’s going on?
I make a cup of tea and come back to the desk, holding each artifact, taking in whatever energy it offers.
What does the universe want me to make of all this?
Opening an old journal to a page dated 2/23/06 (23 days before my father would die), the first scribble I decipher:
Be the Hermit thrush who turns the dark and solitary shadows into song.
Looking out the still-dark window, dampness glinting off winter-dead stalks otherwise unseen, I follow a shimmer of stream, a liquid braid, persistent, pouring into the pond, its water-song seeping through the glass.
I pick up my plastic, mechanical pencil.
“Okay,” I whisper, twisting out a thread of lead. I open a page in my current journal and start writing.