The Man With Horses

 

Jean is a man in our village. Tall, with wide shoulders, a broad chest and a belly that knows a balance of both good food and a life of walking and tending to his horses, he lives with his wife in the house right next to the one remaining sawmill. He strides with long legs. He has a bushy white beard and long white hair that forms an aurora around his clear and open face, ageing in skin only since his eyes are bright and alive.

He is an anomaly in this village of smaller, quieter people. It is said he is not well-liked by the other old-timers. Who knows. He is part of the as-yet impenetrable French community around me that I will never really be a part of, though many may open themselves to me along our way. We met Jean in the fall when a portal into his life opened in front of us. But I will tell you that story later. First I will tell you about this morning.

Walter has been heavily pruning the old apple and plum trees in the small orchard on the strip of land next to us that we bought last summer. This strip is, in turn, next to the land owned by Jean. All these pieces of land run down to the little river that flows through the village. There are a few old apple trees on his strip and grazing land for his horses.

Walter and our friend David had just been spending several days with David’s chainsaw and Walter’s expertise as an orchard pruner, opening up the ancient trees, giving them another life. They looked as odd and wounded as the pollarded Plane trees lining the village streets did last spring when the town crews went to work on them. It is a radical method employed for hundreds of years to revive old trees and give them more years to leaf and to florish. Walter’s long experience pruning had shown him the results of his work. He was looking forward to the flush of apples in two years time.

Everyone from the village passes by our place to get to the outside world. The trees of the orchard are a well-known sight. As with much in this area, tucked into the foothills, such a place seen so frequently, so familiar to the villagers, carries the emotions of more than just those who own it on paper. The apples of two of the trees are famous to the locals in the village for their flavor. They were the trees planted by the grandfather of a woman just the other side of the bridge whose family has lived here for generations.

The old inhabitants have their own way of pruning. Neglect of the trees is not necessarily considered a bad thing. They provide apples anyway till they begin to die, more than what is considered enough. Pruning, when still done, is an act of allowing the branches of the trees to lean down and put the fruit in your hand rather than a way to open the tree to the light.

As I sat at my desk on this early Saturday morning, writing and reading, I watched as Jean, returning from an early morning hike, perhaps a visit to his horses in a field at some distance, staff in hand and small pack on his back, stopped for many long moments to look at the apple trees, so starkly different from a week ago. I was ideally positioned to watch his face, the dim light of the room and the partially opened shutters shielding him from the magnetic pull of a focused pair of eyes. I indulged my curiosity.

He looked into the trees as they parade down the soft slope, studying the whole scene. He too was curious. Even as I sat, trying to plumb his thoughts, no judgement seemed to appear. There was nothing in the line of his mouth, the direction of his eyes, the plane of his forehead that expressed either approval or accusation. He stepped forward as if to see some detail more closely, noting the last of the pile of dirt that the village workers had dumped on our land for Walter’s use in the garden. He stepped back into the road, looked ahead and then back for one more long look at the trees before walking on more slowly down the road towards his house in the center of the village.

In those moments, unseen, I had picked up the subtle transmissions from inside another organism. His thoughts, though well protected, the same in any language, transmitted a color, a flavor, a texture from the subtle energy of his mind, his emotion. Some receptors in me had awakened to listen, to see.

Still in my nightgown, I suppressed an urge to run down the stairs and out the front door to talk with him, to ask him what he thought of what he had seen, why he had stopped. I wondered if he had been thinking about how he, too, could give his trees another life. Or perhaps he looked at this cut and that, analyzing what he would have done differently. Or perhaps he was recalling a conversation with the last owner of the house years ago about the pruning of the trees. He would have been speaking, then, with a man respected and loved in the village, a man who would have been his senior by many years. Perhaps he was comparing that advice with what he saw of the work of this American, surely an upstart and a radical.  The energy that had passed from one human to another was not really about the content of the thoughts, but some other more subtle quality.  Whatever passed through the obvious concentration of his mind, it occurred to me it was likely colored by the empathy of a bond made months ago.

It was at the height of summer, just as a second heatwave was due to hit and just before a long holiday weekend. Four horses appeared in the field next to our land.

They were the beautiful horses I’d admired in another field on the opposite side of the river during our first summer in the village. Three were large-chested and heavy, as you would imagine a destrier to have been, carrying a knight in full armour into battle. These were a chestnut brown, each with a white blaze down its long nose,  with blond manes, blond tales, and blond feathering above their heavy hoofs. The fourth was smaller and black, more agile-looking and lively.

The next afternoon we were working in the garden when we noticed that one of the biggest chestnuts horses had been lying on the ground for a long while. Walter mentioned it as we sat outside having a break from garden work. It was unusual for a horse, he said, to spend so much time on the ground. As we watched, it seemed she was having trouble lifting her head from the grass.

“It’s an old mare. She’s really ill,” he said.

I hope the owner is doing something about it. It wouldn’t be good for her to just die there.”

Soon, the man with long white hair and a white beard we had seen driving past from deeper in the village arrived in his familiar turquoise van. Clearly the owner of the horses, he opened the gate and petted each one in turn before quietly approaching the big chestnut on the ground. He knelt beside her, clearly stiff himself, and spoke to her softly. She tried again to lift herself on her knees, but, failing, let her head drop again into the grass.

After a few moments, the man stood and turned to walk back to the van. Thinking he might be leaving, I went to call to him over the fence. “Elle est malade?” I enquired. “Oui,” he said “elle a tourne un pate (she twisted a foot)”

I was so sorry to hear that. “Desolee!” I said, in empathy with them both. I wondered aloud if there were anything we could do to help.

“Non. Merci.” he said, smiling slightly. He thought, he said, that he would try to help her up as the vet had suggested. It would take pressure off her big chest.

“If they lie too long when they’re in pain, they may never be able to rise. “

I went back to join Walter with the weeding, noting that Walter’s attention, as he hoed, was both on the weeds and on what was unfolding in the next field.

Soon the man, carrying what looked to be a length of heavy rope, was heading back to the downed mare. Kneeling for long moments beside her, he seemed to be wrapping one end around her front leg, close to the belly. He stood, grabbing the rope, and walked back several paces before he leaned back and pulled with all his strength, moving her top leg over toward the ground so her body would follow.

She moved a bit as her leg came down towards the ground, dramatic in her heaving enormity. Almost, almost, but not quite.

Walter, a man of action, propped his hoe against a post where he was working and quickly began striding over to the road where he could go around the electric fencing. “Come over to the fence!” he called to me as he walked away.

Rounding the fence and going down through the trees, he approached the spot where Jean stood near the mare, considering his next move. I watched as Walter said the obligatory “Bonjour” and shook hands. He then motioned that he would help turn the horse. The first effort had come close. It just needed a bit more weight.

Understanding immediately, Jean smiled as he took up the rope again. They worked together with a mixture of English and French, knowing the necessary motions without speech.

Walter took hold of the rope behind Jean. I watched as, with two, the task became possible. They pulled together and over came the leg, followed inevitably by the enormous weight of her huge body. Walter stood back, deferentially, watching to make sure she had settled.

Jean helped her arrange her legs more comfortably. Then, kneeling by her head, he stroked her neck and spoke to her quietly. After a long moment, he pushed himself up and, looking like a biblical giant, walked towards Walter, aextending his big hand. Walter, a big man himself, took it in his. They shook hands firmly, both, as I could see, with large black patches of sweat spreading on their shirts.

I walked to the end of the fence to meet them and translated Jean’s thank you’s to Walter, who, as he does, nodded them off and, looking briefly at Jean, said

“Good! Of course. I’m glad we could do it! It just took two,”

and motioned that he was going back to work in the garden. They shook hands again in good-bye. I lingered to talk to Jean for a moment.

The vet would be coming in a little while, he said, and he would wait to meet her. They would decide together what was possible. With emotion evident in every part of his face and in the stoop of his shoulders, impossible to hide even in front of a stranger, wanting to talk, he explained that the other two large brown horses were the huge mare’s children, all of them Comtois, an old French breed of draft horse.

He had bought her as a yearling, he said, some thirty two years ago. They were family. He had never ridden or worked them, just cared for them. The fourth horse was a Merens, a breed of the Ariege, hearty and small. He had come later, rescued from a friend. He spent time with them every day.

I went back to the garden. Walter, having grown up around horses and cows, was clear the old horse would never stand again. It was not good to let her suffer, he said. He wondered if Jean had yet accepted that fact and planned for it. In the heat, the body would not do well. I nodded. The heat was extreme and it was predicted to get even hotter over the weekend to come.

Later in the day, the vet came. We watched briefly as they talked, gathering our tools at the end of the day. The next morning, the horse was still there, a mound under the tree now completely covered with a blue tarp. And Jean was there, clothes looking rumpled, an arm around the neck of one of her children. She had died in the night, whether helped by the vet or on her own.

After breakfast, I went out to the fence and waved hello. Jean walked over and said bonjour.

“ We gave her an injection last night,” he said.

“She was suffering too much.”

Tears came to his eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “She was so much a part of your life. “

For a short moment, he didn’t turn away. Somehow, with some sense of what was at hand, he was allowing this stranger whose partner had known, without asking, what to do to help, allowing this woman from another place, to see the pain, the depth of it in his eyes.

When he turned, it was to look at the mound of her and say,

“I’ve wetted her down to keep her cooler. I hope the men will get here before the weekend with the truck.”

The practicalities.

Small moments. The distance from one human to another is as great as the infinite distances of the universe.

Yet when we are truly distant from each other in our own space, our own time, this sense transforms. Every day of our habitual lives, we pass alongside each other, touching, contaminating, exchanging hosts of molecules here and there in our attempts to see ourselves in another, to question the isolation of the flesh.

Yet, in flashes, there it is. The truth of our condition. There is no inside and no outside. We are all in that same infinity–exploring.

Remember this.

 

The Man with Two Canes

I am in Lavelanet, the town down the road where the white tops of the Pyrenees sparkle in the near distance. I sit in the kinesiology clinic, lifting my weighted leg over and over, strengthening the places that had been weakened by the surgery for my broken femur, my mind opening out into the void as I listen to the music of the French conversations floating around me. 

M. Paradis banters and jokes with all his clients as he juggles the needs of the six to ten people present in his modern, new clinic at any given time, striding back and forth, manipulating the arm of one old man wincing in a chair, gently calling out directions to a young woman, telling a long, funny story to a man on the stationary bike, heating up the warming compound he applies to aching joints, calling out, “Ca va, Madame Lyons?” “Oui, ca va!” I follow his directions. Sometimes he peppers his French with excellent English, corrects my French unabashedly and jabs me mildly about the leadership of the US.

 

In such a setting, I understand about half of the conversations drifting into my ears over the cubicle walls or from the open gym. The vocabulary becomes local, flavored with Occitane, fast- paced, colloquial. I begin to feel like a child who hasn’t studied enough at school, ashamed, small. When M. Paradis speaks with the old men and women who come in taxis from the Residence down the road, with  their wheelchairs or their canes, the conversations become quickly obscure as he flows into the flattened accent he grew up with, the particular way of kidding and the obscure usage of the Ariege. 

 

As I stretch out on a therapy bench in a cubicle, lifting my weighted leg over and over, counting to twenty each time I lift,  waiting for M. Paradis to say, “Madame Lyons, vous pouvez terminer quand vous voulez!” a bit of conversation becomes distinct. 

 

The old man with his canes is making his way from the recumbent stationary bike in the big room, following M. Paradis’ direction to move to “un box”.  M. Paradis is saying, “No not that cubicle. Here, over here, there’s one with an ocean view.” The old man, slowly making his way responds, “Will I be able to hear the waves washing in and out? Will I smell the salt air? Will I be able to go out for a swim in the morning?”

 

In that moment, I experience the opening of all minds into one. The way in which there is no barrier to the flow of imagination. We imagine each other.  We create the languages that express those thoughts drifting through like clouds. We create each other. Time and culture have no meaning. There is only the expanse of mind that encompasses everything.

dig

Teddy

 

Teddy, the way I remember it,  just appeared one day. But maybe that’s not true. There may have been discussions and plans.  When I came to visit for the first time he was established there on the land that nestled so beautifully between the breasts of the Vermont hills, so fragrantly colored in autumn, so dusted with white on bare branches in winter, green and soft and flowing in the heat of summer. 

 

He was not in the old sugar shack they had converted into a home, but off at a distance. He had built a tiny log cabin, chinked with moss, roofed with scrounged shingles, where he lived on his own. It was a beautiful little place, everything neatly done with a kind of meticulous care. At first it was very simple, I was told, a single layer of logs,a bed on a shelf on one side, a small old wood stove in another, a small pile of books and some blankets and cushions. Perhaps a stool for the rare visitor. He came for super with the group most days, cooking in his turn, his two long braids dangling over his shoulders, tied together in back to tend to the beans or the soup or to cut into the huge wheel of Vermont cheddar.

 

It’s hard to remember his face. It seems it was tanned, even in winter. His eyes were dark brown and settled rarely on human faces, preferring the focus of trees, earth and, while cooking, beans and fire and pans. When my eyes did settle on his in the moments together, sitting for a break after cutting trees for our winter wood , they were steady, intent, clear, dark, yet shining gently from the interior. But that was later, when we had a few more precious conversations as we worked together in the woods, I learning he had been, unbelievably, an Eagle Scout and he learning, impressed, that my father had been an editor of Boys’ Life Magazine and had written responses to the “Letters to Pedro”, the mascot donkey of the Boy Scouts.  Incongruities. 

 

It’s the way he moved that I remember most. His slim body glided across the paths, his feet silent on the leaves and earth. He was neither tall nor short, but straight, erect still when climbing up the rocks on a trail, the presence of his form always held quietly. He might have been an old man, but he was not. There was patience about his movements. 

 

He spent much of his time in and around his cabin, tending to the world from his position in its center. The rest of his days must have been spent out in the forest, exploring, looking, finding, mostly solitary. 

 

One day when I was sent to find him to see whether he wanted to join a trip to town, he was gathering moss from the circle around his cabin and pushing it into tiny holes in the insulation of the cracks between the logs of its walls with a small stick. He was squatting on the ground  as I approached, saying,

 

“Hi, Teddy.” 

 

He gracefully stood, pushing himself up without effort, and turned to come towards me. Stopping a few feet from me, in seeming respect, he said,

 

 “Hello.” 

 

 “I’ve come to see if you want to go on a shopping trip to town.”  I said. 

 

“No,” he replied. “I don’t need anything.” He paused for a long moment. 

 

“Would you like to see my cabin?” 

 

“Oh, very much!” I said, feeling greatly honored  as a newcomer by this offer. He gestured with a sweep of his arm towards the wooden door.

 

As I remember, it was late autumn, the brilliance of the leaves mostly gone, some orange and bronzey-brown clinging to the trees lower on the hills where the sun came late in the day. A trail of smoke came through the metal pipe on the cabin’s roof. I ducked a bit to go through the door and entered into an enchanted room that seemed somehow larger than the tiny cabin could contain. 

 

The small wood stove to the left of the door filled the space with heat. A bed on a platform to the right was covered with two woolen blankets, one a dark red. To the left on the other side of the stove was an alcove with a small window looking out towards the hill behind. A round of a very large log was set under the window with a green plastic basin on top. A black cast iron pot and pan hung to one side and a plate, a bowl and a handmade ceramic mug sat on a shelf on the left-hand wall of the room. He showed me how the hook for the round cover on top of the woodstove hung on a convenient hook. He took it down, and inserting it into the small square opening in the cover, lifted the round cast iron piece and set it to the back on the stove top, revealing the glowing logs underneath. He reached behind us for the cast iron pot and put it over the hole. 

 

“This is how I cook.”

 

“Have a seat.” he said, motioning to the stool. “I’ll make some tea.” 

 

He took a plastic water container from the side of the makeshift log sink and poured a little into the pot.

 

“That will heat soon.”

 

He stepped past me and reached to a wooden shelf carved from a split of a log and took down an old book. Opening it, he showed me a page with pictures of several kinds of trees. 

 

“I found this in a shop in town this summer. I’m studying the types of trees.” 

 

He handed it towards me, and I took it from him. “Look through it. The pictures are beautiful.” 

 

He busied himself getting tea leaves from a small metal tobacco tin, a strainer and the mug. I looked through the book, exclaiming to him over one tree or another and asking a question or two about whether or where a tree was found in these woods around us. The water soon boiled and he poured it through the tea strainer into the mug, setting it on the stove. He carefully took down a small basket which hung on a hook by the opening side of the door, away from the heat of the stove, and brought it to me.

 

“Owl and hawk feathers,” he said. “I find them from time to time up on the hill. Feel them.” 

 

As I gently reached out my hand, he tipped the basket toward me and my fingers touched what felt like the energy of the air, smooth and soft and without weight.

 

When the tea was brewed, he handed it to me. “None for you?” I said.

 

“No. It’s for you.” 

 

“Thank you,” I said, sincerely grateful and feeling a bit guilty and suddenly shy. 

 

I took a sip. It was lovely, a bit minty but smoothed by some green, slightly fruity tasting leaf.

 

“It’s so good. What is it?” I asked.

 

“Wild mint and verbena I planted in the garden.”

 

He showed me other small treasures as I sipped my tea. A piece of wood that seemed to have the head of a duck, A large piece of quartz with a rose streak. An owl pellet. A fat, long, oblong seed pod. A big piece of birch bark, so smooth and white with its black markings.  “I’m still thinking what to paint on that,” he said. He stood over me and we looked at it together, admiring its markings.

 

He showed me how on the inside the planks were fitted together. “I have the logs on the outside and left over ends of planks from the yard in town on the inside. Between the two are pine needles for insulation. There are no air leaks. I have to open the door every once in awhile, even in the cold, just to let in some air.”

 

“And, oh,” he said, as if an afterthought, “I almost forgot this. I just finished it.” 

 

Animated in a way I hadn’t seen before, his eyes smiling, he showed me that in the corner behind the wood stove, a  kind of small metal wash tub hung on a nail. Above it, hanging from the ceiling, was a large tin can with holes punched in the bottom. Around it on the wooden planked ceiling was painted a blue sky with a fluffy white cloud in the middle just above the suspended can. He demonstrated how the cloud hid a hole, plugged with a piece of wood, painted to match the cloud and large enough for the end of a small hose. He went to the door, opened it and motioned me to come outside. 

 

He pointed  to the roof near the stove pipe.

 

“See. I have a five gallon container of water that I can put up on top. Then I run a hose with a valve down through the hole and into the can. When I’m ready, I put down the basin, get undressed, stand in it, and open the valve. A shower. The water’s cold, but I’m warm.”

  

Going back inside, that warmth embraced us.

 

“It seems like a perfect little home,” I said, as I picked up the mug to finish the last of my tea.

 

At the compliment, he looked away slightly, out the small window at the back.

 

“Yes. I like it, too,” he said, with nothing but an internal smile, now settled and still once more behind his eyes.

 

Having finished my tea, I handed him the empty mug, and, putting on my coat, said “I guess I’d better get going. We’ll be leaving for town soon.” 

 

He pushed open the door and waited, standing aside, for me to step outside before following me and closing the door behind him. As I turned to say goodbye, I saw the face of a racoon appear briefly in the bushes at the edge of the small cleared area. It quickly turned and vanished.

 

Teddy had seen it too. “That’s Ralph,” he said. “He’s a friend.”

 

“I thought racoons were untamable. I’ve heard they can be dangerous,” I said.

 

“Oh, yes,” said Teddy. “He’s not tame. He just comes to live near me about this time of year. This is the third year. He hangs out and eats with me. Last year he climbed down from the roof onto my shoulder. Now he’ll sit on my shoulder sometimes and come with me into the woods. He won’t let anyone else come near him. “ 

 

“That’s amazing!” I said. 

 

“Yes, but it’s a big responsibility. I have to make sure he doesn’t get into things in the outdoor kitchen. He’s learned to open jars. Their paws are almost hands. And I have to make sure I have enough for us both to eat.”

 

He paused for a moment, looking out into the trees.

 

“He came to me so I’m responsible for him. But it’s not just him.”  He looked all around us. 

 

Indicating a broad circle around us with his outstretched hand, he said, “I’m responsible for everything in my universe, the cabin, the trees, the rocks, the plants, the animals, the humans, the insects, everything. I care for them constantly.”

 

He looked away as if the act of speaking this had been a serious decision, a risk.

 

He followed deferentially behind me down the path towards the main house in the big old sugar shack, where several people bunked together. Just before the garden, put to bed for the winter, he stopped. 

 

“Thanks for showing me your cabin. See you later,” I said, and walked on.

 

A few steps later, I turned  to see him still standing there, contained, straight yet at ease;  solitary, in his way. He waved. I waved back, reflecting his respect–for me, as part of his universe with the plants, the earth, the animals, the bark of the trees; for him, as part of mine, still living inside me now along with the paths through the forest, the walks with friends down the road in the snow, and the unbelievable illumination of the blazing colors of the trees for those brief days in the autumns of Vermont. It is living alongside the sight of the dark, furry pine  trees that I see through my window in this moment of my life,  an accompaniment to the browns and greys of the bare branched trees, vibrating always upward.

In Cahors

We are on our way to the Dordogne, the refuge of the Neandertal, the land of the caves where the ancient humans painted and carved on walls tens of thousands of years ago. The beautiful, rich valley of that big river, lined with limestone cliffs. On our way to finally see Lascaux (of course not the cave itself where we nearly destroyed the artwork of the ancestors before closing it off, but the elaborate replica, Lascaux Four, there at the base of the hill where the cave itself sits, closed to all but a few occasional scientists in moon suits). On our way to the valleys of the Dordogne and its tributary the Viesse, we stopped for a pique-nique in the city of Cahors.

We drove in the way we had come four summers ago when we were wandering the area, looking for a new home. We remembered the cafes by the river, away from the flow of the big old buildings of the city, and the trees that will flower later in July. We turned to the left to stay close to the river and settled on a spot with benches that looked over the water to the cliffs beyond, old houses with their clay tile roofs nestled at the base of the rock, next to the river.

It was just beside the road, but it didn’t really matter. There were trees, grass and rose bushes. We found a bench beside a fig tree, poured ourselves some wine, brought out the bread and cheese and olives, ate and watched the parade of humans, cars, buses and bicycles.

When we had almost eaten our fill and were pouring a second glass of wine, we each, in our own way, gradually became aware of a presence quite near us on the lawn. I had hesitated to turn and look, sensing it might be some semi-wild creature we would scare away. Walter had looked. He turned slightly and touched my leg. “See that woman? She has a parrot in the tree.” I turned squarely to see.

“Bonjour”, I said, suddenly unsure of the gender to the person who stood there, close to our bench, chopped brown hair under a nondescript cap, loose-jacketed, looking up at a big, brightly colored parrot in a fig tree beside us.

“Bonjour” replied the person, the voice either male or female, a bit rough. The parrot looked at me, cocked its head and squawked.

“Il est curieux de vous.” the person explained, glancing quickly at us and turning back to the bird.

“Comment dit-on ‘parrot’ en francais?” I wondered aloud.

A blank look passed quickly over the face turned towards me, incomprehension.  Something in the eyes, perhaps a directness in the brown-eyed glance, made me recognize this person was a woman.

“Quel es le nom de cet oiseau?” I stumbled.

“Bertrand,” she replied. “Bertrand, mon perroquet.”

Confused for a moment, I thought, no it can’t be a parakeet, it’s too big, then remembering some lesson I’d had with the French word for parrot, I said,

“Oui, perroquet! Il est beau avec le rouge et le bleu et le vert. Quel âge a-t-il?”

A small smile of pride, just a hint, appeared on her face as she calculated the length of time and then replied that he was thirty-four years old. I translated for Walter, who was picking up much of the meaning already. He said,

”I wonder how long parrots can live? That’s pretty old.”

I asked. She said with some confidence that they could live to be about fifty but most kept in a house lived to be about forty.

“I’ve had him since he was a few months old,” she told us, with an accent that seemed part of the air she had breathed since a child.

We talked for quite some time, learning that he like being outside and would not fly away, that he couldn’t say any words but imitated the bark of the neighbor’s little dog quite nicely, that he sometimes imitated a laugh from the television.  It was clear that this bird had been her closest companion for all those years. We learned somehow that she watched movies about the old days in France. In fact, she watched a lot of old movies on her TV at home. She had been born in a nearby village and lived in Cahors all of her adult life. There was much I wondered about her life but didn’t dare to ask, what she had done, had she been married, did she have children, what kind of home did she have.

We told her we were going to the caves at Lascaux, about a hundred kilometres north on the Dordogne River.  Her round, tanned face crinkled. She had heard of them, of their paintings, but had never been. It reminded her somehow of a movie she’d seen about men who wore plumes on their helmets. She had been to Toulouse with her father once or twice she remarked, hearing we lived further south, near the Pyrenees.

Our conversation could have stretched on and on. She was clearly content to have our interest. We could have become acquainted. But the road called us, the paintings in the caves, the river itself. We made our excuses. She motioned to Bertrand who sidled up the branch and jumped to her shoulder where she snapped a leash on a ring around his leg.

As we gathered our things she stood, watching, Bertrand squawking, impatient. She waved, unmoving, as we walked toward the road. “Au revoir!”

“Bonne journée!” I called back.

For those moments, walking away, I was filled unexpectedly with a certain kind of joy. Having seen through the window of her eyes some part of a life, some flicker of recognition beyond the filters of language and culture, I was stirred, happy to be able to communicate in my imperfect French. As we climbed into the somewhat battered car we’d bought a few months ago here in France, I looked forward eagerly to the next things we would experience on the road–together; the beauty of the cave paintings, the unknown stretches of a big river that had supported so much life for so long.

She, on the other hand, was probably returning slowly, by way of several familiar stops, to some small old house nearby, perhaps to chat for a while with a neighbor, then a meal in her kitchen and an evening to watch old movies with her parrot chattering in the background. Perhaps content. A good day. A recognition. Small things.

We Move (With Stars) to Fougax-et-Barrineuf

When in the midst of danger, it is necessary to clear the mind of fear.

As I look out into the clearing sky, clouds drifting through blue in a silent etheric wind, clarity is all there is. Even the grey of a floating cloud disturbs the mind for only a brief moment in its passage through the window frame.

In the middle of the night, a memory of a possible mistake the day before jolted me awake, its voltage striking out from the world of dreams. At first a gaseous cloud of foreboding, the lights switching on one by one in the rooms of my mind quickly gave it form and color. Consciousness, fully activated, was pulled, as if by some magnetic force, to circling thoughts of all the catastrophes this one mistake would generate. I had no doubt I was doomed. From that small rotten seed, rot spread out in larger and larger circles until the whole world was nothing but rot, crumbling away into nothingness. “No”! I almost called out. Not wanting to wake my sleeping partner, I called silently on all the forces I know, the forces of beauty, the forces of comfort and tenderness “Absorb this!”, I called out in silence, “I’m only one tiny atom in the ocean of life. Let this rot disappear in that endless sea!”

Just then, a flash of light in the black sky through the window. Just at the meeting of dark hill and dark sky, a comet had burned in the atmosphere. Just there. Just at that moment, it’s particular light had reached my particular eyes. It’s just like this that things burn away as they rub against the molecules of air. “There,” I told it silently. “Take all that mess! Take it!” In true comic book fashion, the explosion of light that had happened in some flash in some moment long past blasted the mass of rot to smithereens- “POW!”. Then, reciting to myself all I knew of the basic childhood lessons of falling stars and luck and wishes, I let myself be comforted. I passed back through that hazy boundary, never remarking the passage. I floated into sleep in this still strange house, in this still strange village, in this still strange region of a still strange country.

The cloud of grey anxiety still floats around me like a swarm of gnats.  As I did with the ringing in my ears, I have taught myself through long practice to use the immense space inside me to push that fear out beyond the curves of the infinite The “it” of it then exists no more. There is only empty space. I hear only silence. The sounds that penetrate through the delicate bones of my ear dissolve with more than imperceptible immediacy in that vast quiet. They existed but never did.

Then another night arrives and I’m awake in the middle of it, looking out once more at the dark curve of that same hill, stars bright above it in the frame of the bedroom window. The long-handled triangle of Cassiopeia is balanced on two vertices just above the horizon of the hill, the line between the two piercing points of light perfectly parallel to the gentle curve of rising earth. In drowsy relaxation, I watch as the whole delicate edifice of the constellation settles ever so slowly onto the hill. As I drift and wake, I see those two stars are vanishing like bits of smoke into the dark mass of the hill. The whole spaceship of the beautiful queen is sinking imperceptibly into the earth.  I shiver, smiling, and pull the covers around my chin, feeling the wind of the earth speeding on its axis.

I’m walking now through the village, exploring, probing. I try not to look like some overly curious tourist, poking into places where I will never return, but it’s useless–the force of my curiosity draws me everywhere. I walk the path by the river and then along the length of the long main street of the village. On my way back to the house, I realize with a kind of sudden ecstasy that the sound of water is everywhere, in the streets of the village and all around this place nestled in hills and gorges, a place where people have settled for millennia—the reason they have been here. The river, the little canals dug to divert the water from place to place, the small stone basins with spigots still running with public water, the open faucets of the laveries where women gathered to wash the family clothes in huge stone basins, the mill races, still running around stone buildings where their water pushed wheels and ground grain, little waterfalls, big waterfalls—all running, playing the infinite musics of water. There are few spots in this settlement, spreading from a central street and a church, where the notes of running water can’t be heard. It’s a flowing village.

The snow-covered peaks of late winter will soon send their melt down as they have forever and the river behind the house will sing with even more excitement. This winter brought snow, late and lighter but enough. We can only look for the rhythms to continue somehow in some new form. We can only encourage them with our planting, our tending of the fruit trees, our preparation, our connection. That’s what we’re doing here, after all.

Falling and Still Fountain Water
Washing for All Water
River in Sunlight Water
Captured Then Free Water
Mill Race Captured Water
River Running at Twilight Water

The Rocks

 

We climbed towards the enormous red sandstone arches feeling the blood of our bodies pulsing in the warm light of late afternoon, the cold air pushing and pulling with its rushes of strength, the blackbrush and sage shrubs leaning this way then that in the gusts.

Feeling the weight of my feet, dragged more by the force of gravity than I remember, grateful to reach the platform of rock under the unimaginable grace of rock arching over, I stopped to watch some children running up and down the sloping red rock above me.

A young father, slim and bearded, sat at the top of the slope beside the opening of the arch, an arm around his young daughter, who, not much more than two, plump legged, yellow-haired, pacifier dangling on a cord from her neck, rested only for a few moments in the ease of his protection. She watched her sister for a while with great attention, a lithe girl of six or seven, barefoot, long blond hair tossing behind her, running up and down the steep rock slope, chasing her two also barefooted younger brothers who then turned and chased her, up the slope, down the slope, full of the bursting energy of the first bloom of youth. The littlest girl then quickly squirmed out from the arch of her father’s arm, turning backwards, finding footholds to climb down the rock. The father climbed down next to her, arms relaxed, attentive but calm.

Further down, near me, the mother called to her littlest boy to see if he was ready to come down with her. He shook his head vigorously, no, ducking into a small rock crevice and out the other side, swooping up the jagged rocks again after his brother. The mother called up to her husband, “I’m going down. I’m a bit tired.” He called back acknowledgement as he walked, hand in hand, with his tiny daughter, across the top of the slope beneath the grand arch.

As I climbed up further, I watched as the young man showed the tiny girl where to put her feet on the rock wall leading up to the opening of the arch. He helped her kick off her boots so her feet could more easily find the places where rock would hold them. She climbed easily, finding footholds, her father beside her on the rock, not too close, letting her feel her balance outside the sphere of his protection.

An older man was beginning his descent from the opening of the arch where he had been sitting. I had seen him there from the back, sitting still for a long interlude, absorbed by the wide view beyond.  Now the man was awkward and hesitant, a counterpoint to the tiny blond girl, uncertain where to put a foot, how to find a firm way down. Leaving the baby on the wall for a moment, the young man moved over to help guide the older man’s faltering feet on the rock. The little girl continued her climb on her own, close in to the rock, easily finding the next place to put a foot. Her father, relaxed, returned to climb up next to her.

The two finished their climb, side by side, reaching, at last, the rock platform stretching under the arch. He held her hand lightly as she climbed up to the narrow shelf whose delicate breadth I could not judge adequately from below. He sat down beside her, an arm draped loosely around her once again. I watched as her small blond head relaxed against his side. They sat that way for some time, the father pointing from time to time at some feature in a distance certainly full of the glowing light of the coming evening.

The older man, humble in his anxiety, made his way down to the more level ground, grateful to have safely found a way.  Soon, the father and daughter made their way back down,  he coming first, reaching up and holding the tiny girl gently around her waist as she found her first footing, then descending alongside. The older children had not yet slowed in their running, climbing, hiding and chasing, the mother calling for them to start their way back.

As we all started down the path as the early sun was already beginning to make its orange way down to the horizon, I turned to the mother.

“We’ve been admiring how nimble your children are. I wish l was so agile.”

She said “Oh god yes! Me too. I have to just let them go. I can’t hold them back–they have so much energy to burn.”

As I walked down behind the group, children running ahead, barefoot still on the cold rocks, I thought about my own children and now grandchildren.  My fear of the harm that might come to them in the immediate moment, has it prevented them from learning things that will keep them from the real dangers of being a human alive in these times?  Did the culture that surrounded me shape my teaching to prepare them for a world that is fast changing into something more dangerous, more challenging? 

In that magnificent rocky land where people have lived for millennia, finding water and growing and hunting food where there seems to be none, surviving amidst the beauty, it is easy to become absorbed in imagining the lives of these ancient relations. Over the years and years that we live in parallel tracks in time as children and parents, as overlapping generations, as beings becoming ancestors, we go back and forth in this balancing, finding the edge between survival and annihilation where the skills to survive are born.

My children grew up in a time when some of us had begun to see the limits to the comforts of our culture.  But they and their children are still embedded in a culture that seems to see only some endless present of limitless energy, of technological fixes.   It will be up to them to find the skills to survive without the comfort and protection all this excess of energy has provided. It will be up to them to find the footholds in a new terrain.  I hope the love of those of us rapidly becoming ancestors has guided them well enough. I hope they can draw on its nourishment as they climb away, over the rocky ridge, out of our site.

IMG_20171203_161529965

 

 

Briefly

We had flowed into proximity somehow

in that enormous space

full of goods, full of desires.

 

We were waiting, chocolate bars in hand

to pay the cashier.

Her skin was dark.

Mine white.

 

I noticed.

I listened

to some resonance of this 

inside me.

 

“What is this noticing?”

 

The flavor of this mixed 

with the flavors

of a young man/woman

I could see

standing beside that display

of Swedish Fish 

and chocolates, 

but not, certainly

in any 

desired

association with it.

 

Rugby shirt

covering a muscular chest.

Tattoos covering

the light chocolate skin.

Tight braids covering the roundness of head 

in rhythms.

Intelligence twisting itself 

through those eyes.

Strength sending out waves 

around that body.

 

They had stood together, talking.

Now one on line behind me, 

one waiting

with the taut patience 

of a tiger.

Mother? Sister? Aunt? This woman behind me, 

chatting to a friend

then touched me on the shoulder,

a touch

vibrating warmly through my shirt, 

my skin.

.

I turned.

That chocolate any good? 

was the question, 

spoken plainly, as to one 

known, familiar.

And in reply, I, laughing,

said I didn’t  know.

 

I’ve never been here before.

Never tasted it,

I said,

but figured since it’s not American chocolate,

it must be good.

 

Chuckling, Yeah

she said, Yeah,  

not Hershey’s!

And I’m not even getting it for me.

It’s for my husband,

Yes, and mine’s for a friend.

was my reply.

 

What generous people we are! 

she remarked,

brown eyes smiling 

into mine.

 

Yes.

Yes, we are. 

In recognition,

that opening in my chest.

That greatness.

 

Turning to take my place again in line,

looking ahead to a  blond woman

busy

behind a metal counter,

heart still open to her eyes

behind me.

 

Friends had found each other for those moments

now passing with reluctance.

 

Those friends.

They are everywhere.

We have come here somehow

together

and flow into each other

casually

in this marketplace where we find ourselves,

wandering,

trying to remember.

 

 

 

The King

I am the king from another place. I don’t know where it is. Maybe I’m lost. I remember what happened many years ago when I was very young. When I was still in school and lived with my parents and my brother. We lived on the farm. I felt an explosion in my head one morning just after my mother called me to get up. An explosion of light. Then I felt this warm feeling in my chest like when my mother put the breakfast on the table in front of me and ran her hand through my hair. I knew everything had changed but I didn’t know, I didn’t know what had happened. That was when they started talking to me.

One voice was huge. It came from that same place in my chest. It was the one who told me about being king.  But that was later after the other voices came and got me all worked up. They didn’t like me. They kept whispering hateful things and sometimes they shouted.  The first time, it was just that huge voice. I couldn’t quite make out what it was saying. I just kept trying. I had to pay attention.

Sometimes the government talked to me from the TV to tell me how terrible I was and that they were coming to get me and everybody else like me. They didn’t let me go to school. My mother got scared of me. They kept taking me places. I ran away. I lived rough. I had people who liked me and then people who hurt me. It’s been a long time.

They kept taking me places. I ran away. I lived rough. I had people who liked me and then people who hurt me. It’s been a long time.

One day the voice in my chest came back and told me about being king. I’ve liked that. It’s a good job. Now I’m in this place in a house. There are other people who live here. There’s one old woman I know from somewhere but I don’t tell her. Each morning I get up. I wash my face in the sink in the room I share with a man I seem to know but whose name I don’t. He seems like a nice man. He hardly speaks. Sometimes he looks at me. Sometimes he looks at the floor while we’re getting dressed. He’s pretty old. He grunts at the floor after he’s buttoned his last shirt button and reaches for his walker. I sleep in my shirt and underwear. They protect me. I just put on my pants with the belt I got in another time from the bag at that place where they let us sleep. That place where people scream and sometimes fight. Where demons are allowed to come and go. The man who sleeps in my room lets me go out the door of our bedroom first when we go to breakfast. He’s not one of those guys trying to get me from inside the walls, part of the gang. I think they don’t like it when he’s sleeping here with me.

Now I’m in this place in a house. There are other people who live here. There’s one old woman I know from somewhere but I don’t tell her. Each morning I get up. I wash my face in the sink in the room I share with a man I seem to know but whose name I don’t. He seems like a nice man. He hardly speaks. Sometimes he looks at me. Sometimes he looks at the floor while we’re getting dressed. He’s pretty old. He grunts at the floor after he’s buttoned his last shirt button and reaches for his walker. I sleep in my shirt and underwear. They protect me. I just put on my pants with the belt I got in another time from the bag at that place where they let us sleep. That place where people scream and sometimes fight. Where demons are allowed to come and go. The man who sleeps in my room lets me go out the door of our bedroom first when we go to breakfast. He’s not one of those guys trying to get me from inside the walls, part of the gang. I think they don’t like it when he’s sleeping here with me.

I sleep in my shirt and underwear. They protect me. I just put on my pants with the belt I got in another time from the bag at that place where they let us sleep. That place where people scream and sometimes fight. Where demons are allowed to come and go. The man who sleeps in my room lets me go out the door of our bedroom first when we go to breakfast. He’s not one of those guys trying to get me from inside the walls, part of the gang. I think they don’t like it when he’s sleeping here with me.

I’ve been here a little while. It’s a nice place. The lady here most mornings likes me most. She calls me Mr. Moon because my face is so round she says, and shines like the moon. I like that name. I don’t tell her my real name. She’s pretty short with a black hair down to her shoulders. I think she’s from China with those eyes but she speaks our language. She has a different laugh from other peoples’.  I like it. It kind of tinkles up high and then goes down low and then it keeps going for a while like the water that drips from our faucet. It tickles me in my chest. Sometimes it makes laugh a little. Sometimes though I wonder if she’s trying to get inside me. Then I get worried.

I take the medicine she gives me in the little white cups, two orange long ones, two little white ones and a bunch of big ones white and blue and pink. I count them and see if I’m allowed to take them today. The friends will tell me. I listen. Sometimes they tell me not to take the orange ones. Sometimes the white. The lady says I have to take them so I can go outside today.

Sometimes I have to fight with my friends. I tell them I’m king. I have to go outside. I take those pills. Then she gives me a plate with breakfast on it. I put my head down and look at the food on the plate. I decide which part I can eat and I stick my fork in and just put it right in my mouth and chew it. Sometimes it’s good like the pancakes. They let me put lots of butter on them even though they say it’s not good for me, for my heart. It feels good.

I keep looking at the plate until I only see food the man in my head says I’m not allowed to eat then I get up, pick up my plate, shove my chair in with my foot and take the plate over to the sink to wash it off. I put it in the dishwasher like that lady showed me to do that day when the taxi dropped me off from that big hospital.

Then I look outside to see whether the sky is blue or grey. I can see from next to the kitchen sink. If it’s blue I’m ready. If it’s grey I go back into my room and get the sweater from my top drawer and put that on. I’m dressed in my sacred clothes. I’m ready.

They’re telling me now. You’re almost too late. Some of the most important people have already gone by. You’re the king. You have to greet them all or they will know. They’ll send their invaders through the night air right in and suck on your brain. I’m a little scared. I run a little out the door, over the ramp to the end of the driveway. Now I’m calm. My day has begun.

They’re coming by in cars, little ones, big trucks, those big black things with windows you can’t see through. Some on bikes. Some on motorcycles with hoods that hide them. Most of them are kings and queens like me. Some are Satan’s evil creatures. I think he sends them mostly in the big trucks with dark windows so I won’t see.

I greet them all. They told me how to greet the other kings and queens. I’ve known for some time. I’ve practised. You put out your left leg. You look up to see them. They want to know you’ve seen them. Then you bow your head down with a long sweep of your right arm over your head. Then a wave.

I do it just right. They know who I am. I know who they are. The ones who have practised, who were taught, who really know, look at me and wave or bow their heads. It’s good then. It feels good inside me.

Some are afraid. Maybe they don’t know who they are. All day. I never get tired of it. It’s good to greet them all. To see them. I forget about the brain suckers until a dark window goes by. Then there’s that sound in my ear. Sometimes I have to put my arms over my head. But mostly I just look at everyone and bow. To see. I go in to lunch when that other man comes out and calls my name.

I haven’t told him my real name but I know when he calls. Sometimes I lie down and take a rest after lunch. It’s tiring being king, but they tell me I have to do it. There is danger. Sometimes I don’t feel good, I feel sick in my legs and my body and I just can’t get up, but they tell me I have to or I will be sent away. So I go out. When the man calls me, I go back in for dinner. The people aren’t coming by this place much by then, out on the road.

After I’ve put my dinner dishes in the dishwasher, I start my other job. I sit in the chair by the door and watch to make sure none of the gang comes in. They’ve told me that’s my job. Otherwise, the people from the gang will get in. The really bad ones. The ones from the cars with the black windows and other ones. Sometimes in other places they’ve attacked. I screamed and I fought but they got me and took me away to some big hospital. I don’t have enough people to see there. Just sometimes one king or one queen. I have to be here.

The man at night wants me to come play cards with the other people from the other rooms but I just tell him no. If he bothers me too much I go to the bathroom and come back. I don’t talk to anyone, even if they talk to me. I’m just quiet.

When he comes to lock the front door I go to my room, take off my pants and hang them on the bed. I can’t take off my shirt or my underwear. They’re sacred. They protect me. I lie down.

Sometimes I sleep. When they’re not banging on the walls and roaring at me. I need some sleep. For tomorrow. The others need me to see them. To greet them properly so everything can flow through me. Like butter on those pancakes. Like the light that comes into my eyes through the window at the kitchen sink. I am the king. The sound from my chest tells me. The warmth from the middle of my chest.

IMG_20170202_152036177 (1)

Tribute to the Friendship of Mothers

A few days ago it was my daughter’s birthday. Somehow we old women delight in thinking of the adults we still call our children as the babies they were, bald and plump, eyes shining. Even now that these same adults have extraordinary interiors about which we gain only a clue now and then, we love to think of the very beginning, the seeming essence of what they are now, their very beings.

All those years ago when I was five years younger than she is now, I walked with her most evenings, she tucked in against my chest in one of those demin Snugli carriers, then a novelty, through the streets of our new home in Long Beach, California. I left the house almost every day in that interlude an hour or so before her father came home from work when she was a bit fussy from the fatigue of being alive and I, restless.

It was autumn in Southern California, still hot in the afternoons, every morning a bit grey until ten and then clear blue until sunset. The Camellias were still blooming. Annuals of all kinds still grew in the gardens of the old part of town where we lived. Lemons still hung on trees. The air was fragrant, soft and clear. On the weekends, we would still go swimming in the warm water of the bay and lie in the sun on the beach.

It was all still so improbable that only a few short months before we had lived in the fast pace of Washington DC where the heat of the summer was oppressive, everyone worked seventy hours a week and walked ardently from office to car and drove home late in the evening to Maryland or Virginia to watch an episode of the Jeffersons or Dallas, go to bed and repeat. Here, actual adults lounged on the beach or in outdoor restaurants dressed only in shorts, tank tops and flip-flops at all hours of the day. They appeared to have incomes of some sort since their clothes were stylish and they could afford a high-priced hamburger at two o’clock but there was no visible evidence of employment. Were they all living off royalties from screen plays or did they work only a few hours in the morning?

That afternoon, I walked with her in the pack down a now-familiar street past small older houses with gardens and lawns, the streets lined with Jacarandas, Crape Myrtles, Palms and Eucalyptus trees. Her cheek resting against the middle of my chest, from time to time I drew in breaths of the warm sweet scent of her head as she watched things go by. The small ecstasies of having a baby were still fairly fresh, everything in the world now new because of her presence in it.

We had crossed the street and were in the middle of the block, heading towards the ocean and the pier. There I’d take her out of the pack to see the waves and the sea gulls and we’d talk to the old people and kids fishing over the railings.  As we approached a grey stucco house I’d seen many times before, I was curious to see what could be called by no other name than a perambulator standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, complete with woollen baby blankets draped over the edge, ready to receive a baby in great comfort.

The shiny black buggy had big metal wheels, hefty springs and a big cave of a sun shade from the top of which hung some kind of bunny toy, dangling down where a baby lying on its back could reach up and bounce it. Even back then, the anachronism of this wonderful contraption was captivating.
Just then, a tall woman with dark hair walked came out the front door with a baby in her arms and closed the door behind her. As she turned to come down the stairs to the walkway, she caught my eye. She sparkled. I can’t say what sparkled. It could have been her eyes, but it seems that something traveled through the air.

“Oh! Hello!” she said, with a rare kind of gaiety. “You have a baby, too!”
Her sound of her voice, something that would become familiar over the next years, was novel, clear, with a slight upward lilt that was hard to place in any geography of accents.

We walked towards each other, joining on the sidewalk next to the baby buggy, remarking on each others’ babies with that ease of two new mothers. She put her daughter down in the “pram” as she called it and excitedly gave me a run down of the features of this marvel of a vehicle.

It was evidently the Rolls Royce of prams, with exquisite suspension provided by heavy-duty steel springs, a mattress that would have delighted royalty, an adjustable handle and many other features now beyond recall but wondrous nonetheless. She asked if I’d like company on my walk and we set off together toward the pier.

As we walked, conversation flowed with charming ease, her ready laugh light and warming. We learned enough about each other to cement a friendship. She was originally from England. The pram had been a gift from her father who still lived there. She and her mother had come over on the Queen Mary when she was a child. She had a four-year-old daughter in addition to the new baby, now happily playing till dinner at friend’s house across the street. Her husband was a doctor with a specialty in oncology who worked in a big hospital in Los Angeles. She had been a nurse but hadn’t practiced since she was pregnant with her first child. She was an “older mom”, in her mid-thirties. I gave her a sketch of my own life. We told a couple of our important stories, laughed together and listened seriously.

When we reached the pier, she bounced the pram over the boards to the end where we took out the babies, bought a ice pop each from the tiny store and sat on a bench with babies on our laps, watching people perched on their ice chests, fitting bait to their hooks.

As the babies grabbed at each other and bounced on our knees, we kept up an easy flow of conversation about the fabric of our days as mothers, what the babies were doing, talked about pediatricians and friends. Still talking, we walked back along the pier and over the sidewalks back to her house, where, now fast friends, we hugged good-bye, promising a walk again the next day, she going across the street to get her older daughter and I to walk the few blocks back to the house we’d rented with an olive tree in front and oleanders along the driveway.

That evening I was content in a way I hadn’t been since the move across the country. The acts of making dinner, sitting in the back garden in the cooler evening air and putting the baby to bed now fit into a flow. The delight of finding a friend of like mind and temperament, the prospect of all the connections that might branch out from this encounter and the knowledge of what went on in one of those other houses I’d passed every day grounded me in a way I hadn’t felt for years. The only-child always present in me felt whole again.

It wasn’t until years later that she told me that our first meeting, seemingly so serendipitous, had been planned. She had been watching me go by her house with the baby for a few days in a row and thought that I looked like someone who could become a friend. She had kept watch that day out her big front window in order to spring out when she saw me coming, hoping to appear, as if by chance, at just the right moment to join me on my walk.

We’ve been friends all the years since, even though I left for the Northwest when those two babies were just three years old. We call and share the important events in our lives, talking hungrily about details no one else would love to hear.

We were pregnant with our last children at the same time. There’s a photo of us somewhere in one of those old photo albums with PVC pages that I can’t take with me to France. It shows two tall women, one in her mid-thirties, one forty, facing the camera and laughing, their two huge bellies touching in the middle, belly button to belly button.

 

As friendship grew

 

Death of the Great Friend

 

He lay on his back, hands, rising and falling gently, one on top of the other, resting on the middle of his chest. He was not sleeping and not awake. His mind was empty, open, free.

There had been visitors. They came to sit with him. As each came into the room and looked into his face, he briefly opened his eyes. Each found themselves stretching out beyond the confines of physical form and world, gone, nothing but the blue of his eyes. Each friend sat down next to the bed, each, through the flow of their natures, sending out waves of love. The waves lapped through him, reverberating, pulling to the shore with their tides.

When each left, the waves began to subside, lapping gently across the uppermost surface, the depths still silent, calm. But even when no one was present, waves of emotion came washing through him, pulling from somewhere out in the world where friends moved through their lives, longing for his presence, aching. He breathed from the silence and met them, gently as ocean meets shore and touches air.

Some could feel the breath moving through them. Others dreamed of him. Others were washed by thoughts of him, images of their time together, the magic of walking alongside him, looking into his eyes, playfully running down city streets, being pulled along, hand in hand with a compact, neatly dressed man with sparkling blue oceanic eyes, round, crinkled yet young face, cropped white hair, still vigorous in his eighties, headed somewhere to talk to someone important or maybe just to go feed the ducks at the park.

He had been prepared for these moments since he was a very young man. He had wandered from Norway to the Himalayas at the age of sixteen. He had studied with great mystics in the East and the West. He had lived and worked in over sixty-five countries, served during WWI, worked with MI6 during WWII, helped hatch a master plot to kidnap Hitler in 1944 (which was rejected by Roosevelt), was captured towards the end of the war by the Nazis, miraculously released with a visa. Author, economist, mystic, so much more, he had spent the last thirty years devoted to Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, a benign system of bringing solar energy from the sea.

Until his body was stuck down, he had continued his daily work to bring OTEC to the world, communicating prolifically with other engineers, presidents, presidential candidates, US Senators and a wide circle of friends. He went to the beach and bathed his legs in the ocean, his mother. Now even the unending flow of his letters had stopped.

There had never been any boundaries. Now that was becoming more and more evident to all those who loved him.

There was one heart holding him, despairing of the loss of him. He travelled to her in a dream and smiled and winked. There was nothing but ocean. He was nothing, as he had ever been.