The Element of Ether

The rain has returned, moving from downpour to rainbow and back again. The season has shifted as it does, suddenly, from the season of sun, dry grass, desiccation and heat to the season of water and cool clean air. The sun pierces the dark grey clouds and spreads brilliant light for a moment at a time, sparkling all the drops within its range, creating fleeting holes of blue through the layers of dark and lighter grey cloud.

Two days ago, the day was filled with the presence of blue sky. That morning as I stood between the rows of drying sunflowers behind the barn, near the arching vines dripping with the intricate obloid shapes of their hops, I heard a flight of geese flying behind me from north to south. As they veered east, I watched two hawks fly into the tops of two tall trees across the mown field in front of me. Then, as the enormous Vs of calling birds made their wide turn across the sky, one hawk spread its great wings and lifted into the air, flying in its own arc toward the north. The other hawk remained in its perch in the treetop, in the alert repose of the raptor, unmoving.

As the flight of geese swept around high behind its treetop, the air between vibrated with an unseen waft of the finest energy. This is the element beyond air, beyond fire, beyond water, beyond earth, made of infinities. I stood for that long moment, my breath having gone with it somewhere beyond.

I have come all this way and no distance at all to this spot where the sun warmed me, just as it warmed the intricate beauty of each fruiting hop hanging near my arm, my hand, these appendages that hang from my own erect trunk.

Just as the season shifts suddenly and then retreats for a moment, I am shifting, my body becoming more of ether than earth, more of dry vibration like the stands of fireweed, where, just moments ago, the last purple-red flowers flamed briefly at the tops of the stalks and where today the puffs of white seed sway in the wind, dancing on their brown stalks. I begin the process of drying, a transaction both of concentration and of emptying. The water drips from me, hardly wetting what is left, filling my cells with the purest knowledge of delight.

Pause

 

 

IMG_20170904_100532563_HDRNow it’s a waiting game is waiting for the moment to return.  Meanwhile– taking care of family.  As they say in France, “Je m’occupe de vous”.  We are occupied with each other. There can be nothing more important with which to be occupied.

A Death in the Family

The expanse of the Mediterranea Sea

 

Death is an opening. It can break the hearts of those left behind. When the heart is truly broken, it stays open. Then there is no difference between one and the other one. Sometimes it is our own heart that is smashed. Sometimes we are the observer of the annihilation, the one standing by to represent life. There are places in the world where this breaking of the heart is still truly honored.

Sometime on Monday of last week, my son-in-law’s deeply cherished mother died in Tichy, Algeria, a small coastal town of the Kabyle region. Although she had been very ill for many years, she had lived on in their family home, the beating heart of a family of great dimensions, living both near and far.

My son-in-law was the child who had reluctantly ventured furthest, of necessity. He is the youngest son. Each year he traveled back to see her and his family, no matter the obstacles. Each weekend, there are hours spent on Skype, talking with family in France and, when their internet is working, in Algeria. Their conversations are woven into the mornings spent at home, keeping company as naturally as if they were in the room together.

Family for him is the core of everything, whether they grapple and disagree or act as best of friends. His plan had been to leave for his annual trip at the end of this week. Suddenly on that Saturday, he began getting calls from his siblings in the middle of the night. His mother had had some sort of medical crisis. It was hard for my daughter to piece together exactly what had happened from the flurries of intense conversation mostly in Kabyle, partially in French.

By Sunday night he could no longer sleep. He was trying to figure out how to get there quickly. His American passport was still at the Algerian Embassy in New York with an application for the visa he needed. His Algerian Passport had just expired. Calls were going back and forth across the huge expanse of geography. Nothing was clear. Then Monday early in the morning the call came amidst wailing and crying. His mother had died.

He was beside himself. I received the call at 5 am. “I’ll come right away,” was the only possible response.

Good fortune allowed me to drive in the one crack in the streams of morning traffic going from my place in the country towards the city. I was able to get to their apartment in Seattle before the crushing morning rush hour. My daughter, hugely pregnant, was already deeply absorbed in the process of trying to book a ticket to get him there the next day. My four-year-old granddaughter was playing quietly on the floor.

The funeral had to be held before the end of the second day. The family would be gathered at the house, grieving there together the entire day. The body would have to be buried before they slept. My daughter had already been on Skype pleading with his brother to postpone it one day. He couldn’t do it.

The only flight that would connect with Algeria on time to get him there left around 2 pm that day. It was now almost nine in the morning. She had already been working with a friend of his at the Algerian Embassy in New York to figure out whether the passport had already been sent. She had booked tickets the day before to New York so he could pick up his passport and visa at the embassy and then travel from there.

Now it appeared the visa had been sent on Friday by two-day mail. What time it would arrive was the mystery. Without the answer to this question, she couldn’t book the ticket. The friend at the embassy was able to get us the tracking number. It appeared it was at the local post-office, waiting to go out. If it were delivered with the regular mail, it wouldn’t arrive before the flight. I would go to the post-office just as it was opening and try to intercept it.

There I was, in the parking lot of the local post-office. A uniformed carrier was walking past me, on some final errand before leaving for the day. I called out to him,

“Can you help me?”

I hurriedly explained the situation, imploring—the sudden death in the family overseas, the passport and visa being sent from New York, the emergency.

“How can I catch the carrier who delivers to their address?”

Sweetly, he had stopped, packages in arms, to listen. He tsk-ed sympathetically and said the carriers hadn’t left yet. He motioned to the building and suggested I go in and talk to the people behind the desk and see if they could help.

I dashed in the front door. There was already a small line of three or four people and two staff behind the desk. My ancestral mother, born and bred in Brooklyn, was coaching me through from beyond the grave. I called out to the staff, brazenly,

“Can you help me catch a carrier before he leaves? I have an emergency. A passport. A death in the family overseas. Please?”

The woman behind the counter asked what I wanted them to do. Loudly I replied,

“I’m hoping we can intercept it before it leaves the building. If it gets delivered with the regular mail it will arrive too late to make the flight.”

She pointed to the people waiting and said, with finality,

“We have to take care of them first. Then we’ll try to help you.”

The two people at the front of the line pointedly tried not to look at either me or the woman behind the counter. The man, forth in position, called out,

“Can’t you just help her?” and turned to me to say,

“The post-office! How hard they make things!” but made no move to step aside to let me go in front of him.

After waiting while one woman spent time telling the clerk a long story about a lost item of mail in an empty envelope someone had picked up on the street and brought to her, complete with commentary about the effrontery of certain people, after which the clerk disappeared into the wilds of the mail room behind her and while a man picked out the kind of stamps he wanted from two different batches the clerk put out on the desk, it was finally my turn.

She pretended to know nothing about what I wanted. I began my plea again from the beginning, patiently, calmly. She said,

“Well, is the package addressed to you?”

I said no, but I could have my daughter come with ID in moments if she found it. She looked extremely dubious. I gave her the tracking number my daughter had texted me and she insisted on looking it up again, although I had told her the system already had indicated it had arrived at the post-office. After much checking and re-checking and disappearances into the mail room, she told me that it had not, in fact, arrived yet, but was on its way. Since it was two-day delivery. It would go out as soon as it arrived. She had no idea when and the manager wouldn’t either.

Desperately, I called my daughter who had been on the phone to the central post-office number. They had insisted it had already arrived in the building and the manager would be the only one able to handle the situation.

I went back into the building, calling out once again that a central manager said it was in the building. Disgustedly, the woman behind the desk pointed a finger to the back of the line. This time I waited just a minute or two. The other clerk, a man, had the first opening. Although he could not have helped but hear the whole story as it unfolded, he, too, acted as if he had been in a sound proof bubble.

“How can I help you?” he asked.

Starting again from the beginning, I added the bit about the central manager and firmly asked to see their internal manager. He replied, “I’m the only one who is authorized to do this here. I’ll go check. The system still says it hasn’t yet arrived.”

Then he disappeared for a long interval.

Meanwhile, my daughter called again.

“It just arrived at our door! I don’t know how, but it’s here!” 

“The passport?” I asked. “The visa?”

“Yes, yes!”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, yes, I have them here in my hand.”

“Buy the ticket!” I said. “I’ll be back in ten minutes!”

I stood, peering into the back where I could see tables and cubbies in the mail room, and called out once

“Hello!”

Nothing. I turned to the women, still behind the desk. She shrugged.

Suddenly, he reappeared. Shaking his head.

“Just as I thought. Not here yet.”

Before he was finished, I was already shaking my own head and saying,

“It just was delivered to their door. Don’t know. Must be a miracle! Thanks! Bye!”

I pocketed my cell phone and dashed out the door, crossed the street and jumped into my car.

That was just the beginning. For another hour or so, my daughter and I compared flight paths from Paris and Amsterdam, Marseille and Lyon, arriving in Algiers or Bejaia. She spoke several times in the process to her brother and sister-in-law in France. Once to her brother-in-law in Tichy, Algeria. All in the slightly accented French of the Kabyle. Politely and patiently, she spoke to airlines and booked, canceled and re-booked tickets while my son-in-law spoke in Kabyle to his brothers in Algeria, eyes streaming, periodically rising to go to the balcony and smoke. Their four-year-old daughter somehow played quietly and happily in the midst of it all, going every once in a while to hug her father’s leg.

By the time we had the right combination all ready to go it was time. The process of getting everything together and getting out the door, usually a long one, happened quickly. Four-year-old shoes on, ready, passport, visa, keys, phones, ticket numbers, bag, all in the car. He, knowing the streets best, was able, even after several sleepless nights, to be his usual self long enough to drive. Somehow missing the exit at the last moment, we re-grouped quickly and lost only a few precious minutes.

We found parking, got everything together and made our way to the ticketing area, running where we could. There was, of course, some problem with getting the boarding pass at the machine, but my daughter somehow worked it through while I entertained my grand-daughter and kept my son-in-law from wandering off in search of a place to smoke.

Then the mad dash to the security lines. We were cutting it close. Too close. My daughter went off to find a security guard. When she returned, a uniformed man was following her. We ducked under the guide ropes and followed him at a run, me with grand-daughter on hip. He guided us under other ropes near the front, explaining briefly to the people waiting and moved us to the place where a guard was checking passports in front of the security machines.

Two families stood ahead of us, passports open, expectantly. My daughter asked the guard if her husband could be checked next. He indicated the people in front of us with a slight nod. She turned to them,

“His mother just died. He has to get on this plane to make the funeral. Please!”

After a moment’s hesitation, wife and husband exchanging a quick questioning glance, they made way for him, bowing their heads and gesturing.

My daughter and grand-daughter embraced my son-in-law, his daughter saying,

“Daddy I’ll miss you, but you’ll be with your family. I love you. They love you too.”

We all cried.

His passport checked, he moved into the security lines. Before he vanished on the other side of the TSA machines, he turned and waved. His plane was already boarding, moments to spare. My daughter called him to make sure he was heading directly to the plane, not distracted by his pressing need for a cigarette in the midst of all his sorrow and worry.

We drove back to their apartment, picked up the pieces, canceling tickets booked and now not needed, going on with the day of a four-year-old. There were calls to his brothers and sister-in-law to update plans. There were intimate moments sharing the grief my daughter had had to hold in check–memories of the time months she had spent in Tichy helping take care of his mom, the visits since–her beauty, her goodness, her wisdom.

It seemed he would be able to meet his brother, who was flying from France, at the airport in Algiers. From there they would take a taxi across the desert, infamous for its bandits, to the shores of the Mediterranean at the foot of the purple Atlas Mountains, to their small town, their parental home, to join their family of eight other siblings and countless grandchildren, cousins, uncles and aunts all in the throes of grief for this woman who had been the heart of it all.

We slept finally, at first a sleep of real repose after a seemingly impossible task was completed. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by the sound of a cell phone in my daughter’s room and the beginning of a conversation. She emerged, my grand-daughter miraculously still asleep.

It was two am and he was finally at the airport in Amsterdam, his plane from Seattle somehow having been delayed by four hours. The computers at the service desks at the airport were not operating well. He had to someone re-book his connections to arrive by the end of the day in Tichy. They were trying to get him booked on a flight to Marseille that would get him into Algiers in the evening. From there, it would be impossible to get to Tichy on time for the burial, but it seemed to be the only option. He had reconciled himself to the fact that his mother knew he was doing all he could to get to her. If he could not make it, she would understand.

We started up our computers. After several calls to agents of Air Algerie in France, who were used to the fact that it was mostly impossible to book tickets through their website, we were able to purchase him the ticket from Marseille to Algiers. He called back. He was booked to Marseille, but the flight was going to be late. He wouldn’t make the connection. The agents at the airport were trying to find other connections but their computers were still giving them trouble.

My daughter and I, with dueling laptops, set about finding all the various routes from Amsterdam to connecting cities and on to Bejaia or Algiers. After being on the verge of giving up several times, I found a link through Lyon to Bejaia that would actually get him there in the early evening, about a half-hour’s drive from his family home.

Madly, he worked with the agents there and we on our computers to book the tickets. Just as we had completed the purchase, the agents there told him he didn’t have enough time to make the connection in Lyon. We despaired. Back to the computers. Was there something to Algiers we’d missed? Would he just have to get there the next day and miss the funeral entirely?

After about a half an hour, he called again. They thought he could make it. He was boarding the plane to Lyon. My daughter and I embraced. Maybe he really was going to get there on time. She called his brother in Tichy where people were keening and wailing in the background. They would be able to postpone the burial until he arrived if there were no other delays. She called his sister-in-law in France with the change of plans. We embraced and went back to our beds for a short hour or two.

In the morning, we had not heard from him. My daughter, after several calls, discovered that he had made it to the house just in time to see his mother’s body. His brother from France had arrived at almost the same time. The grand-daughter who was left at the house confirmed they had all gone to the burial in the mountains just above the house. They were returning the body to the place where her life had begun, tending goats in view of the endless expanse of the turquoise sea.

Connections to Algeria can be very spotty. Internet service is sometimes available, sometimes not. My daughter wasn’t able to contact him for several hours. We spent the time canceling flights, buying flight insurance, taking care of my grand-daughter, cleaning and cooking, and talking together about his family and the things they’d been through.

After her nap, I took my granddaughter to the playground. On our way back, my phone lit up with my son-in-law’s name. Calling me from Algeria? I answered. He hadn’t been able to reach his wife. He was okay. I gave the phone to his daughter. She told him she loved him and missed him and she had just been to the playground. I took back the phone.

“Are you okay? How did it go?” questions that as soon as they were uttered felt totally inane and inadequate.

“I got to see her. I got to embrace her. I was the one who buried her. It was right. I got here.”

Soon he will travel back from that world to this. The flow of love does not cease with death. It breaks open the heart. It can transform those still warm with breath, awake to greet their grief. We have known this since we all began to see the thoughts that form in that space of our mind, those thousands and thousands of years ago.

In the Mountains Above the Sea

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

 

Smoke

The smoke blew down from Canada.  In the heat of the summer, fires were burning in the forests of British Columbia. For a day or so, people went about their business, wondering a bit why the sky was grey when the sun seemed hot behind it. But grey was a familiar sky.

A dawning realization spread towards the end of the day, moving from person to person. Those who were spending the day working inside began to hear it from those who were outside. These were not the grey skies of the often cloudy northwest, but skies filled with a cover of smoke. There was no real smell of smoke, no real choking sensation, no sharp sting in the eyes to let you know it was there. Many people continued living their lives without real awareness. Perhaps they noticed a dryness in their throats and a cough when they settled down to sleep, wondering if it were some new kind of summer allergy.

As the days of grey skies went on, day after day, even those ignoring the signs began to feel an uncertain, inchoate longing for the blue skies of July, the white of puffs of clouds in the openness. They longed for vastness. Although they might not feel a choking sensation in their throats, something within them seemed to be gasping for expanse. Their spirits were confined, dulled, a bit desperate. Each day they woke up to a hazy white sun, each evening watched the globe of that same sun, now still high on the other side of the sky, turned red and a bit blue. Each night, they thought certainly they would wake to a sun rising in the light blue sky of early summer morning, but the grey and the strange light went on.

They began to look for signs in the sky, some small opening into the blue beyond. They pointed out to each other some thinnings in the cover, places where it began to look as it does when a fog that has blown in from the sea begins to burn off in the sun of late morning. For a few moments, the thick haze seemed to be slowly dissolving, becoming blue. Then the layer of grey closed over again.

The air seemed dead and quiet. The sounds of chirping birds and the choruses of morning and evening were all but gone. Even the roosters seemed silenced. It was a restless stillness, cooler than July should be. It was a Sunday quieter than Sunday, no lawn mowers, weed whackers, no grindng tractors. Only one or two motorcycles zoomed down the road during the day. Even those seemed muffled.

Even in the dullness of the days as they stretched on one after another, in the pervasiveness of the yellowish-green light, many seemed oblivious. Perhaps it was a kind of optimism, perhaps a dullness in their own spirit that matched the haze hanging over, a shade of compatibility. Exercise outside became taxing, contributing to the dullness. Occasional shadows on the grass, summer light penetrating briefly, produced moments of joy, sudden and fleeting relief from the dinginess and the luminous gloom.

There began to be murmurings that the much anticipated solar eclipse, approaching in just two weeks’ time, would prove to be an anti-climax, a disappointment after all this daytime darkness. From somewhere in the subconscious a nagging worry began to gnaw its way through into some part of awareness that the rest of the summer would pass away without the blue of the skies. This strange greyness would just blend into the long, familiar greyness of winter without the needed dose of sun, cheated of the storing away of the light.

There had been times before this, once the year before I was born, when, for a day or two at a time, fires from Canada had blanketed parts of the US and even Europe with darkness. This, then, was rare, but not unique. In addition to the burning of hundreds or even thousands of square miles of forest, the intensity of the smoke that summer long ago came from burning grasslands and the intensification of slow-burning peat fires in British Columbia. Street lamps came on in the middle of the day as far away as Florida. The plume of smoke may have been carried all the way around the globe by the patterns in the wind. Communication was spotty in those days. Since, as now, the smoke plume was high, there was no smell of smoke as darkness descended during the day. People thought perhaps it was Armageddon or nuclear blasts or both. It was uncanny as this grey is uncanny. Eight years later, the fires of 1958 burned over 3300 square miles of forest by the end of the fire season. So far, the fires now burning to the north in British Columbia had consumed about half that and it was not yet mid-August.

These days of sombre summer leave me restless, as if gathering energy to burst out above the haze to somehow bathe in the blue again. It is the same energy that fuels the desire to break through the fog blanketing so much of the human spirit.

As with the shifts in the wind and weather that are sure to come, I sense there is a deeper shifting that has already begun.  We will have to ride skillfully on that wind and see what haze it can dispel, what skies it will reveal.

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.

 

 

 

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This has been an odd week.  Much to think about (small details like the direction of our lives and what the universe is truly asking of us at the moment).

There’ve been raspberries to pick at least once a day (42 quarts in the freezer and counting), gooseberries to pick and freeze (small harvest this year–2 quarts in the freezer and more ripening on the bush for eating), black currents to pick (Creme de Cassis is in the cool storage, aging for the holidays), favas to pick, process , and freeze, zucchinis to do everything you can imagine with, snap peas to pick and distribute, broccoli to pick, blanch and freeze, the flower garden to tend, watering in the summer dryness of the Northwest and the house to clean to an inch of its life to get ready for a showing that never materialized. And the jewel of the week–a much-too-short visit in Seattle with my son who lives too far away and I haven’t seen for far too long.

Now my son is on a flight back to Indiana. The raspberry bushes have given all their summer energy to their fruits and are passing into the hot calm of August, their leaves beginning to dry and the fruit ripening too fast to keep up with, drying on the branches. I’ll pick a few more pints today and tomorrow and then that cycle will come to rest. We’ll be busy with more picking, processing, cooking and eating in the coming weeks.

There’s plenty of food in the freezer with lots more coming. Walter’s quarts of canned cherries, beautiful in their row on the shelf in the canning room, will be joined by pickles and canned tomatoes, drying garlic, onions and potatoes.

When we move to France, someone will have a lot of food for the winter. Or we will eat the food from the land we walk on as we have for thirteen winters. Life is good one way or another.  When the moment is right, we will gather our forces for yet another adventure on another continent.

Meanwhile, this week I will work on another story and you can read some of the stories you missed.  Browse by category.   As my son said, “It’s hard to keep up.”  

I know what he means.

 

 

 

A Window in Time (Part 1): Bastille Day

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Today is Bastille Day.

I will tell you a story of a long ago Bastille Day in Paris the summer after the massive anti-capitalism and antiwar demonstrations and strikes of 1968. 

When I think of France I normally don’t think of Paris, busy, noisy, beautiful Paris, but today I’ll speak of a time in Paris when reality roiled its back like a sea monster briefly breaking above the water, creating storm waves all around.

She was eighteen, with blondish hair past her shoulders and blunt-cut bangs, a veteran of the 1967 March on the Pentagon, a student of English literature and of French and Russian and with the naive sense that her mind was capable of encompassing everything. Her parents were paying for a trip to Paris as a high-school graduation present, a cultural break before college. She and a friend from high-school had gone to New York together and purchased round trip tickets to London on Icelandic Air. The friend was also eighteen, with hair even longer and blonder than hers. They’d known each other for years but weren’t the most intimate of friends, she having found a consuming friendship with an intense young woman who had moved to their school from Palo Alto. France on Five Dollars A Day in her suitcase and on a strict budget, she and her friend had flown to London with hits of good Owsley acid hidden in their socks, meant to be shared at just the right moment.

Arriving at Heathrow, they’d gone directly to stay with a family in Oxford who knew the friend’s parents well. He was a Don at New College (the older part of Oxford) and the archetype of a cozy English prof, well rounded in body like a well-stuffed armchair, part of the stuffing extruding from his mouth in the form of upper-crust British English, full of overfed vowels, almost impossible to comprehend but occasionally well worth the heightened effort.

His wife was charmingly hostesy, and his grandchildren, all golden curls and perfect manners, made them feel they’d walked into a delightful post-Victorian Era British children’s book, especially when the children were released by their grandmother for “a romp in the garden” with the two friends. They went punting and picnicking on the Cherwell, a tributary of the Thames, where she dutifully made the rookie error of following the punting pole into the river, drying off in the sun on the river bank where they ate the things from the beautifully packed picnic basket. She learned how to say “boot” instead of trunk, and “strawbs” instead of “strawberries” and managed to choke down meat pies for the first time in her life.

From there, they took a train and then a boat across the Channel where they began their adventures by hooking up with a good-looking “older” man in his twenties who already worked as a journalist. They were intrigued by his aura of left-wing professionalism and his dual Greek and British passports.

They disembarked in Callais as the largest darkest orange full moon she’d ever seen rose over the tree-lined roads, golden fields of grain and red poppies spreading out on both sides. They camped in a tent with their new friend, putting up with some fairly gentlemanly groping, he trying to convince them to join him in Spain where he was headed for an extended vacation. They refused, feeling in part still dutiful and in part, even in their innocence, divining what a good thing he thought he’d found with two young American girls, perhaps eventually willing.

In the morning, he drove them into Paris in his Renault and deposited them in front of their student pension on the Left Bank on Rue des Ecoles where they’d somehow managed to rent a room for a month. They were enrolled in the summer French Intensive course for Foreigners at the Sorbonne, a process accomplished in those days totally by correspondence. They shared a room on the third floor with french doors opening onto a tiny balcony with iron grillwork. There they could sit on the window sill and watch the life in the street below and become absorbed in the lives of the people in the opposite flats.

They went to classes fairly regularly for a week or so before getting fed up with the slow pace of things. They were learning more French in their adventures around the city, where they went to cafés, wandered endlessly together or alone, shopped in the bookstalls on the quays of the Seine, explored Notre Dame and the Ile de Paris, sat on the quay in the evenings with German students whose big rucksacks were always there to lean on and their near-perfect English an entryway into the easy relationships of youth.

After a while, when they had practically stopped attending classes, they met up one evening with a young Frenchman on the quay. Young and ready for opportunity, he had approached the international group sitting around a guitarist and focused on the two blond women speaking a mixture of English and French. He was from Strasbourg, working-class and adventurous. He impressed the girls by teaching them argot and gallantly buying them a special dictionary of slang from one of the bookstalls.

Michel was his name. He was their age, friendly and easy-going and clearly interested in the friend with long blond hair for more than conversation. They went together to Greek restaurants deep in the Latin Quarter and drank cognacs so late into the evening that the two friend got locked out of their pension more than once. That was when he introduced them to the place where he lived in an Arrondissement on the other side of the river. The apartment where he lived with two other “mecs”, likely Algerians, was in a rough neighborhood. He’d bring back baguettes, butter and milk for breakfast and make them coffee in bowls with heated milk.

It was coming up on July 14th, Bastille Day, the day the two friends had chosen as the occasion special enough to use their smuggled acid. They consulted together about whether they could trust Michel enough to share it. After several days of hesitation, they decided to risk it. Down on the quays, they had all smoked pot with the German students. They knew he was no stranger to mind-altering experiences.

That evening, the three of them sat together on the edge of the quay and discussed the possibility. The two friends were now comfortable enough in their command of French that they were able to communicate some of the subtleties of the situation. As best as they were able, they described the experiences they’d had with acid, trying to give him a basis for a decision about whether it was something he wanted to take on.

In the end, although not without some trepidation, he did. He wondered, as privately did they, how prepared he was for an experience so extremely outside of what he had known growing up in his small town in the north of France. He told them more about what Bastille Day was like in Paris, full of fireworks in the street, parades down the Champs Elysee, crowds of people, parties, dancing, music and street performers everywhere. Everyone excited and happy. Everything festive. Everybody drinking lots of wine. How marvellous it would be with the enhancement of LSD, thought the two friends.

The night before, they slept at Michel’s apartment in the 17th Arrondissement, the two girls on the floor in bedrolls purchased at the Puce. The morning was bright, sunshine filtering in down the air shaft in the middle of the tenement and into the only the small apartment’s only window. They made cafés au lait and shared a baguette and then ceremoniously took the tiny white pills the friends had brought from the States, one each.

The two young women put on their long skirts and sandals and gathered up their passport wallets with enough money for food for the day. They waited as Michel, taking his time, had made sure he had his carte d’identité in his wallet and had combed his hair. Together they set off into the bright sunshine.

As they walked through the Arab quarter of Barbes Rochechouart, the streets were beginning to fill with people off for the holiday, walking in groups or with families, setting off to their favorite cafe to start the day. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy, people at their ease looking forward to spending a festive day together in a city with endless possibilities and endless beauties.

They descended the stairs of the Metro station at Brochant, Michel running ahead and turning to usher the girls down the next flight with a theatrical bow. They glanced shyly at each other as they stood on the platform waiting for the train, communicating without words the intoxication of an experience of the world that was beginning to unfold.  Even the expanse of the train station itself felt it held an intimation of how each object, each sight, now contained infinities of beatific interest.

After changing trains several times led through the maze by the savvy Michel, they emerged at the Louvre station, not to brave the pressing crowds of the museum itself, but to begin their day of wandering in sight of the old palace at the Tuilleries.

They walked through the gardens, seeing each familiar sight with total freshness as if its very nature had opened itself for their detailed examination and contemplation. People passed and left their impressions. The play of the children around the fountains took on its proper meaning. They were exhalted.

As the day began to turn to afternoon, they sat in a café with glasses of wine in front of them, mostly unconsumed, speaking to each other occasionally in the flow of all the magic unfolding in front of them in the street. There were mountebanks and fire eaters, street dancers and singers, but the people themselves were the most extraordinary sight. It seemed somehow that a festival of human oddities had begun, with families of giants and midgets, people with facial deformities, the enormously fat and enormously skinny, all gay and splendid in their holiday attire.

They walked again across the bridges, passing through the throngs who were promenading there, some chatting vociferously to each other, others laughing and gesticulating with their arms. They hung on the balustrades and watched the river below for a timeless interlude before crossing to the Ile de la Cité to enter the Cathedral.

What magnificence. They were pulled through the doors into the flow of people towards the center. As if on an island in the middle of a swirling lake, a white and scarlet-robed priest rose above the crowd, intoning words of ritual. The inner walls of the cathedral seemed to vanish. They found themselves immersed in another world, suffused by an incredible light that colored the air itself with jewel-like glow. The smoke of incense rose up into the arches of the heavens above, creating beams of white. They stood entranced at the edge of the gathering as a bell rang repeatedly from the altar, creating reverberations of color and sound throughout the nave. When the big bell of the cathedral itself began its tolling the universe itself was encompassed in the sound.

They were eventually pulled back through the doors to wander the grounds. There they walked on the grass and stone grass under the stupendous stone arches of the flying buttresses. Between the cathedral walls and the river, they became lost together in some zone of wizardry.  The air was beginning to scintillate with the colors of the sparklers that passer-bys held and spun in circles with their arms. Fireworks seemed to be coming from everywhere in the sky, sending sparks of light throughout the atmosphere, hovering around people and buildings, swooping like galaxies here and there. Time passed. Wonderful beings went by, singing.

In the midst of it, someone made a decision to climb the tower to see the gargoyles. Somehow directions were sought, money was exchanged and tickets bought. They climbed the long stairs of the north tower to the top to look out over the river and the city and commune with the gargoyles. What creatures they were. Some seemed to have flown tremendous distances in their travels and to have gained enormous wisdom. That afternoon, the three friends stood with them and heard many stories as they rested their heads against their stone wings.

Towards the end of the day, in Michel’s wake, they took the metro to Montparnasse, sat with the singing hoards of students gathered on the steps of Sacre Coeur, and watched the sunset, the city spread out before them. Flowers of color sprouted suddenly as fireworks exploded here and there amidst the sparks of the white street lights.   They thought that never before or since has there been such a magnificent sunset or such a joyous choir.

As the darkness began to penetrate into the streets of Montparnasse, they felt the lassitude of evening seeping in through their skins. The effect of the acid was on its downward mellow glide. The comfort of a little food and an apartment where they could relax began to call to them.

Even their young limbs were feeling a bit weak as they set off together again towards the Metro. After a miraculous navigation in the Metro, they were back in the Barbes Rochechouart.

They found a café where they bought some pastries from the case and then some fruit from the corner épicerie open late. They climbed wearily to Michel’s apartment where they put on a Bob Dylan record and stretched out his bed, contentedly munching pastries.

They must have dozed for a while. She woke to a pounding somewhere. Michel was up and moving to the door. The night was black at the window.

As she watched, he undid the locks and opened the door. As he pulled it towards him, a man seemed to slump and fall forward into his arms. Michel caught him around his back in a kind of rough embrace and walked him back into the room, easing the heavy form onto a chair. It was one of his roommates. Some guttural conversation was exchanged in the thick argot of the streets, incomprehensible from where she now sat on the bed, alert and more than a bit unnerved. Michele turned to the two friends, both now fully awake, and said in an excited voice,

He’s hurt. He’s been stabbed. He’s bleeding from his side.”

Over the next moments, they heard the hurried story of a fight in the streets Michel had so far be able to glean from his friend. Suddenly the door was being pushed open again by the other roommate, hair wet with sweat and shirt torn. He turned and quickly locked and latched the door behind him. There was more hushed conversation. A plan was being made.

The wounded man turned to the two young women groggily and explained in stilted but proper French that the wound was not grave, just painful. He was clearly in shock. Michel explained that the second roommate would take the wounded one to a neighbor’s apartment where he would be safe from the gang who had attacked him. They would wait until morning, evaluate the knife wound and see if a doctor were necessary.

In case the trouble followed his friend to their apartment, Michel thought it best they all leave. They gathered their things and the uneaten pastries and quietly and sleepily left the apartment, taking back streets around the scene of the fight.

It was too early for the Metro. Despite their drowsiness, they decided to walk back towards the girls’ pension on the Rue des Ecoles, where the concierge would not open the door for several hours.

A glow still lingered through the fatigue as they walked. It was mysterious and a bit exciting to be moving through the unfamiliar dark streets back towards the Seine. After what seemed a long and rather weary trek, they found themselves on the Rue Rivoli of the Right Bank, passing the back of the grand palaces of the Louvre.

They kept going until they reached the Boulevard de Palais and took a right turn towards the bridge to the Ile de la Cité. They could see Notre Dame not too far off, its towers, buttresses and rosette window brilliant in the dark city, a huge light among the nests of white Parisian street lights. They began their walk across the Pont St. Michel towards the quays of the Left Bank on the other side.

As they came to the bridge, sleep beginning to pull at them, they saw three women silhouetted against the white lights of the other bank, the colors of the Seine shining from below. They were leaning against the grey-white stone of the balustrade to the right, chatting, their murmuring conversation punctuated by quiet waves of laughter. One had her leg bent backwards behind her, letting her spiked heeled dangle from her foot, relaxed, black hair piled partly on her head, part hanging down her back.

As they came closer, they could clearly see the heavy black eyeliner and the red lips of the woman turning towards them. She looked pointedly from Michel to the blond friend walking close behind him. She spoke to Michel with flashing eyes and a little toss of her head. Of the string of invectives, the only word that came through clearly to the two girls was “Putain!” By the direction of her glance as she said it, they knew she referring to them. Her companions laughed and turned to lean their backs against the rail, the better to be able to taunt the two girls as they walked past. One of the leaning women spit on the sidewalk as they continued to snarl their insults.

Michel stopped several paces from them and turned to the girls, saying,

They’re insulting you and asking me why I’ve gotten myself some blond whores when I could have them with dark hair like me. It’s impossible! I have to defend your honor.”

As he said it he turned, swearing back at the women and pulling a knife he evidently had had in his pocket. He motioned the girls to go around him into the middle of the street as he kept his knife out in his extended hand and faced the women.

As the two friends began to move, the dynamic suddenly shifted. The two leaning women had pushed themselves from the railing and run around the first, skirting Michel. They were rushing towards the two friends, yelling, arms flailing at them with their claw-like fingernails. Suddenly they were on them, kicking with their high heels, scratching, biting, Michel trying to keep the other at bay. They felt as if they were being attacked by some pride of lithe cougars.

Knife hand extended towards the woman still holding the balustrade, Michel reached back with the other arm and grabbed his friend by the shoulder and then around the waist. She reached to grab her friend’s arm as he pushed and pulled them past the wildly flailing, screaming women. Grabbing her hand now, he pulled both friends in a human chain, yelling,

“Run! Run!”

With her friend still clinging to her hand, Michel yanked them with force into the intersection at the end of the bridge, heading for the opening of the Rue Danton. He turned to look as he said,

They’re chasing us!”

Panting, he added,

I think a guy has joined them. Keep running up here until we get to the police station. It’s just a few blocks. Run! Run faster!”

At that moment, she realised her friend’s hand had slipped from hers. She jerked as hard as she could on Michel’s hand as she wrenched around, trying to see behind them, screaming her friend’s name.

Stop, Michel, stop! I can’t see her! I lost her hand!”

But as she yelled, he just jerked her hand harder, pulling her forward. “We have to keep running. She’s following. I’m sure!”

Everything was happening in a blur of movement, nothing coherent.

When he had pulled her forward for a long block or two, both of them losing their breath, their tired legs buckling under them, they slowed as he turned and then stopped in the middle of the street.

I think they gave up,” he said.

He called out to the friend who must be just behind them, just around the last corner. No answer. He yelled again. Nothing. They began running back the way they had come, rounding bend after bend with no one in sight.

Desperately, she began joining him in calling out for her friend, their voices reverberating in the cobbled road. They finally arrived back at the intersection of the Boulevard St. Michele, near the bridge, having seen no one in the echoing streets.

She wasn’t sure what happened then. There was some confusion in her memory. She remembered there was a kind of greyness that hit them, followed by a perplexity of movements and ideas. She thought that somehow, after trying the police station with no result and wandering the streets in search of their friend, the sun had come up and the city around them was beginning to wake with a bit of a hangover, wobbling a bit here and there. She thought she bought Michel a coffee and a croissant and the sat for a few minutes in the first cafe to open on The Boule Miche.

By then, it was late enough to start back to the pension on Rue des Ecoles nearby to see if their friend would return there.

They walked along the quay where the bookstalls’ owners were just opening up the stalls and arranging their books for display. Passing each one, she felt rosy pangs of already nostalgic love for these men and women and their stacks of French and foreign books and art prints.

As they turned the now-familiar corner onto Rue des Ecoles and approached the entrance to the pension, she looked up at the third story window with the open French door, curtain billowing slightly outward through the opening in the breeze. There was nothing to indicate whether her friend had returned. Michel walked with her to the heavy wooden door. She opened it and looked up the stairwell, then turned and asked Michel to wait while she went up to check.

She climbed the stone stairs to their door and opened it with her key. With profound relief, she saw her friend lying there in her bed, asleep, still dressed, with the sheet pulled over her.

She saw her stir and called her name gently. Her friend’s eyes opened as she looked at her with a hint of accusation.

What happened to you?” she asked, in a rush, guilt flaming her face.

We were so worried! We’ve looked all over!”

Her friend half sat up in the bed.

My hand pulled out of yours and you didn’t stop. I yelled for you, but Michel was yelling too and no one heard.”

She shook a little as she said it, giving a kind of soft sob. The story tumbled out.

I had to think fast. I turned and ducked up an alley until they’d gone by. Then I ran back towards the quay as fast as I could go. When I got to the road by the river I saw a little car approaching the intersection. I ran out into the street in front of it and waved my arms. There were some guys running up after me from the bridge. The car stopped and someone started to lean out of the window. I didn’t wait. I just ran up beside the car and jerked open the back door and slammed it behind me. There was a couple in the front seat looking back at me as if I were crazy. I just yelled, ‘Drive away!’ Fortunately, they listened. After we’d gone a block or two and I could stop looking behind us, I explained what had happened as best I could. I asked if they could drive back and see if we could find the two of you. They did, but you were gone. They took me to get coffee and then back here as soon as the door was open.”

They hugged each other tightly and a bit tearfully, feeling shaky, and then went down to the street to reassure Michel. They all hugged there on the sidewalk, young and shaken, and agreed they needed to go to their own respective beds and get a good sleep. The bone-tired weariness and dullness of spirit at the end of an acid trip had overtaken them. The sun was warming up what promised to be a hot July day. They kissed each other on both cheeks and said “À bientôt.”

She and her friend climbed back up the stairs, threw off their sweaty sandals and clothes, closed the top shutters to keep out the sun, stretched out under their cool sheets and fell greedily into a deep sleep, as welcome as a long drink of water after a journey through the desert.

Her shame returned only in those dreams that happen just before waking as she finally stirred in the cool of the evening after Bastille Day, having slept away the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Element of Earth

It was mid-September and the mornings were getting cold. The night before, I had laid out my clothes with a warm jacket, a wool blanket, wool hat and gloves and then slept soundly.

I was on a road trip on my own, a kind of pilgrimage. This morning I was going to the place that had called me back, a place on the high desert. I wanted to get there right at sunrise.

I left the house where I was staying very quietly, making sure to close the screen door carefully. The air in the dark pines was sharp with cold, the night turning to pre-dawn grey.

As I drove through the scruffy, sagebrush desert, light began to seep gently over the horizon. The road went on and on through a seemingly boundless expanse. The sun was staining the bottom of the sky warm orange and beginning to reveal the cloudless blue above as the huge rock formation came into view ahead.

The formation itself, now glowing orange and brown in the warmth of the rising sun, is the remainder of an ancient volcanic crater, looming up from the flat desert floor in a huge jagged semi-circle, one side open to the plains that stretch endlessly on all sides. I felt a warm flow of joy as I came closer and closer.

I parked in the dirt  lotand pulled on my warm clothing, locked the car and stood for a few long minutes looking up into the huge rounded enclosure, the rock walls looming high above me on both sides, orange and sandy brown in the morning light. I set off for the rocks under the steeper eastern wall. The air was still cool enough to make me thankful for the warm wool blanket I carried with the water in my pack.

These rocks of volcanic tuff had sheltered humans for at least thirteen thousand years, back when it was an island in a huge receding lake. They lived and hunted and fished all around the walls of rock. Their presence emanates from every shelter in the jutting rock, every waft of air, every clump of brown grass and sage. I felt it in the path still used now by tourists. I was all alone in their presence and would be for a few hours.

From below, I selected a spot among the huge rocks and vegetation near the wall’s protective interior face. A prairie mouse scuttered from the hiding place of one rock to another. A litter of small bits of tuff covered much of the ground where short brown grasses pushed up here and there. It was a place fairly sheltered from view from below and from the rays of the rising sun promising to gradually heat the air. It would have a commanding view of what had once been Lake Mazama, left by the receding glacier.

I climbed up and moved from spot to spot until I found one that had just the right view and was comfortable enough to sit for the hours until I would no longer be alone. Wrapping my blanket around my legs and feet, pulling my hat down over my ears, buttoning up my coat and putting on my wool gloves I began my sitting.

I greedily breathed in air permeated by expansive silence. No sound of human activity, no calls of birds, no movement of air. Stillness. The rock walls enclosed the whole space around my back and sides, looming upwards, earth jutting up towards sky. Gradually I felt each cell drawing in the solid brownness of it, the smooth greyness, absorbing the particles of earth and lava that had been compressed by huge forces over aeons. I settled into the earth, encompassed by its strength.

Before me spread the plain, the sun still tinging east-facing rock with orange as it rose gently higher. Humans had lived with this expanse for millennia. When early human lived here, it had been an enormity of water, stretching to the horizon. They had woken each morning with the presence of this rock, rubbed their eyes, stretched, yawned and begun their day, their eyes taking in all this beauty. We have all felt it the same way. We absorb the immensity. We reflect it in our eyes, our hearts. It stretches out within us and settles, as I had settled.

Sparrows came and scratched near my feet in the sandy dirt and dry grasses for moments, looking for seeds, heads cocking this way and that, ever alert, skitting off quickly. A big hawk flew out over the plain, rested in the air and then circled slowly back to a perch on the cliff above me where he stayed, watching. Everything returned to stillness. My mind became completely still yet full with the substance of earth.

The light changed so slowly that even change seemed stillness. The sun’s warmth gradually spread through the roundness of the opposite side of the crater while I continued to be hidden in shade. I felt the warmth in small currents of air begin to reach into the shadow.

Within the world of the enclosing walls, one by one, two by two, individual rocks took on shape, color and character. The colors of their solidity shifted from greys to warm browns and reds. They cast long shadows as the sun rose gradually higher, their dark spread the only movement. At the far edges of the crater, the rocks were already losing the depth of their deep colors to the bleaching light of the sun, losing their earth and becoming ether. But the huge walls retained their strength, their earth, even as the reds and browns began to disappear.

I sat as it all shifted slowly, slowly through me. I shed the blanket, the gloves and the hat and opened my coat. Other small birds flew among the rocks, chirping, warbling brief snatches. A prairie falcon swooped, calling its wild call, speaking to me, and flew out over the plain. Always the expanse, the weight and strength of enormous rock. Earth. Stillness. My body settled further as if enveloped by earth.

It was only after the sun was halfway up the sky that I heard the distant sound of a car. I watched as it drove along the road leading to the crater where I sat hidden, the warmth of the day having now penetrated further into the circle, light now where I had been in shadow. With slow deliberation, I put my warm clothes into my pack, drank some water and gathered myself to stand. As the car came to a stop down below at the entrance to the crater, an older couple emerged, looking up and around them, getting ready to ascend along the trails into the encircling cliffs.

I threaded my arms through the straps of my pack as I began climbing around the big rocks there half-way up the wall, picking my way, unnoticed, to the back of the crater. I had the whole day to explore the trails through the sagebrush and the rock formations that covered the expanse of the ancient crater. Each formation of red and brown tuff had its own qualities of earth. I wanted to pull it all in as I walked and breathed.

One by one and in small groups, more people gradually came to walk the trails. We spoke to each other briefly, always about the rock, about the awe. It was reflected everywhere.

When I had explored every nook and cranny as I would the body of a beloved, breathing in the various fragrances rocks, dust, dirt and sage, climbing up the trails to the top of the outer tip of one edge of one wall where it opens out over the prairie, viewing the infinity from the opening in every way, I finally left the intimacy of the grand but still enclosed space and walked out along the outside of the crater. I seemed to breathe a newer air there than that inside the walls. I craned my neck and looked up at the great height of the rock cliffs. There I sat and ate my late lunch under the sparse shade of a juniper tree.

After I had eaten, I walked the sandy trails back to the center of the crater and sat on a rock to absorb the entirety once more before I left.

Earth.

I remained there on that rock until the sun was once again more than halfway down towards the horizon and the heat its most intense. Again, it was again perfectly quiet in the bleaching light. The last of the people had driven away. I sat until I couldn’t sit anymore. I took my time walking back to the car, absorbing each prospect as I went.

After I’d let the heat of the oven inside the car dissipate, I drove out along the arching road away from the crater, past the settlers’ cemetery, turning my head or looking in the mirror again and again as the sun, descending towards the horizon, began to touch the colossal volcanic walls with warming browns and red. I stopped the car and got out to see this unimaginably immense sanctuary of rock once more, small now in perspective.

The intimacy of being in its midst, the stillness, remained, even as it appeared to dissolve from earth to ether there in the gathering darkness in the distance.

 

 

The Element of Water

Water.

There is the water that runs down as melting snow from the high mountains.

Water that carries the flour of rocks ground by the glaciers that lie between mountain peaks that loom even higher–mineral flour ground by the weight of the glacier’s  captured snow, then suspended in the trickling streams that tickle the glacial underbelly as the cold, cold water seeps through the layers of ancient ice. Flowing from everywhere in the ice, pulled by the forces of earth, trickling down across the grey and brown surfaces of granite, dolomite, and gneiss, they feed into one flow.

This growing river’s water is sometimes white with the glacial milk, sometimes green as it dances in the light and begins to roar with the power of all this water, traveling down.

We climb up the trail along such a river which is rushing down the mountain all at one enormous speed, with all energy reaching upward and plunging downward in a tumultuous dance.

The sheer force of it runs through me, obliterating all else with its roaring, soaring endless song.

Then, there on the other side of the plunging, churning water, a slim tree had fallen and was caught between rocks in the river’s bed, stretching out what was once its sun-reaching height to point upriver.

As the water churns past the rocks that grasp it, its tip bobs up and down, its rhythm a complex counterpoint in the music of the water,  part of the symphony that all human symphonies yearn for.

In these waters that are as much air as water, as much fire as air, there are birds called Dippers that fly through the river itself. Although I watch carefully as I walk along the banks, It is only later in my dreams I see it, a small brown and tan bird, plunging into the frothy white and green waves, going upstream, flying with strokes of its wings in the clear depths, catching bugs and popping out again to bob along downstream for a moment.

As we travel higher there is a place where all this tremendous force, this deafening flow, is slowed by a gathering of the debris it has itself carried down the slopes. Behind the debris it pools, resting quietly before it gradually penetrates the barrier and resumes its fall.

The flow has become a lake above this dam, shining an ethereal turquoise as the sunlight strikes the particles of mineral milk, an apparition neither of earth nor sky but of some otherworldly realm. Watching from the shore the lake spreads inside you, reflecting all quietly, expanding to the outer edges of the soul. A bird may fly through this space, calling. If it does, by its nature, it will pierce into the heart of things.

Looking around, the mountains rise into the ether, snow still clinging precariously to their upper reaches.

Enormity.

We walk further along the trail, through the forest of cedars and hemlock, now beginning to turn to pines, birch, and ash along the rock slides in the flats around the lake.

Here water trickles down everywhere, flowing from the melting snow above down to the lake.  We jump over some streams, splash through others. The sound of the water here is as gentle as the music of a softly blown flute, flowing everywhere around us.

On the way back along the lake and down along the trail, the tremendous flow of the river carries me with it, dizzying in its dance, its love of gravity.  Certainly, there is somehow fire mixed in the cascading water–fire and air.  This is why a bird can fly through it.

As we walk, we hear a boom followed a moment later by a flash of light searing a white line through the openings in the dark trees. More of the elemental fire. The predicted storm.

The rain begins to fall sparsely in large drops, some dripping slowly off the leaves of overhanging shrubs. The smell of ozone wafts through the pervasive fragrance of the cedar.

The rain begins in earnest as we stand in a dry spot under a tree and pull our rain jackets out of our packs. There’s a satisfaction in the cool, dry smoothness of them against our still-warm skin as we continue our downhill walk in the rain.

The heat of the day remains as an undertone to all this chilling water, leaving pockets of warmth in the cooling air.

As we walk into the quiet of the lower forest the rain has stopped.  I am empty. There is nothing left but soaring space containing only pervasive and quiet joy.

If it were not so late in the day, I would turn around and climb back again, climb further above the lake. I would stay in the presence of all this water, all this elevation.

It contains its own yearning.