I have just ridden my bike home from the farmers market. I unlatch the redwood gate, still straddling my bike, and position myself to waddle through. The gate opens inward, and as it swings open, my courtyard is revealed in a slow arc of color. For that span of time, the gate in slow motion, the hidden life coming into view, I have this lovely sensation of coming into a lush garden. The sweep of the gate opens to our palo verde, the wild patch of volunteer sunflowers from the bird feeder, the crazed dandelion “bush” I’ve been harvesting. What was once all stark concrete and pavers now holds this wash of color, these vibrant beings. The feeling seems to mirror my experience the other night walking in the dark, more an awareness of the body than the mind. I take in the surprising whoosh of life with the wonder of a child. Then my mind catches up, and I place this feeling beside my sadness of the other night. Maybe this is where our beginning layers of aliveness live, I think. And I feel grateful for our home with our secret courtyard garden. May she burgeon on.
My cat Sofia wakes me up, head in my face, so I can see the early morning rainbow over the mountains. I prop myself up on my elbows in bed to take it in. You can see our dry, rocky mountain through the shimmery spectrum of color. “Mmmm,” I say. “A magic day, hmm, munchkin?” I am still only half awake. I rub her head for a moment, and then I roll over and go back to sleep, leaving Sofia staring out the window wondering what is wrong with her human.
I keep running out of daylight, so I’ve taken to walking around our trailer park at night. I study each home. I like to see what people have done, the choices they’ve made depending on the configuration of the structure, the orientation of the lot, the emphasis on indoor versus outdoor space. I have years of wandering my neighborhoods at night. I love seeing windows lit up. They used to make me feel lonely but not anymore. The other night when I was walking, an odd awareness came over me, almost more physical sensation than actual thought. It lasted several paces, maybe half of the short block I was walking, heading west in the dark. I was struck by how rich in life these homes felt. The rows of colorful handblown glass, bottle after bottle stretching across all the windowsills I could see from the road. A covered patio, pristine, with artwork on the walls, bright abstract designs, the bicycles stowed just so. The sounds of music playing, TV, the opening and closing of cupboards, the clank of metal on metal, pot to the stove, someone preparing dinner. All these homes seemed so much more alive than my own. I felt a little awed, a little sad. Later, I wondered if what I sensed was an accumulation of life over time, that row of bottles spanning the years. I bet it began with one bottle on that first windowsill. A fresh coat of paint on the patio wall, the impulse to hang the abstract. I can almost see them now years ago in my mind, before life was laid down, these small acts of love, layer after layer.
I was cranky on the phone with my mother in the late morning. I blame it on hours of outrageous droning machinery that began before I was awake. They are putting in the pool at the house on the corner. In the afternoon I’m writing in my daily notebook. I can hear the construction workers yelling to make themselves heard over a new machine, an incessant whining at one of the houses closer to me. There is a small breeze. I want to savor the way the air feels against my skin. One lone dove is enjoying the birdseed in the big tray feeder, but I can’t hear her over the noise. The sound drills holes in my head. All day I brace against it. Even when I try to surrender, to let it wash over me and away, its teeth chew on me. Even now, when I turn to admire a goldfinch perched on the fence, the machine, the yelling, intrude. Now there is another sound, an endless grinding from the house nearest me. Polishing the cement? My right temple throbs. In the unexpected gap between assaults, everything softens. I hear the quiet sounds of the doves pecking in the feeder, two of them now. I hear the pwitter of dove wings, two more flying to the neighbor’s carport, queuing up for their afternoon meal. I take the first full breath I remember taking since the day began. I sink more fully into my chair. One day the construction will be over.
I dream I am ordering a burrito from Robert Redford. He is behind the cutout window of a little makeshift stand inside a large building, maybe a low-rent lobby but more the feeling of a second floor nonprofit, part workspace and part shelter. There is a handmade note attached to the side of the flimsy stand telling what they serve, and there are three different kinds of pork, so he needs to explain them to me. He is completely warm and kind and gives me his undivided attention. There are other people waiting, but he acts like we have all the time in the world. We talk about all kinds of things. The conversation feels flirty and fun. At one point I look at my feet and tell him I have forgotten what I wanted to say. A Mexican woman arrives to tell me the third pork option has something mixed in with the pork. I understand everything she is saying except the Spanish word for what is mixed in. She goes away and returns with this four foot long bundle of branches with dried leaves. I think it is the leaves she is talking about that must be added to the pork mixture, and then I follow the curve of the branches with my eyes and see they are covered with raisins! (After I wake I wonder if they ever do this, leave the grapes after the harvest, let them dry on the vine and then gather them together like this in the pruning process. I look up the word for raisins. Did she say pasas? Uvas secas? I don’t remember now.) At one point in my infatuation, of being so drawn to Redford, I am leaning in toward him while we talk. “Too close,” he says, and then he goes back to whatever he is telling me. There is no judgment of me in his warning, no recoil in him. I am just reminded in his warm, quiet voice to back off a bit. There is such sweetness in it all. I wake up filled with pleasure (and hungry for a pork burrito).
Have you noticed how far north the sun has already traveled across its annual trajectory? It keeps surprising me. It seems like it’s already more than halfway back toward the spot I watch it disappear behind the mountains in the height of summer, and yet we’re not nearly to the spring equinox which I’m thinking must be the halfway point in its path. One of my favorite holidays is Candlemas, or Imbolc. It falls on February second, Groundhog Day, and marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s one of the eight main pagan holidays, and it celebrates this growing light. This year for Candlemas I built a small altar with five candles. I don’t tend to follow any rules, but I chose five white tealights for the physical symmetry—I put one in the center—and because five is the human number. I picked flowers from my garden, used a baby food jar for my tiny bouquet. I meant to post to you on the holiday itself, but I went to see a play with my Auntie Christel, A Perfect Ganesh, and the Sunday slipped away from me.
But I am loving this lengthening of the days. This year more than ever I seem to have trouble getting things done while it’s still light. I end up walking around our neighborhood in the dark wearing my bright pink lighted dog leash like a sash to keep me safe from bike riders. Or doing my qi gong in the courtyard, my dragon’s punch toward the rim of the mountains just visible in the early night. I am not sorry for these, am enjoying each one, even the yoga I did the other night with a lamp beside me on the ground to make sure I could see any bugs who might decide to wander over. But it lifts my heart to feel those extra minutes of light added to every day, to watch the settling of darkness moving back a bit each night. Here is to the waxing light.
My shoulders jump, and I bring my bike to a stop. I’d surprised an egret when I came around the bend on the path, his big wings ready to launch himself at the whoosh of my sudden presence. His flurry of flapping startled me in return. Now he is standing off a bit on the golf course looking back at me. “I’m so sorry,” I say. “You scared me, too.” I laugh. “I had no idea you were there.” He stretches his neck, listening, watching me. “I’m coming back in a few minutes,” I warn him. “I’ll be more careful,” I say, and I push myself off again. I have decided to be “smart” on a busy day, taking my bike on the path instead of walking so I can go to Ralph’s on the way home, buy bird seed and cat litter. But maybe in my rush of doing I wasn’t paying enough attention. It feels good to be out, my wild wispy orange scarf keeping my neck warm as I ride. I pass a man with a grumpy face walking his dog. When I turn around and ride past him again I smile, and he almost smiles back. I slow down when I get back to Egret Bend, and I am surprised and glad to see him standing there, his tall, slim form still brilliant in the late dusk. I stop again, and we watch each other a bit more. I don’t know what I say, small endearments, high praise. He stretches his neck and moves his head as though he is following the arc of my words. “Safe night,” I wish him as I begin to ride away. “Sweet dreams.” I look for him and see him again each evening for a week, his stark, graceful form pure white and meandering in the distance. He is always alone.