I look up when I open the gate, and the small sliver of our waning moon hangs in the rich autumn-blue sky. At the sight I feel met, reassured, lightened. I ride my bike, my pretty new Carrot Girl, to Marylou and Richard’s. This morning I am playing elf. I leave violets and a Ziploc full of bird seed on the back porch to welcome them home. After, I buy bags of Nyger at True Value, pack them on my bike and ride off. I’m glad I didn’t leave things for later in the day because it’s already hot even though we’ve finally touched the relief of fall. I see someone on the sidewalk ahead of me, so I move to the street. There are no cars, no other people, just the two of us heading north. I hear mockingbirds in the cottonwoods to the right. It’s the first time I’ve heard them in months. “The mockingbirds begin,” I breathe, thrilled. It sounds like they’re tuning up, tapping into snatches of their repertoire, not quite breaking into song. I can see now it’s a man ahead of me, short, brown-skinned, something tied to his back, his stride easy. I pull even, and he looks over, surprised but not startled. When I turn toward him I’m already smiling, content on my bike, on this morning, on this quiet street. He grins, nods, his whole face open. I grin back and ride past, infused with joy, with the warmth of our rare, brief intimacy, so easy and glad. I ride home beside the jacarandas, weaving in and out of their shade, and hope that quick moment of connection made him feel good, too.
I lie on my back, diagonal across the bed, fear tingling through my body. It reminds me I’ve had two scary dreams in the past few nights. In the most recent, I crouch in the courtyard in the dark and watch a faded blue hatchback park outside the fence. The rear window is covered with stickers like the ones Colleen and I collected when we drove around the country in my yellow Pinto just after high school. In the dream a man gets out and tries to open the gate. I think, having someone try to get inside at four o’clock in the morning isn’t a good sign. I try to speak, to say, “Can I help you?” in the sharp, condescending voice I use for phone solicitors and strangers like this who don’t identify themselves. But the words never form, and I wake up with a jolt, fear coursing through me. Nightmares are rare for me these days. But this morning I didn’t wake from a bad dream. This amorphous fear is just alive in me. There are plenty of possible fronts: loss of income, Mami, Trie, my writing, the future. At one point, I notice the refrigerator is silent, and I worry it has died in the night. Even for me, this is such a stretch I have to laugh. After, I lie still and do a little metta practice, a little tonglen. I breathe in the fear from my body, breathe out trust and ease and well being. It quiets, becomes more subtle. I lie there for a long time and let my mind roam. I wonder if this awakening of fear is tied to the healing work I’m doing with Elana. Could it be only a sharper awareness of the fear that always lives in me? And then for one moment I sense excitement in there, too. That changes it for me, points me toward something maybe I can accept. The thought of living with this kind of fear all lit up in me, maybe for years, seems unbearable, but fear tinged with excitement feels more livable, maybe poised on the brink of the next thing. It softens it, adds hope, promise. I breathe in, breathe out. The refrigerator turns on. I hear morning traffic, building already as our snowbirds trickle back in. The finch begin to chatter in the courtyard. They’re late, sleeping in on this gray, cloudy day. I stretch, yawn, grab clothes. I open the louvered window, reach my hand through to touch the morning air. I relish the sight of the bright orange Mexican birds of paradise, taller than I am now, the blooms showing their wear on this autumn morning. I slip into my worn-soft sandals, ready to greet the day.
Tuesday gray skies open, and we have long hours of that steady, quiet rain that tastes like peace. I take my lime green umbrella and walk in the late dusk, the soft pattering of raindrops balm, honey, music, salve. Wednesday is Mami’s birthday, and she and Auntie Gardi come to celebrate. The rain stops just before they get here. I bring dry cushions out to wet chairs, and we sit together in the courtyard. They drink coffee and smoke cigarettes, fascinated by the birds thronging the feeders after the rain. It makes me glad to watch them watching, feel their pleasure. I don’t often get to share my courtyard birds with anyone. Today the sun is poised to sink behind the mountains as I write. I have a small glass bowl of water beside my bed with one dark orange Mexican birds of paradise blossom, two yellow tecoma trumpet-like blooms and a sprig of scarlet bougainvillea. They broke off from the small bouquet I picked for Mami’s birthday. This little bowl of color and the candle I light are the only outer ways I mark the equinox, but I feel it with me all day long, the perfect balance between night and day, between darkness and light. Maybe that’s why the funny longing that springs up in me, my crazy dream about going to Arizona on Saturday for a daylong retreat Amma is offering there stays alive so long in me today. Maybe this gateway in the turning of our world makes everything feel possible. The birds are quiet now, yesterday’s celebration a memory. But on this magic day when light and dark lie balanced just before the tipping point, Tuesday’s rain and the sweetness of our time in the courtyard yesterday feel like they are all of a piece, rich threads woven into soft, supple cloth. I feel lucky and content, writing now in the last light of the sun. Happy autumnal equinox, everyone.
When I think about my summer, my time without students is bookmarked by my meditation retreat and my writing workshop camping trip. They were both intensive, designed for breaking through, and I did. But each time I do I slump back again, go dormant. I eat too much, read too much, do too little. And summer itself feels like too much, sapping me. Then I get caught up in the semester start, all that needing to step up, all the patience and kindness it takes to welcome all those people, help them all get settled. Amid the flurry of it I return to my daily yoga practice, moving my mat to follow the shade of the umbrella, misters wetting the cement. One day I lie on my back and see the deep impossible blue of the sky against the edge of the orange umbrella. It takes me by surprise. I can’t remember the last time we had that color in the sky here. The days shorten, and the nights drop into the sixties. I return to writing again first thing because I can afford to sweep the courtyard and feed the birds a little bit later in the morning now. I write propped up in bed, a jar of cold herb tea beside me, my house finch loud and cheerful in the corner of the courtyard. I can see them through the kitchen window. I do my sitting practice next, listen to my finch, to the pwitter of dove wings, to the sound of cars along the road, the hum of the fridge. I hear a big frenzy of flapping, likely a hawk circling. And in the sudden quiet after all the birds take flight, I hear the soft sound of the second hand moving on the small green clock beside my bed. I can feel the promise of fall, of winter here when we can all burst out into the world again, take a walk in the middle of the day. This easing now of life in the desert becomes certain. I wonder, too, if my slumps weren’t also part of the natural cycle of things, the moving forward and moving back. I wonder if I might even find a way to honor that dormancy, to trust in the need to lie fallow. Might I stop resisting it, allow it to be, not make it wrong? Because now I am somewhere in the middle, I think, like the season. I am not quite one place or another, trusting in the transition.
Little by little I ease back on how much I demand of myself. It isn’t new, this reaching for a place that’s different from always having to do more. Sometimes I worry about going too far in the other direction, the pendulum swing to not doing enough, this effort toward kindness turning into sloth. But this week it’s felt right, like maybe I’m finding a balance, cultivating that kindness and having it bear fruit. I entertain the possibility of actually running out of nyger seed for a day or two. (The mourning doves would still have the mixed seed, and there is still some nyger in the tube feeders for the goldfinch.) I let my bed go unmade and the floor unswept this week because I am focusing on my classes, on my writing, on the Canvas training, on fitting in daily yoga and sitting practice again, on eating well. Last weekend I let myself not follow through on changing the bed, mopping the floor, tasks I prepped for, clearing things away at the beginning of the long weekend and then running out of steam. Tuesday morning I have this lovely dream come to me where I am writing a poem in my head about something that happened in the dream, and then I’m at a writing workshop with a handful of women sitting on beach towels spread on the side of a hill. I wake up and grab my notebook to write down the poem I began in the dream. I marvel that this, this magic feeling of being connected to both worlds, arose from abandoning my dirty floors and watching too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. It came, I think, because little by little I am letting go of things I don’t need to carry anymore. I haven’t looked at the dream poem since I scribbled it down with one foot still in that other world. Maybe I’m a tiny bit afraid of what I might see, afraid some harsher part of me might find it lacking. Or maybe I am only savoring the wait before I read it, because in the meantime when I think of it sitting there—just pages before the one I write on now in my notebook, dove wings beating beside me in the courtyard—the thought of the poem is a small magic stone pulsing with life. It’s secret and glowing beneath a mound of feathers, cradled on warm, moist earth, just waiting to be uncovered.
If Celery Girl had been a cat or a dog instead of a bike, I would never have gone out one week later to get a new one. I thought about waiting, entertained a mourning period. I thought, too, I should wait to see if she was recovered, but it didn’t “feel” like she was coming back. And it just seemed too hard. It’s still too hot for walking in the middle of the day and too much to be schlepping home bird seed and watermelons on foot. So I just went and did it, bought a new bike one week to the day when she was stolen. When Marylou and Richard found out Celery Girl was gone, they called me right away, tears still fresh in their voices. It makes my own tears try to come, remembering how loved they made me feel. “Maybe you can get Carrot Boy next time,” Marylou says. We all laugh together on the phone. But it turns out she was right. My new bike is a bright, shiny orange. “I think your name is Carrot Girl,” I whisper to her, patting her seat. (She is a girl’s bike, after all.) I tell her about the phone conversation, about Marylou’s precognition. I am growing fond of her already. Colleen called me, too, when she heard about Celery Girl. Their calls make me feel glad, and they make me feel a little funny, too. People love me. They really love me.
My bike is stolen, and life gets dreamlike. I walk outside and see the empty black metal bike rack, the cut lock lying on the grass beside it. The police dispatcher tells me it could take five or six hours before an officer would get there to take a report. I start walking to the police station. Halfway there the universe sends me a bus driver who stops for me, unasked, unheard of, in the middle of the block. When the officer at the front desk is gruff and makes me feel like I’m foolish to even bother filling out the form, I begin to cry. “What would have been nice,” I say, “is if someone had acknowledged this is a loss for me.” The woman behind the glass softens then, becomes kind, explains how the serial number will go into a database. I head back out into the hot afternoon, a bubble of hope in the palm of my hand. I loved that bicycle. I had her six years, my pearl green bike, my Celery Girl. She was pretty and sturdy and loyal and carried me all over town, to Trader Joe’s, to yoga, to Sunday meditations. I rode her beside the creek singing “I Could Have Danced All Night” at the top of my lungs. I miss her already. I walk to Jack in the Box, drink diet Coke and eat tacos, unheard of for me now, my ancient comfort food, refuge, too, from the Palm Springs summer still outside. I give money to a homeless man charging his cell phone beside the door. I walk across town shaking my cup of ice. I think: I am lucky. I have a small savings. I can buy a new bike. I think: how will I ever be able to leave it anywhere again? I think: I am lucky I didn’t have to be afraid. There wasn’t any threat of violence. It didn’t happen at home. I don’t get angry. I feel sad, vulnerable. I stop in the middle of the sidewalk, my cup in my hand, my face wet with tears. I think: I should have had a friend I could’ve called today when this happened. I walk home from the grocery story with a small bag of bird seed slung over each shoulder and a watermelon cradled in my arms, bikeless. The next day it seems like a dream. I forget three times I don’t have a bike anymore. In the late afternoon, I stand in front of the mirror for a long time and cry. “I love you so much,” I say, hands pressed flat against my chest. “So much.” I smile, look in my wet eyes. I laugh and watch my face grinning back at me. I know something is happening, some deep bedrock thing that got opened up in me when I saw that empty space where my Celery Girl was supposed to be, her mangled lock lying in a lonely coil there on the grass.