Category Archives: nature

Stupid, Useless, Guilty! A Tribute.

My friend died.  I hadn’t seen her in awhile as we travel in different directions most of the time. She had spent much of the last years caring for her sick mother and sister a few hours away in Birmingham.

I took a too rare trip to my yoga home a few months ago and she was there.

“It’s been too long, how are you?”

“I just found out I have stage four cancer! Can you believe it?” She waved her hand over herself. “Me!”

She didn’t whisper as people with horrific news often do. She shouted it out as if to dispel it by force. We are all friends there after all.

She was astonished by the possibility of a clean life fostering that disease. She is a calm and capable and happy woman. She teaches restorative yoga and heals students with singing bowls. She is a painter, an artist who lives an artful life. Who lived an artful life.

She had digestive issues and found there was cancer there that had metastasized. She felt so fine I think she believed she would denounce that cancer and send it running. I believed that.

She suffered through chemotherapy, lost her hair, kept going to the studio and kept teaching her own classes. Her hair grew back. She had another art show.  She had departed from her signature work to something more formed, brighter and simpler. She offered a spread of the same favorite foods she always served. Other than the show being in her yoga studio rather than the usual gallery, all seemed status quo. She was lively, resplendent.  I thought she was mending.

A month or so went by that we didn’t cross paths again.

I got the news by a group mailing. At first it seemed untrue. Surely I would have known a different way. She and I had shared yoga time and painting time and healing time together. My bookmarks are all the birthday cards she made me over the years.

She had been on my mind daily as it’s the Jewish holidays and she is an observant Jew, one of my few Jewish friends who feel what I feel right now. This is a heavy holiday as it heralds a week of reflection and forgiveness. I can’t say why I felt it portend to something heavy with her but I did. She died on the Jewish New Year.

I chanted all I could remember of Yizkor, the Mourner’s Kaddish for the dead. Yizkor means remember. I lit a candle beside a wool basket she had made me filled with her signature painted sculptures.

I called a friend who was her student to tell him. He already knew.

I said, I don’t know what to do. I feel stupid and useless and guilty.

Chris, always a wise guy said, hey that’s a great hook for your business card.  

I was grateful for the laugh.

And the perspective.

I have the flu. I thought I was past it but a night of grief and memories left my lungs with lead weights and a brain sodden and spongy. I will blame my self deprecation on that.

I am not stupid or useless. And maybe I’m guilty of not living a life as full of potential as she did and as she saw in me. And maybe I was guilty of believing she would live and not sending her flowers or cards as I did my last friend that died in a similar way. I had a heads up with that friend that she was not for this world. I had heard Kaaren was challenged again but I knew she was still teaching and wrongly assumed she would go on.

It’s still hot in Nashville. There’s a dry breeze in the slowly dying trees that tells us things have changed despite the temperature.

I slowly walk my dogs on fully stretched leashes. The puppy is pulling me forward. The elderly dog holding me back. This feels like limbo and I note the irony of my observation.

So much more time is behind than before me. To move directionless is wasted time. It is a prison.

What could be crueler than to be a being conscious of your own inevitable demise? We are all on death row. We know the history of death. But all of nature screams keep moving and to scorn that is to scorn life itself.

When loved ones pass they leave us the gift of gratitude for each free breath. Yizkor also upholds that the soul gains additional merit if the memory of its, of her, good deeds spur loved ones to improve their ways.

Kaaren Hirschowitz Engel, you continue to inspire me as you always did. Though life ends, the legacy of you who nourished everyone you touched lives on with us.

May you rest in peace.

 

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Wonderful and Terrible

I teach yoga to the veterans and when they don’t show up I hang out in what stands for their lobby given the coffee maker and odd array of stained chairs.

I chitchat with the mostly old guys who come to Operation Stand Down for companionship and shelter.

 

A radiant sky turns black. Gale force winds swiftly strain branches and rain ricochets to the sky from the murky pavement in waves. A roomful of heads turn.

Wire rimmed granny glasses and a head of brown curls frame the face of an ageless fellow with an unwavering grin. He regards the storm and me.

“It’s wonderful and terrible! “

 I concur.

“I want to get out in it”, he says.

I agree though neither of us makes a move toward the blitz.

 

And then it’s over as quickly as it began.

I’m left with the joyful resonance of wonderful and terrible.

 

Our unavoidable political process

My youngest son

The yoga business

The animals that eat and get eaten

We people that love and hurt and hurt each other

Abundance and the fear of loss

Poverty and the hope of redemption

The rush tinged with terror

A placid pond with vicious mosquitoes

The lightning bolt in a purple sky

The earth’s thirst quenched and the choking flood.

 

From my singular position to the macrocosm I suddenly realize it’s all the same.

At once and always

 

This is the beautiful wonder-filled life we were handed

This is the one we were born to love

To want to get out in it no matter its nature, is ours.

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Breathing Bough Ballet of Love

I eschew my habit of the morning news and take my coffee to a rough hewn wooden swing that hangs thirty feet from a bending bough. I am a rumpled figure tossed from bed to this field by my love for a girl named Layla. Swaying in the wind I rest my head against the heavy rope in the vanishing dawn light leisurely lulled to consciousness.

 

These seven acres behind my house are home to a couple of bird dogs who’ve opened their hearts to embrace my four month old pup. Breakfast fed, they are waiting for her by the fence gate. Little Layla launches herself through the first crack and the three of them hurl down the hill in a flood of fur as our old Red hovers.

puppy rodeo 2016

It’s not the best time for a new pet. Domestic life had slowly settled from a circus of kids and animals into one man and one woman and one easy old dog. I would paint, read and write more. We would be centered on ourselves, slaves to no schedule or obligations other than work. There are those so disciplined they would keep their eye on that ball no matter the distraction but that’s not me. Like Layla, I am easily diverted by distractions. They are potent with possibilities.

 

The trick is to seize the thing with gusto no matter that it took you off course. No human can chart a course with impunity anyhow. That’s a set-up for disappointment as the nature of a life is interference. Should you find the thing untenable you can always change course again. There are ways.

 

I don’t go with a flow I hate. That’s for swimming upstream. But when life hands you love you say yes.

precious pup 2016

 

 

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Everything Will Be Alright

 

She approaches me after class. Tells me she’s in law school. She and her peers are suffering from P.T.S.D. she says. From life.

She’s responding to a comment I made in class. I consider it pure luck that I have a positive position on the life we share at the moment.

Things need to break. The shit storm of happenstance and wrong actions that are instigating an onslaught of information on disaster is also precipitating a wellspring of solutions. That is a wellspring of love. That is the breath we choose.

Hilary Lindsay-one precious life

Hilary Lindsay-one precious life

The human condition shifts with awareness and it changes with our reactions. I see many hopeful reactions despite the barrage of sorrowful scenarios. We are looking for ways out. We are wielding sledgehammers. We are scraping peeling paint.

As radical politicians move the conversation from the usual banter, awareness grows. As spokesmen, leaders and newscasters inform people on pollution, poverty and violence against each other and the planet, quiet numbers choose to make things better in small and large ways.

It’s a life of small steps. We just step faster now. Diverse paths are rapidly emerging.

Some of us will be sacrificed no doubt. It was never easy to be aware.

But it would be less glorious to not be.

To blame nature’s weather or planets for our discomfort is shortsighted as well. Instability is nature itself. The perfect day will not last no matter how we pray for that.

Welcome to your place in the world. To smash and break it until it is right for you without harming any creature is artful. Perhaps that’s why the arts sustain us through hard times.

Remember, we are all artists. Your expression inspires mine. This is a beautiful instability.

Even trauma can generate beauty.

 

 

 

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Five Thousand and Two Species Ten Thousand and Four Eyes ~ Terrorism and Extinction

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There have been five mass extinctions. This one is man-made. We are losing animals at a rate we haven’t seen since the dinosaurs died thanks to climate change and habitat change.

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore looks into the eyes of animals and I’m spellbound by the expressions of the innocents. He is dedicated to dispelling ignorance in order to save species by his documentation. You cannot turn away when you are faced eye to eye with a soul that you unconsciously recognize.

animal eyes

I am watching the news. I am looking into the eyes of the young woman Nohemi Gonzalez my youngest son’s age of 23. She is extinct now, her life annihilated by a terrorist who did not know her. Political climates shift. Cultural habitats are threatened. Extinction is a purposeful vengeance of fear turned to hate. The fifth estate is dedicated to dispelling ignorance by broadcast. Look! Look at the life here and here and here!

nohemi gonzalez

 

I rarely rant against guns or war these days. I have given up hope that my fury will change a thing. I sign petitions and occasionally send checks but I’m not fooling myself. War and ruin seems to be a human condition not happenstance.

I recall a recent news story about a Catholic priest who dedicated himself to uncovering Jewish mass graves in Russia that were the previously undisclosed result of the holocaust. He spoke to villagers who were young witnesses to the carnage. When asked what his take-away was from his investigation he said that he discovered that people find satisfaction in watching the destruction of other people as long as those people and not they are the victims. I wondered in disbelief. Could it be that though we shed tears of empathy for strangers we stay glued to stories of devastation for that unconscious reason? Nothing could be more distasteful. I am fairly certain that this is not the case for all humanity but nevertheless it is a chilling thought.

I teach yoga and yoga is considered a vehicle for change toward enlightenment whether it be self awareness or greater awareness but you who’ve read my work for the last seven years know I don’t see it as a panacea for amity or world peace.

A process of internal reflection will often reflect what one perceives as truth and beauty through narrow lenses. We are so many islands in an elaborate chain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Smell of Sea Water

We’re waiting at the baggage carousel in the San Diego airport. A small boy, perhaps two years old is playing on the floor by my feet. He’s engrossed in his game as the automated exit door behind us opens. His head whirls toward the door, a wide grin on his face. He shouts to his parents. “I smell sea water!” The homing instinct of such a young human is astonishing. Visions of ghostly grey people walking out of the ocean and onto the land confront me.

In the post dawn silver light I roll over and see my reflection in the mirrored closet doors of my parent’s home. In this gentle radiance I look ageless as if by design the house will allow no feelings that are not pleasing. I think of my invincible aging parents who the night before stood in the kitchen, my mother leaning into my father’s chest, his arms around her, their teasing and loving banter, the familiarity of 65 years.

I throw on my clothes, start the coffee and open the door to the garden. I’m drawn forth by the delicate breeze and bow my head to take in the scent of the first rose bush. Though the many varieties are remarkable in their size and beauty they do not all smell. It is the roses with the strongest scent that capture me. Mere beauty does not stay in one’s mind. It is the limbic emotion and connectivity that holds one to both object and person.

I save the visit to the plumeria bushes for last. It is the smell, the taste of coconuts and pineapple. It is the memory of Oahu and Kauai. It is the memory of my new husband and me newly pregnant in bed in a tree house in the mountains, staring out a window wall into a jungle 27 years ago.

I walk into the front yard where the wind carries the scent of sweet alyssum. I inhale it like my last breath wanting more than my lungs will allow. I walk down a street lined with orange and lime trees drunk on the perfume of citrus blossoms. I bury my face in a tree and wonder if passersby will consider me mad.

A ten minute car ride brings me to my beloved Moonlight Beach. Here I walk the shoreline abandoned by all but a few seabirds. I note the red plastic feet of a lone pelican who strangely shares the halting walk I’ve adopted with my graceless hip. I walk like a pelican! I put my feet in the surf and scoop up a handful of sea water to smell it. I’ve been thinking about the little guy’s sea water since I left the airport. I taste it and rub it into my face. Why? Sea water is our blood. It was in the veins of that child and I feel it inn me. I never leave the ocean without wondering how I can live away from it.

Rock piles that rise randomly from the shoreline resemble Buddhas from afar. Stone outcroppings reveal the faces of creatures rising from the sea. I train my eyes to see patterns in the sand, catch the meter of the waves and study the movement of the birds.

I climb the cliff and drive a few blocks into town, the windows down. I catch a whiff of meat cooking on an open grill. Though the thought of any creature murdered for the meal of another makes me sad, I love this smell. It is the smell of Aspen Colorado on a cold snowy day. It is the smell of my feckless and fabulous youth or at least three years of it. Memories of hippie culture among a collection of fascinating and disparate people from a fantasy world in a magical place long gone to me now rise to please and tease me.

I turn back to the present and sea water. Though the ocean is where time began, it also has a quality that informs one that time does not end nor like to be measured in between. Grateful for the steady hand of the ocean breeze on my shoulder I slow my step and cast my eyes backward to the vast and empty horizon. It’s too easy to fall into the senseless rush of minutia when senses turn away from one’s nature and into the fray. I recall the child’s delight in coming home.

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Climate Change Karma

 

 

 

 

Ice bound, wind lashed branches make screaming trees sway

While black wings beat back the others round the easy mark of food at the feeder

Not invited, they do not know but descend in mass and mob the back garden

THE BIRDS on ice

The earth shifts as water swells below the surface, turns to ice and explodes

Ice quakes waken unfamiliar ears to a blast of unfriendly fire

 

Cameras train on huddled news crews as routine ceases and people grow wary

Wariness is our habit anyway; built into DNA  turns heads right and left

Scan the horizon for enemies

But what if the enemy is us?

 

We are survivors and where one surviving is alive it is not a life unless others survive too

It is partly love

We cannot thrive without it and then survival would be like one alone

 

Black wind and potent rain replace snow as the temperature peeks above freezing

The earth abdicates domain over tree roots

Exhausted trees collapse and crashing, toss their spawn for the taking

The earth will absorb what it wants or what is forced upon it

And in kind will return it to us

 

I wonder what combination of love and survival would incite us to sacrifice comfort or routine

So that that which is returned is as gentle as that which we offer.

 

 

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