Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leaping In

A hero is a man who does what he can.
--Romain Rolland

I awoke this morning to wind roaring over the ridge and the wind chime’s mad clanging. Snow is plastered on the eastern windows and icy air is seeping in through every available crack. A dawn is out there, somewhere, but it’s a dark one, on this mountain.

Mornings like this always regress me to my childhood, when my folks were pioneering on this mountain. There was plenty about that experience that was pretty bleak, especially on mornings like this. And that’s just from a child’s perspective. I try to imagine my folks getting up in the icy dawn to start the fire and cook breakfast and get my sister and me ready for school, often without benefit of power, which was an iffy proposition in those days and just as prone to be off as on.

I loved to huddle on mornings like this, listening to the wind, drowsing and dreaming under my mother’s homemade quilts. There was no internet in those days on which to speed orders to The Company Store for goose down comforters. No, one placed an order to Monkey Ward, as my father called it, or Sears, on the yellow order form in the middle of the catalogue, for cotton batting. Once that had arrived at the post office, it was layered between any old blankets too frayed for individual use, a pretty polished cotton print was added front and back, and the whole works was sewn together at the edges. Finally, 4-ply wool yarn was threaded into a needle with a giant eye and passed through all layers, at intervals, and knotted off. Et voila! A quilt was born. It was heavy as cement, but warm. I would lie beneath a collection of these like a flower pressed between the pages of a book, enjoying those last moments before exposure to the frigid air.

What woke me this morning was the sound of my husband’s truck, muffled by the snow on the road, as he went off to work at the local Waldorf school. On miserable days when the weather is doing its best to be bad, he always leaves early, to check ceilings and windows for leaks, to salt the paths and then, no matter what the dispensation of weather, to stand in the parking lot as parents zip in and eject their children like plants dispersing seeds, and then zip off again, already late for work. David is the self-appointed traffic director and has made it his mission to see that every single child makes it to class safely, despite the darting cars.

Some days he comes home with his cheeks reddened from cold and wind, his hair tousled and his clothes soaked. He doesn’t have to do this but it is innate in him to do what he can to keep the world running smoothly. I think of my father, too, who, during a blizzard, once shoveled his way all the way up this mountain, in the days before this road was plowed. He arrived home near midnight, frozen to the bone, his clothing stiff with ice. He didn’t have to do it. But we had no phone in those days, and he didn’t want my mother to worry.

I have always seen these small acts of selflessness on the part of every-day men and women as a kind of heroism. These acts are given so simply, without expectation of thanks, with the welfare of others uppermost in mind and heart, that it’s easy to forget what they cost the doer. So I was delighted when I encountered the above quote, as it expresses the admiration I feel for humble acts of selflessness. I would only amend it by adding women, making it read A hero is a woman or man who does what s/he can.

This extends even beyond the human world -- for instance, to the chimpanzee whose photo is currently making the email rounds, seated with her toes sweetly entwined, in the act of bottle-feeding a tiger cub. Or the mother elephant who risks her life to rescue her baby from a cliff. Love is the glue of the world. Once any one of us has surrendered to it, selfless acts flow from us and we each wear the energetic laurel wreath of the hero.

Happy Leap Year, my friends, and thank you for leaping in when needed.
Signs  of Life:
I don't know about you, but I have never heard about this amazing boatlift, during 9/11. It's very moving and well worth 12 minutes of your time, to see what ordinary citizens can do under extraordinary circumstances.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Turn of the Tide

I just received this poem from my friend, John Barnett, one of the closest observers of the natural world on the planet. John taught me to sculpt in bronze. His own bronze sculpture, always drawn from the simple and profound beauty of nature -- rocks, tree bark, shells -- is sublime. I have a whole collection of his small drawings of fruit, shells, flowers and feathers -- any small gift of nature, really, that normally falls beneath our notice. In John's hands, they turn into miracles of complexity and beauty. I celebrate the vision of this man who has honored the earth through continual observation and loving emulation and by simply living with such integrity.


the world turns and the moon pulls      the ocean breathes out     holds     breaths in     holds     crows, kingfisher, gulls, osprey, wait     flounder and sole comfortably rest in their watery camouflage sand bed a large shallow tide pool

at the estuary fan of the bay ebb tide turns slack then flood, slack – ebb …

a tell-tail of green seaweed turns with the current
on the utmost tip of the Geo-duck siphon tube above
three feet of neck of the bi-calve mollusk monarch
dug deep the muck

red-rock crab and spider crab join the hermit crab
to play in the sea weed in the slack tide water
then seek protection under a stone when the tide turns     a fathom incoming water covers the tidal flats and fills the bay

a Great Blue Heron croaks an abrupt loud call, flaps its huge wings ungainly and lands on a low cedar branch just above the water

acres of barnacles, clams, chitin, moon snails, muscles, periwinkles, oysters hush all creatures of the sea know the turn of the tide

 jab 2-26-2012

Somewhere on this planet, this very moment, the tide is turning. Hold that thought in your heart and let it empower you, this fine day.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Showering Together

                                       Cousin Dorothy and niece Mieka

 Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the bridal shower of my niece, Devi. I was joined by my 85-year old cousin, Dorothy, and we chatted the entire two-hour trip down to the Valley. We caught up on family gossip, some of which was from the turn of the last century or before. Did my grandparents get a divorce or simply separate? Was I aware that my great-great grandfather died of tuberculosis in Andersonville Prison, during the Civil War? The family tree was thoroughly shaken and some provocative fruit fell out. It was delightful!

Then, at the shower, I saw my sister’s husband’s family, most of whom I hadn’t seen in a decade. So it was an occasion for rejoicing, catching up and still more gossip. Plus being introduced to new family members, some of whom are married to young men who were still children, last time I saw them.

Occasions like showers, weddings, ladies’ teas, wakes and reunions – any event that assembles generally dispersed folks – serve an important function in society. They exist in an intermediate space between the intimacy of close family and friends and the indifference of society at large and keep the bonds of friendship and familial connection supple through renewal. They are a kind of punctuation point in all our busy lives; a full stop to forward momentum when we can all catch our breath and regress a bit, to review the recent past and summarize the disparate moments of our lives for the benefit of eager listeners. They demonstrate to the older generation that the social fabric isn’t as full of holes as we sometimes fear and to the younger generation the importance of a certain formality that is largely lacking in other parts of their lives. They represent a passing of the cultural torch to the younger generation and, if yesterday’s event is any measure, they’re going to do just fine with keeping it burning.

On the ride home, Dorothy and I rehashed the entire event. Our lips, stained green from the frosting on the cupcakes, were smiling. We were filled up with more than roast beef, green salad and Portuguese sweet bread. The soul had supped, too.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Immortal Book

There’s much talk, these days, about the death of the book, and with e-books outselling hard- and paperbacks, I suppose it’s a legitimate concern. While I’m not one of those people who wants to turn back the clock to the “good old days,” or to deny progress, I frankly just can’t warm up to e-books, even though Commune of Women is selling like hotcakes in that format. I mean, how do you curl up with an e-book on a rainy day? Where’s the heft of a good book? The smell of one? The texture of the paper, from fine linen to coarse pulp? Or its tone, from pure white to off-white to ivory to yellowed with age?

And what about bookcases? Bookcases and walls of books are a major factor in my home decorating scheme. Without them, the house would be denuded. It would echo. The temperature would drop in here, from lack of bookish insulation. Without all these books, which number, I’m guessing, in the thousands, I would feel friendless and depotentiated. Even if I never crack most of these volumes again, they are an energetic potential that I can tap at any time, day or night, to transform my world. They are a force field that surrounds, energizes and protects me.

And then there are the books to which I return, again and again, like old friends. They rest comfortably in my hands, my thumbs having bent them, previously, to just the right angle of openness. There is my underlining, in pencil. Then, on other passes, in red, in blue, in brown. And marginalia along the margins that I can follow like a detective follows clues, to discover who I was the first or the last time I read from this volume. Because the focus does change. Lines that elicited an AHA! moment before might leave me flat, this time. Whole paragraphs that I skipped over in my assessment may suddenly leap into prominence, as if written in bold, or in letters of fire of Biblical proportions.

I can’t imagine how I could have this kind of ongoing dialogue with an e-book. They seem so ephemeral. They are part word and part wave form; an abstraction; a flitter of physics. I suppose they suit our times, when everything solid seems to be coming unhinged and flying off in all directions, like some heretofore undiscovered scene from Alice in Wonderland. Or when people are downsizing and need to store entire libraries in a space the size of legal tablet. Maybe this reduction will continue until the modern philosophical question will be, How many books can be stored on the head of a pin? People say to me with genuine enthusiasm, “Aren’t e-books great?” and I feel as if I’m about to cast aspersions upon the Grand Canyon or La Traviata or the Girl Scouts, if I speak my truth, so ingrained in the culture have e-books become. I feel I must comment favorably, even when not so inclined. It’s awkward.

So, please forgive me if I am unmotivated in regard to e-books; if I stall and even prevaricate in response to them, in defending my antique, book-lined bailiwick. This is my bulwark against much that is unpleasant and disquieting in life. And there’s always a creative stir here. Under a lovely, antique, wool challis paisley cloth covering a round table in the corner, this very moment, there are sliding stacks of books hiding – my to-read piles; the newbies who haven’t found their places on the library shelves, yet. They call to me with their separate seductions: colorful dust jackets, interesting fonts, intriguing subject matter, authors of note. They are as actively fermenting as newly bottled beer. I can almost hear the whispers of their persuasions, attractions and temptations, the rustles of their pages fanning and preening. And not one of them speaks thus because it is battery-operated. They are living presences.

The death of the book? Nay, my friend. They are immortal.

 Signs of Life:
For a few moments, let everything rest in your life and use the time to watch this inspired and delightful Oscar-nominated short film:

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Courageous Women of Chiapas

 I’ve been reading about the women of Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, as research for Fiesta of Smoke. Among the three and a half million citizens of Chiapas, one million are indigenous people who are the poorest of the poor. As a trickle-down effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement of  1994, in which the USA, Mexico and Canada formed a trilateral trade block, the indigenous people of Chiapas have become poorer still. In rural communities, women’s work loads have increased two to three times what they were before; the maternal death rate is the highest in Mexico; and the life expectancy for women is two years less than for men.

Yet, in the midst of multiple stresses, these women have accessed the courage and the will to work together to improve conditions in their individual lives and their communities. Some are even officers or soldiers in the EZLN, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, defending their families and communities against attacks by paramilitary groups hired by elite landowners to drive the indigenous people from their traditional lands. The women have formed artisan cooperatives, plan fiestas, lead religious ceremonies and teach classes in political empowerment. For their labors, several leading women have been attacked and beaten or simply assassinated.

These are the real life situations into which I am fitting my protagonists. Fiesta of Smoke is a love story but it is also the story of the fierce struggle of the indigenous peoples of Mexico for their rightful place on the land of their ancestors. It is a deeply moving story and one of the great dramas of our times. It is my hope that you will find it as compelling as I do.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Snow Eggs

It’s the end of February and winter has yet to begin. As much as I don’t miss my annual mid-winter biorhythmic slump and concomitant bronchitis, I do miss the pounding winds, the snow flying horizontally over the ridge and the buckets of dreary rain that keep me huddled by the stove where, since not much else can be accomplished, I read and read and read. Following my family’s work ethic, I always feel guilty reading if the sun is shining and there’s an opportunity to make hay.

We did have a tiny snow storm about a week ago and I was grateful for this smallest demonstration of winter weather. But that’s all it was, a sampler of sleet, hail, popcorn snow, big fat, wet flakes scudding on the wind, and finally, a brief flurry of powder that blanketed the rest. All too soon this little tour de force of the weather gods was over and they lost interest and went off to play golf. Or maybe up to Alaska to visit the site of their particular interest or animus, this winter. There, people are isolated, roofs are collapsing and roads are too blocked for rescue vehicles to respond. I won’t say that I’m envious of such disaster but a little sharing wouldn’t hurt. We’ll take any flake of snow the Alaskans don’t want.

In my post-storm rambles, I discovered that the snow had left an interesting signature – little clutches of icy round snow eggs, cupped in half-rotted autumn leaves or tucked into mossy hollows. As I wandered, I had to unzip my down vest and untie my scarf. It’s not quite time to dig out sandals but definitely time to shed the vest that tops the sweater that goes over the cotton turtleneck. Still, I’m putting the energy of my optimism into those little snow eggs. In March, maybe they’ll hatch.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Seeds of Change

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.
--Alice Walker

This morning, silhouetted against a hazy gold and indigo dawn sky, two doves are seated on a wire outside my kitchen window, cooing. It’s a blessing to awaken to their tranquil call. I never take the peace of this mountain for granted. I always know that somewhere in the world the killing machine is in operation, making war for profit and disrupting the lives of countless innocent and terrified people.

So much has happened in our society recently that disempowers and frightens us. Who ever imagined, for example, that we would see among our elected officials the kinds of blatant corruption that now plague Washington DC? Or imagined that our Supreme Court would declare corporations to be people, even though the corporate structure was invented to shelter individuals from legal problems incurred by their businesses? Or imagined the kind of power that multi-national corporations wield, making them more powerful than the national laws they brutalize in their quest for resources?

So it is a genuine relief and joy to hear of everyday citizens rising up to claim their rights, as is happening with organic farmers, 300,000 strong, taking mega-monster Monsanto to court. In case you haven’t heard about this, here’s the basic story: more than 300,000 organic farmers, led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), are seeking legal protection from Monsanto, the mad emperor of genetic manipulation. Crops like canola and corn are wind-pollinated and organic farmers are finding that they are unwittingly harboring Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) plants in their fields. Many organic farmers whose fields have been contaminated then find themselves accused of patent infringement. In the last 10 years, Monsanto has filed 144 patent infringement lawsuits against American farmers. Another 700 have been settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. Some farmers have been driven out of business because of this.

There are now many studies that show that Monsanto’s GE foods are not only detrimental to the environment but actually imperil human health. The legal argument used by the farmers hinges on a 170-year old court ruling that declared illegal any patent inventions that are harmful to humans. Thus, Monsanto’s patents should never have been granted, in the first place. Of course, Monsanto has petitioned for dismissal but it’s looking like the case will go to trial.

for a brief summary of scientific reports that will make your hair stand on end – and leave you searching for the organic products at your supermarket. In the past week alone, 750,000 US citizens have taken the time to contact the Food and Drug Administration, demanding that GE foods be labeled, so that we can vote with our dollars at the supermarket about the soundness of GE foods. Much as humankind would like to think they can make improvements, Mother Nature made things to perfection and She doesn’t really like us tinkering with her gifts, I suspect.

Despite all the efforts of humans to upset the balance of Nature, it’s a beautiful, if overcast, morning here. As I sip my certified organic, fair trade, water processed, decaffeinated, French-pressed, Arabica coffee with organic cream and whole raw honey from our own hives, and listen to the cooing of the doves, it’s hard to believe that people are dying at the hands of their own government in Syria at this very moment, or that, before I pour tomorrow morning’s first cup, 35,615 of our brother and sister humans will have starved to death, 85% of them children. Since we have the privilege of living in peace and relative prosperity, let’s at least honor those who have perished by honoring our Earth. Don’t buy GE foods. Don’t buy Monsanto products. Let’s educate ourselves, instead, about what serves Earth. We are her stewards and I am thankful that many, like the organic farmers, are rising up to take back what is rightfully ours from those who would play God with our environment and our health. We are the seeds of change! If they could speak, I’m sure the doves would agree.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Carpe Diem

Today is the New Moon and it is in Pisces, the sign of imagination and intuition. And for the first time in 160 years, Neptune, the ruler of Pisces, is in its own sign, having come home to roost for the next 14 years after its long cycle through all the other houses of the Zodiac. New Moons are a time to inaugurate something. The New Moon energy will speed your projects, hopes and desires onward through the month.

I’ve just received a wonderful honor: I’ve been nominated to be a Woman of Action by A Celebration of Women,, an organization spanning the globe and one and a half million women strong! Today, I’m writing my autobiography for their Website and collecting photos to be used there. I’m a little in shock to be included among the amazing Women of Action, all of whom lead inspired and highly productive lives. It's my hope that the New Moon will speed me onward, to become of service to this wonderful organization. Please check out the bio of the Woman of Action who nominated me, Roxanne Williams  at

To men and women alike, I wish you a New Moon Day of renewal, one in which you launch your most deeply held dreams and imaginings into the ocean of becoming. It’s never too late – and certainly never too soon – to begin. Ask the Moon. She’s been beginning again, every month, since Time began!

Carpe diem! Seize the day!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fiesta of Smoke: Introducing Javier

Today’s post is an excerpt from my novel in progress, Fiesta of Smoke. This snippet introduces the second of three protagonists, Javier, one of Calypso’s two love interests. The manuscript for Fiesta of Smoke now numbers close to 800 pages and I find I’m excited by my vision for the closing chapters. So, back to writing. I hope you enjoy today’s excerpt!

For those who might have missed them, a synopsis of Fiesta of Smoke can be found on the January 5, 2012 post, the Prologue, on January 8, and an introduction to the protagonist, Calypso, on February 3.
. . . .
Northern California: 1995

Deep oak woods are wrapped in thick moss and rich in the umber scent of rotting leaves. An incandescent evening sky, apricot and electric blue, is snagged in a net of bare, black branches as Javier tramps, weighted by heavy clothes and muddy boots, his nose red and numb, his hands numb, too.

Winter is in the land but some hint of spring is rising early, in his heart. Fragile hopes flitter up, glimmering in the wintry dusk, like sparks of summer beckoning on grim, settling air. His chest is tight: too cold for deep breathing this evening, and yet he’s warmed down deep by some rising sense of transformation, rooted like wildflowers already stirring beneath the snow, kicking at their seed hulls for liberation.

Winter is not death, as so many poets would have it. No. Not death, but the tremblings of resurrection -- the spirits of new life, wavering vaporously in the deep woods and the smell of snow.

Liberation! Javier is plotting revolution as he trudges through the crusted patches of snow: imagining the hungry fed, the homeless roofed-over, children reading and laughing -- as the west gleams like the Second Coming or the end of the world and ravens wing by, black silhouettes on the fiery sky, croaking.

OOSA. USA. America. So damn cold! Where is the sun of Chiapas and Yucatan, that friendly orb that makes the humidity rise and vines bloom? Here in the north the sun burns through the black oak woods like the eye of God, vermilion and gold, imperious, not caring if it warms. And it has a message, as if it were written on a card and dangled on the thin, cold thread of the wind: It has to be done. It cannot be avoided. There is no turning back.

The sun is sinking fast, now, its curved bottom edge slicing into the far indigo hills like a scimitar into flesh. The light is both more brilliant and more somber. The woods seem to hunker like a vast animal already camouflaged in night -- not menacing but mysterious, all to themselves, not knowable by any other, as is the way of all wild things.

Javier is divided between this awareness and other visions: Paris all aflame; London hanging the Lord Mayor; mobs in the streets of Santiago; American guerrillas lurking in the woods, awaiting the Red Coats.

Others had done it. Revolution. And now, Mexico. Again.

All the land reforms of the past revolution were ineffective now. Mexico City, the most populous, diseased, polluted place on the planet, has people packed like stockyard animals into dismal slums. Bad water, little food, violence, drugs, despair and death -- not the birthright Villa, Zapata and Cardenas envisioned back then when the land was divided and the great estancias broken up into ejidos -- livable, farmable plots for the common man.

The sun cuts deeper into the mountains’ flesh as his boot heels strike the frozen crust of snow with the report of small arms fire. In the woods, something big moves quickly and silently. A gato montes? A deer? His stomach feels empty and light, hungry -- but also as if it would never accept food again.

This is the day, or never. This is the time and the appointed place, although it has always seemed to him a thing of the future. Now, the future has arrived and with it, the realization that his life is no longer an endless stream of days. From now on he must live each day, each hour, each breath, as if it were his last. From this day, all assurances of a long existence are erased from his Book of Life. He will be like that nameless creature that moved in the shadows just now: both hunter and hunted.

There is no use trying to disguise his arrival at the meeting place -- the crunching of icy snow can be heard in the next county. Nevertheless, the two men standing by the white Mercedes look unpleasantly surprised by Javier’s sudden emergence from the shadowed woods. They jerk around to face his approach on their right flank, one -- the goon, Javier knows instantly -- with his hand inside the lapels of his nipped-in suit coat. Both are wearing well-tailored jackets much too light for the frigid conditions.

Javier notes with sardonic pleasure that the main man is mincing in thin Italian slip-ons, in the icy slush stirred up by his own tires; and with displeasure the last remnant of their conversation, just before they’d discovered him: “Asshole’s instructions were lousy. Good thing we got GPS.”

The last molten edge of the sun’s disk sinks down into the horizon spreading a blood bath of red light across the frozen snow as Javier crunches across the intervening space, his hands up in an attitude of surrender.

He nods curtly to the lead man, ignoring the goon. “Thank you for coming. You used GPS?”

“You sure as hell picked a spot! Without GPS a fuckin’ Indian couldn’t locate this place.” The man’s eyes slip involuntarily down to his ruined shoes, then sullenly up: “Whatcha got?”

“We were prepared to spend three million, as I tol’ you. But now, the deal’s off.”

“Off! What the fuck? You bring me all the way out here to this God-forsaken place, to tell me the deal’s off? You ever heard of a telephone?”

The goon is edging to Javier’s left. To compensate, Javier takes a step back, keeping them both in clear view. “I tol’ you -- no cell phones, no GPS, no nothing that could track us here.”

“Christ, man! Once we left the county oil, God alone could find us. You some kinda nut?”

“Just very careful, mister. I have my reasons.”

“Well, I don’t personally give a fuck about your reasons. We gotta deal in progress, here. I already ordered up what you asked for -- the assault rifles, the hand-held missile launchers, the . . .”

“Too bad.” It comes out softly, the flick of his tongue turning it into too bat. “I tol’ you what to do, an’ you blew it.”

His trap has worked perfectly: if they used GPS they’d find this spot, at the coordinates he’d given them. But he’d warned them not to use it and had given them specific instructions to a rendezvous across the ridge, at a point where he could have seen them, from here. They weren’t afraid to be tracked -- probably because they were the trackers.

“Our business is finished.”

The goon goes for his gun. In a flash, Javier’s leg comes up, his steel-toed boot connecting with the goon’s wrist. The gun spins through the lowering light, hits the solid snow and skids away, end for end.

“This meeting is over. You better go.”

The two men pass a look. They’ve made their separate assessments and arrived at the same conclusion. They turn and climb into their vehicle without a word. When they depart the goon guns it, sending up a geyser of slush -- but Javier has already moved back toward the trees, out of range. As they roar away, slithering in the icy ruts, he makes note of the rental car fleet number decaled in the rear window.

Fishing a cell phone from his pocket, he punches in the familiar number and waits.


“Okay. Listen. These guys are dirty. Hack into Delta Auto Rentals, see who’s got number 732. They’ll be returning it tonight or early tomorrow morning. I want you there.” He listens a moment.

Sí. Sí. Yes. Both of them. . . And Pedro -- be very careful. I need you not to destroy anything of theirs -- briefcases, cell phones, lap tops. I want to know who they’re working for. I think one of them was wearing a wire. See what you can find.” A listening silence, again.

“Okay. Okay. This is it, then. Here we go.”

Javier punches off, meditatively gazing into the orange and golden magma of the western sky, then slips the phone into his coat pocket.

So it begins.

He turns back into the woods, which now lie submerged in blue black shadows. As he does, the rising night wind shakes the tree tops, rattling them, waving the black spears of their upper branches like the alarmed guard hairs of a huge, mysterious beast, against a darkening sky.

So it begins.

He plunges into the pool of shadow.
. . . .

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Wailing of the Dancing Bear

My tongue shall serve those miseries which have no tongue, my voice the liberty of those who founder in the dungeons of despair . . . And I should say to myself: And most of all beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of griefs is not a proscenium, a man who wails is not a dancing bear.
--Aimé Césaire

Today is a writing day, so I'll keep this brief. I’m now involved in the final chapters of Fiesta of Smoke, in which the tragedy that is Mexico today and yesterday must be knit into the love story that has unfolded, thus far, for 700-plus pages. In narrative form I hope to make the point that, in the rush of our respective governments to make trade agreements and anti-drug alliances, what is being ignored is a neo-colonial attitude that divvies up resources, and that treats anything unlike its own policies and aims as primitive. Forgotten or ignored is what Zapata and Villa knew in the marrow of their bones: a large part of the citizenry of Mexico is comprised of dozens for different indigenous groups, each very different from the other, each needing special consideration for their independent needs and wants.

A recent BBC report, I am told by a friend, noted that a certain group of Indians had had wonderful new housing built for them by the government but the people would not inhabit it, because it had not been blessed by the shaman. This might be considered quaint by some, but to me, the truly quaint notion is the neo-colonial one that assumes these people want or need such an intrusion into their traditional ways of housing themselves. It may well be that the shaman, ever attuned to the energetic world, senses the banality of these places – a banality that hides the evil of total destruction to his people’s way of life.

It is a terrible thing to lose an entire culture, yet it is happening at warp speed as first world nations rush to devour the lands of peoples too disempowered even to take a number in the world line-up of economies. So today, as I trek with my heroine through the rain forest of southern Mexico on a quest to meet an ancient shaman, I will keep ever foremost in my mind that it is the lives of actual people I describe: their sea of griefs; their entrainment into the culture of dancing bears that first world nations impose upon them; their desire for freedom of self-determination, protection of their environment and continuance on the land of their ancestors that must rise through my words like the sun. To me, writing must first be entertaining but, if it is not also didactic, does not move the transformation of consciousness forward by a hair, or throw some small straw to those drowning in the sea of griefs, it is not worth doing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cookies For Breakfast

By dawn’s early light I shambled into the kitchen this morning to feed the cats, Panda and Sophia, and Maclovio, the dog, whose collective hunger always wakes me somewhat before I’m ready. And, while dishing out food and offering pats and assorted de rigueur greetings, I spied something that made my heart sing: a nearly empty cookie plate. And in that moment I knew I had finally found something for which I’ve searched for over a quarter of a century: the cookie recipe that is irresistible to my husband!

Now, I admit to eating my fair share of cookies – but not that many! No, clearly I have hit upon a winner, at last. And the miraculous thing about it is, they have no flour whatsoever, so they’re perfect for anyone on a gluten-free diet, as I am. (Diet may be used a little loosely here, as cookies aren’t generally part of one.) I got this recipe from my new Facebook friend Fawn, to whom I shall be forever grateful. And now I’m going to pass it on to you, as it is the soul of simplicity. And if you use all organic ingredients, its good for you and good for the environment, too. Who knew that eating peanut butter cookies also could be virtuous service to the world?

1 cup peanut butter (I used some almond butter, too. Next time, will try cashew butter.)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp. vanilla

Mix it up with a mixer, roll it into 1-inch balls, put them on a buttered cookie sheet, flatten them with those cute cross hatchings from a fork, and bake at 350 for 12 minutes. Et voilà!

I hope you enjoy them with the same gusto that this household has. If you hurry, you can have these cookies made in time for breakfast. It’s a new day. Here comes the Sun! Happy peanut butter cookies to you!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mother Moon

 O Lady Moon, your horns point toward the east:
Shine, be increased.
O Lady Moon, your horns point toward the west:
Wane, be at rest.
--Christina Rosetti

The Full Moon last week was so bright, as it flooded my bedroom, that it was like trying to sleep with the lights on. After a few hours, it became like one of those techniques used to elicit information from reluctant informants. Lunatic with sleeplessness, I began to imagine this celestial orb as Mother Moon, asking me the tough questions: Just where is your life heading? What have you done to save the planet? When was the last time you worked for social change? When will you steam clean the oven?

 Why should this Queen of the Night be interested in my humble doings? The answer may lie in her dark phase, when she disappears completely for several days. Humanity has always had myths about this dark time, when mysteries abound and secret rites are performed. Not least, those nights when Mother Moon hides her splendor are times when the individual psyche dives deep into its own pool and comes up, snorting and gasping, with pearls with which to adorn our lives, if we are willing. And if we are not, the questions, the urges, the inner promptings will wait until the next dark moon and the next and the next.

 In her Full Moon phase, she is known as the Red Moon, filled with life-blood, abundant, and fiercely protective of all she loves and creates. Traditionally she rules over Summer, supporting, nourishing and sustaining fertility and productivity. So I suppose that the questions she asks are a kind of harvest of psyche; an inner richness brought to the ego’s threshing floor by the sickle of the waning moon. There, as the mind winnows and grinds, nourishment for the soul is produced and the chaff blows away.

We are invited into this cyclical process every single month of our lives. The Moon, queenly in her cloud-skirted splendor, sails on, imperious. We can make of her gifts what we will. She is the boat upon the dark waters of our becoming and her voyage is eternal – as is our own.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Soup On A Snowy Day

Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.
--Ludwig Von Beethoven

Finally, the weather gods have relented and snow has fallen on the mountain! I’ve been stoking the stove with log after log. The animals are hunkered down as close as they can get to the flames without setting themselves on fire. And I’m heading into the kitchen to take my apron from its hook on the end of the antique pie cupboard, in preparation for making soup.

It’s one of the delights of life to make soup on a snowy day. Up from storage in the coldest part of the house come the beautiful winter squash, turnips and garlic from last summer’s gardens. I lay them out on the kitchen counter – a big slab of Columbia marble that was quarried just four miles from here and that began its life at the bottom of an ancient sea. This conjunction of the ephemeral and the eternal never fails to move me. Whether I am pure of heart or not, this soup has its beginnings in love. David had labored long and lovingly over the gardens to bring this cache into being and I always handle soup ingredients like the precious substance and sustenance that they are. On this day of cold, of cloud racing up the draws ahead of an icy east wind, we will dine on the stored sunshine of summer. It doesn’t get any purer than that! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine For You!

May your heart be filled with music, today and always.
Love and blessings,


Monday, February 13, 2012

Rain Boat

I am a being of Heaven and Earth, of thunder and lightning, of rain and wind, of the galaxies.
--Eden Ahbez

Our house is a converted barn and I'm thankful that its original corrugated metal roof is still in place. In the night the rain came, hard. It's like trying to sleep inside a snare drum at a football rally. Then came the real drum roll, near dawn -- a volley of hail that rattled and roared across the ceiling like thunder. Meanwhile, the wind was surging across the ridge, singing its storm song through the boughs of the pines. Caught between sleep and waking, between the solid earth of this old house and the wild joy of the skies, I do not mind losing sleep, forfeiting dreams. My life, then, is a dream, tossed on oceans of air; I am a boat, plunging gladly onward into the oncoming waves of the new day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Returning to Myself After A Long Absence

Maybe it was the oven catching fire yesterday that brought it to my attention, although it probably started a year ago, when I served guests after-dinner candies that they politely refused. It wasn’t until the next morning’s clean-up that I realized the dish I’d used, taken from the old pie cupboard where all the dishes live, was furred with dust about half an inch deep. That was embarrassing -- but it still didn’t move me to action.

But the oven catching fire, half an hour after I’d turned it off, worried me. I lowered the door -- since the glass window was too besmeared with baked-on grease to be of any use -- and peered into the blackened depths. Sure enough, there was a layer of charred – something -- in there, about an inch deep. It looked like oily sea foam, forever arrested in the act of surging out of the stove’s confines. This, I surmised, was what the secret interior of a charnel house must look like, husbanding the froth of human folly against its stolid bricks.

I’m speaking in the past tense, but the truth is, that black encrustation is still in there. It waits for me like the pits of the alchemical nigredo, tarry and necromantic. The reason being that I’ve just had to clean the refrigerator, instead, and the reason for that is that when the tomatoes were ripening and falling on the ground out in the garden, last summer, I cooked umpteen quarts of tomato sauce to be frozen in Ziploc freezer bags. These bags were deposited on top of things I remember buying shortly before all hell broke loose a decade ago, and which surely must be in need of remedial action, besides which the primary foundation of the bags shifted when I tried to retrieve a long-forgotten rump roast and now, every time we open the freezer door, we are pelted with Ziploc bags of frozen sauce.

Head within the white precinct of the refrigerator, I discovered something: I am returning to myself after a long absence. How have I managed to ignore the obvious: an oven groaning under the weight of years of accumulated drippings, or the weird stuff that ran down the back of the frig wall and puddled in a mass more resistant to removal than a good glue? How did I continue on, day after day, without seeing this and the other messes that a decade of neglect has fostered, the niduses where chaos goes to breed and reproduce?

These are important questions. I know the why of them, but not the how. The why is simple: I have been away. On a long journey. Absent. That I continued to live in the same house while doing so is scarcely worthy of note. Many of us travel thus. We go out of time, out of body, out of consciousness and, like Rip Van Winkle, awaken decades later to an altered reality.

I have my excuses in order, to be presented like a passport to a border guard as proof of my legitimate existence in this place. This house. My home. But I suspect that, in these flying times when 24 hours seems to have shrunk to about 16 at best, that I don’t need to list the activities, appointments, meetings, duties, diversions, subversions, interruptions, quagmires, disasters and near-death experiences attendant upon being human. I just thought you might like to know that we’re all in this together. Perfection eludes us, and that may be just as well. Perfection is a bore and isn’t even a fraction as interesting as putting out an oven fire with a dish towel and a box of baking soda or being clobbered with frozen food. Count your blessings; bless the mess!

Friday, February 10, 2012

To Be . . . Or Not

Experience is not what happens to a  man. It is what a man does with what happens to him.
--Aldous Huxley

We attended the first public performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet, last night, at our local theater, Stage 3. It was such a fine production that I'm still sorting through all the things I loved about it: excellent performances,  edgy set, sound and costumes, and thought-provoking uses of stop-action and of multiple appearances by the same actors in different characters. Bringing the play forward in time through modern dress and a kind of Road Warrior set, we are invited to see how the troubled Dane's dilemma parallels our own. Hamlet used to annoy me with his indecisiveness. This production has made me see that our culture is afflicted with this very inability to plunge into the action that cleanses blight from the land. It's still annoying -- but I can no longer project this annoyance onto Hamlet. This production invites every viewer to investigate the roots of indecision and lack of action, and ask which is nobler: to be . . . or not.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.
--Chinese proverb

This has been a week of interruptions. My astrologer friend, Marianne, says it's because Mars is retrograde. I seem to be living out another old saying, the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get. I hope you are all doing better at this than I am. If so, I'll stay out of your way, so you can continue manifesting the impossible -- which is, I believe, what we humans were put here to do. It says in Scripture that we are as gods, and I've always taken that to be fact. If so, I've got Mercury's winged heels on, this week. I'm off to an appointment. Wishing you a blessed, impossibly productive day!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sex By the Side of the Road

Yesterday brought a spattering of rain to our arid winter and for my oögamous neighbors, this incites a sexual frenzy. All along the roadside, as I took my walk last afternoon, there was the equivalent of heavy breathing. I tried to avert my eyes, but it’s such a lovely spectacle that I just couldn’t help sneaking a peek. I even took photos!

I’m referring, of course, to my neighbors the Bryophyta-Muscis, who are in a class by themselves when it comes to coupling. They are, you see, mosses, and their sperm is motile and can only swim to the large, non-motile eggs through the film of water that the heavens were kindly supplying. What’s more, the sperm are flagellated and are stimulated to wriggle in the direction of the female cells by secretions from the archegonium, or egg. One can but wonder what this mossy equivalent of Chanel #5 might smell like – or taste like, for that matter. Whatever its charms, it was working them by the roadside, yesterday evening. And consider how much moss there is  – on tree trunks, boulders, in sheets crawling along road banks; acres and acres of it!

The anatomy of the gonads of mosses reads like poetry: calyptra, operculum, peristome, columella, antheridia and archegonia, and could be mesmerizing set to a chant like We All Come From the Goddess. It would also be a great memory aid to botany students such as I once was at UC Santa Barbara, my freshman year. There, under the tutelage of brilliant Dr. Muller, who wrote the textbook I still cherish for its encyclopedic grasp of the plant world and its clear and well-labeled illustrations, I learned about a microscopic world that had fascinated me since childhood.

As a child, I was always wandering in the woods and packing home bits of this and that: a discarded deer antler; a bird nest; the seedpods of strange lilies, crystals or the feathers of birds. On my tenth birthday, my parents gave me a small magnifying glass with three different lenses that folded into a small, compact case and fit nicely into the pocket of my jeans. Now I could explore a still smaller and more diverse world that raised more questions than my amateur observations could answer. Why, for example, did the mosses suddenly erupt in fields of tiny, waving stalks with lantern-shaped ends? What was the meaning of the chalky cups that clustered, bluish and seductively moist, amidst the velvety green carpets?

 Now I know that from an early age I was voyeuristically present at the seasonal Bacchanalia of the mosses. Those tiny cups brimming with dewdrops were actually chalky with a powdery mass of spores. When the surroundings are moist, tiny teeth bend in and scoop out the spores; when the surroundings are dry, the teeth bend outwards, disseminating the spores to the winds. It’s the moss’s version of oral sex. Who knew? Certainly not my parents who, as good 1950s parents ought not, would never have mouthed the words oral sex in front of us kids even if threatened with the rack.

I fantasize that, to the mosses, the soughing of the storm wind through the pines is both a love song symphonic in its polyphonies and a clarion call to action. Sex happens fast on the side of the road and all those little velvet cushions of moss are whispering with pillow talk. 

As with the amorous dartings of birds in spring; the glad chorus of a summer frog pond; or the glistening fields of ripe grasses lying down beneath the autumn wind, winter has its procreative bonfire, too.  I lie in my monogamous bed, listening to the patter of the rain on the roof, thinking kindly thoughts of my oögamous neighbors, and I smile. It’s an orgy, out there!

Signs of Life:
Monty Python would clearly agree, as witness "Every Sperm Is Sacred," courtesy of my old friend Michael Mager:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Buzz On Buzzards

I’ve lived in Tuolumne County, on Big Hill, all the years of my life, minus a few years out for going off to the university for an education or to travel in Europe or Mexico. It’s a fine county, this, and a place that, no matter how many times I leave it -- or vow to leave it, on those days I’m perceiving it as a cultural ghetto – I’m always glad that I don’t, or that I do, but then return. And of the many fine things I could praise about Tuolumne County, one of the most poignant is the annual buzzard migration.

Not everyone maintains, as I do, a buzzard altar. It’s in a place up on the side of a mountain where buzzards go to roost and preen and where I go to gather their long, glossy, blue-black feathers. I gather a bunch of them in both hands, hold my arms out until the feathers catch the wind, and then swoop around in obvious buzzard envy, born of years of watching these huge birds loft themselves unflappingly over hills and valleys  on the merest puff of wind. A buzzard rising on a thermal to become a speck in the summer sky is a thing of wonder, to envy and emulate, if possible. I think Leonardo da Vinci may have had buzzard envy, too, when he drew up his first plans for manned flight.

Anyway, for years and years – as long as I can remember, really – the buzzards have been roosting in droves in this same spot. They gather, regurgitate, talk over their vacation plans, regurgitate some more, flap lazily up and look around for something dead to eat, eat, roost, regurgitate and preen. This is the buzzard’s life and it’s a good one. They are total pacifists. They don’t kill to eat. They don’t harm a soul. That’s got to be good for their karma.

Anyway, in the fall the buzzards begin to congregate in really impressive numbers, and they begin their training flights around the mountain in groups of 10 or 15, their huge black wings silently soaring, their wrinkled red necks stuck out, always on the lookout for roadkill. They are massing and practicing for the annual buzzard migration, that ultimately brings them out of the Sierra foothills and into Mexico, where they winter over, fornicating and drinking and regurgitating tequila. At least, that’s always been my fantasy about it.

Sooner or later, each fall, the day comes when the buzzards say adios and they all jump into the air and take flight. They pass over my house like a flight of bombers heading for the Normandy coast. They darken the sun like a huge, silent, black, glistening cloud.

I’m sad on this day. I’ll miss them while they’re gone for the several months of winter. So I go up on the mountain and collect the last feathers. With string, I hang bunches of these loose feathers in the trees, where they kite around crazily on the wind. Usually there’s a dead buzzard up there, too, who accommodatingly died before the big trip and is left for the ants to eat, all the major scavengers having left the area and buzzards, I assume, being too polite to eat their own. I drag these carcasses to the buzzard altar, an old stump now continually anointed by the flickering shadows of the pendant feathers. I say a little prayer that the flying feathers will remind their souls to fly again, to lift off and soar into whatever heaven buzzards pass over into.

Maybe that seems strange to you, but I feel that the natural world gets all too little attention from us humans, and the buzzards in particular get a bad rap. It’s my small way of saying thank you to creatures who do some of the dirty work for us, cleaning up the creatures that we, in our haste and carelessness, strike dead and leave in the road as if their little lives didn’t matter at all. In answering Hillman’s question, what does the soul want? I find that my soul, at least, wants to honor all of God’s creation; that this is part of the stewardship that was mandated to us, from the Beginniing.

So, to the unnamed woman who thinks I’m not a Christian: have you honored God’s buzzards lately?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Getting Smacked; Talking Smack

Okay. So I have to admit it: it disturbed me that some unknown person who clearly didn’t know me or my spiritual beliefs and practices at all, was talking smack about me in public, as reported in yesterday’s blog. While the soul loves gossip, it hates outright lies. So I started to wonder how this person came by this opinion of me, and to add up what I know about the weird things people have said and thought about me, over the years. As a writer, it’s always useful to keep track of things like this. You never know when some character might be called upon to carry my putative sins, like one of those goats in Biblical times who, laden with amulets depicting the sins of the community, was driven out into the desert to die.

So to start with, I had to admit to myself that there has been a persistent rumor over many decades that I am a witch. As I am not a witch, the persistence of this rumor, I surmise, is due to its juiciness. I mean, anyone can have an affair or borrow someone’s lawnmower and never return it or get a DUI. Gossip about things like that dies an early death. Apparently witchcraft still has roots deep in the primitive psyche, where fears of the uncanny and the powerful – especially if embodied in a female – still raise the guard hairs.

I may even have come by this reputation honestly, if undeservedly. It all stems from a morning when my first husband, he who shall be called The-Husband-From-Hell, had a particularly bad morning and was, even for him, unusually nasty-tempered and abusive. He left for work, and I sat down in a chair and imagined his route, every twist and turn of it, down into the river canyon, back up the other side, all the way to the Calaveras Cement plant where he was then working as a heavy equipment operator. I will not tell you what I was repeating, over and over, during my meditation, but I will report that, not more than an hour and a half after he had departed, my husband was home again. His shirt was half ripped off his back. He was covered in scuffs, scrapes and bruises. His hair was wiry with cement dust, his face was white with it, and he looked wild-eyed, like he’d seen the Devil himself.

“Dear me!” said I, with what was probably less than compassionate concern, “What happened to you?”

This is the story: he was in one of the huge, rotating cylinders where the cement was dried. Suddenly, a 100-pound hunk of dried cement broke from above him and smacked him right down to the floor. At the time, he had just bent forward to pick something up, and so the mass hit him right across the back and shoulders. If he’d been standing upright, it would have hit him on the head and even his thick skull would have been shattered like an egg.

He related all this to me from a wary distance. Then, after a significant pause, he said in what I can only describe as true awe, “You made this happen, didn’t you?”

Now, whether I did or did not is a matter for conjecture. I’m more inclined to think it was his Guardian Angel, giving him his morning dose of instant karma. Be that as it may, it was an object lesson for us both: I never again have used my imagination for anything but positive purposes and he gained a healthy respect for me that was much needed. And he also, I suspect, began the rumor that I was capable of such things that is still morphing its way through the populace.

The power of the human mind is great and I have, at times, tapped deeply into that power but, since that experience, only for purposes of healing, whether on the physical, mental or relational level. Does that make me a witch? Of course not. Does that set me up for rumors that I am? Of course! This is a small town. What else is there to talk about?

Well – maybe about my buzzard altar. More about that, tomorrow!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Soul Food: Sausage, Eggs and Gossip

I took a break from the morning blog posts yesterday and my husband and I went out to an early breakfast. We like to go to a little place in Columbia, a Gold Rush house transformed into a restaurant called Billy Whiskers. The house is owned by a old local family the matriarch of which was one of my mother’s best friends. My parents decorated the place for her when she decided to make the space commercial, so my father’s woodwork and my mother’s wallpaper and lace curtains are still there, despite the fact that all three are now gone. The business is owned by Karen, the daughter of one of the oldest families in Columbia, and her husband. He cooks, she waits tables and they both love to talk. And since she and I both grew up in Columbia, there’s plenty to talk about.

David and I were the sole customers that early in the morning, so while the coffee was being poured we all started right in chatting and we gossiped away, right through ordering, being served and eating. The delightful part of this gossip is that most of it is over 60 years old! Ancient scandals are resurrected, familial intermarriages and feuds reviewed and town characters remembered. It’s like working a jigsaw puzzle together – she fits in a piece, then I know another bit of the story and together, we sort out the Columbia of our mutual childhood.

Yesterday we reminisced about our dentist, the local version of Dr. Mengele, a portly man who, once he had us kids in the chair, would pin us there with his huge belly. Then he would bend over us, breathing like a bulldog in short gasps through his teeth, while he worked the ancient drill with a foot peddle. It would grind away with agonizing slowness and thoroughness and, since he believed that Novacaine was for sissies, we got to experience every turn of the drill bit maximally. This, he claimed, was to teach us to take better care of our teeth. I would go home with plum-colored and –sized bruises along my jaw, from the death grip he had had on me, and Karen swears that her teeth used to smoke from his ministrations! Both of us still suffer from the trauma and neither has ever been able to relax in a dental chair, since.

Other health notes included their former waitress whose femoral artery, after being pieced together for years with plastic tubing like an old water system, finally became so leaky that it had to be replaced. She called just before breakfast was served, to inform Karen that a cadaver artery is now in place and she’s recovering nicely. In an additional notes, I learned that my childhood mentor, Bill Taylor, ended his life in the county hospital in a room padded with old mattresses and that one of the boys pictured in a framed and faded newspaper photo of the elementary school baseball team of our youth had ended his life tragically in a fire.

Of course, the weather is always a topic, especially with the continued drought and the sighting of the first manzanitas already in bloom. Then we moved on to one of our elementary school bus drivers, a rough old cob who would doubtlessly be sued by irate parents, these days. I was able to add a new piece to his puzzle: my parents had heard rumors that he was a retired Mafia hit man. This lead to an hilarious stint by Karen’s husband, shouting in a perfect Tony Soprano voice, “Hey, you in the back! Sit down and shut up or I’ll break your legs.”

That’s small town breakfasting at its best: eggs and sausage served up with a salsa picante of tragedy, gore, salt and laughter. Hillman says that the soul loves gossip. It affirms our deep roots in community and keeps its web connected. It delights with interesting stories and reminds us that there is no such thing as privacy in a small town – or perhaps, on the planet. We know full well that, somewhere else in town, over some other breakfast table, we are the subject of the gossip. It’s a reminder, as my father used to say, to keep your nose clean.

For instance, my friend Pam just told me that she mentioned my name in her yoga class and some woman whose name she didn’t know exclaimed, “Suzan Still! Why, she’s not even a Christian!” What? Who says? Where did that puzzle piece come from? I think it’s from another jigsaw altogether and got into this box, by mistake! But there’s no rectifying it now. That rumor will go on and on and grow until, who knows, I’ll be accused of witchcraft or of using Communion wafers for casserole topping or who knows what. That’s life in a small town – everyone, willing or not, gives a piece of him- or herself to the salsa that anoints the soul.