Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Honey Wind

 This is the brief but intense time of year when the honey wind blows. Hundreds of acres of manzanita are blooming, right now, and the combined fragrance is intoxicating. One inhalation is dizzying; an entire walk’s-worth is almost hallucinogenic.

The word manzanita is the Spanish diminutive of manzana, apple, meaning little apple. One of California’s most common shrubs, there are many species of its genus, Arctostaphylos. They are evergreen and characterized by smooth, red bark and stiff, twisting branches. There are 106 species of manzanita, 95 of which are found in the Mediterranean climate and colder mountainous regions of California.

The berries and flowers of most species are edible. For years I gathered the flowers, cooked them to a marvelous pinky-red juice, and then made jelly. The flavor is delicate and exquisite – something truly rare in the gustatory realm. And the honey that our bees make from manzanita flowers is rarer still. One spoonful is so redolent of spring flowers that it can bring tears of joy to my eyes. The berries are rather dry and tasteless, but high in protein -- a good thing to remember if you're ever lost in the woods. And apparently they are delicious to bears, as I find bear poop studded with them, here on the mountain.

I grew up in the brush, so to speak, and manzanita was so ever-present and so common that, despite its beauty, I took it for granted for many years. But I’ve been doing a photographic study of manzanita for several years, now, in preparation for a series I’ve begun to paint. I began to focus on the red trunks, so sinewy and sleek; on the round, celadon leaves; and the delicate bell-shaped flowers; even on the gray, twisted masses of dead manzanita. Slowly, I’ve come to an entirely new appreciation for this humble and ubiquitous plant. 

At this brief moment in time, particularly, manzanita is incredibly exotic. With its erotically muscled red trunks, its silvery coin-shaped leaves, clusters of ravishingly scented, shell pink flowers and eccentric shape, each bush looks like something carefully nurtured in an arboretum of rare plants, or lovingly pruned by a master Japanese gardener. As I stand in contemplation of some of my favorite bushes, which have patiently stood as photographic models in all seasons, and I breathe the moist, honeyed air that rises along the mountainside on the spring wind, I realize that there are many more things than manzanita that I have taken for granted, to the beauty of which I am blind. Manzanita has become a teacher, exhorting me to see the unique and the beautiful even in, or perhaps especially in, that which is most common. There is epiphany riding on the honey wind.

Friday, April 27, 2012


I have witnessed many acts of heroism in my life. Generally, they aren’t the variety that makes the news, that wins medals or that is even generally known. The heroism I’m talking about is the everyday, garden variety of heroism that pits a person against life’s intransigence.

I’m thinking of friends who have enormous courage in the face of painful and exhausting disabilities. Of parents who work hard to supply their children not only with material necessities and comforts but with a model of human decency, creativity and dignity. Of men and women who do their jobs with pride, intelligence and integrity. Of community volunteers who give their time, expertise and compassion freely. Of people who have the courage to forgive, to grow beyond their own narrow hurts and prejudices, to rise up and be fully human.

These days everyone is feeling the pressure of faulty systems going awry, of financial and political malfeasance, of job insecurity, infrastructure failure, environmental degradation and general insecurity. Yet, while many demonstrate the worst of human failings, I am moved by the steadfastness of average people in living their lives with honesty, courage, dignity, hope, compassion and love. Perhaps no other poem expresses so well this admirable stance in the face of life’s vicissitudes, as does this one:

Invictus (Unconquered)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
-- William Ernest Henley

On this Friday, when we celebrate the end of the work week and the beginning of the weekend, let’s also celebrate ourselves, our neighbors and friends and, as my mother used to say, all our friends who we don’t even know, for the courage we all are showing in the face of what appears to be overwhelming evil. If you are refusing to drink from the cup of hatred, greed and bigotry that is being passed; if you're carrying on honorably despite your fears or misgivings; you're a hero in my eyes. Let's all take a deep breath and stand a little straighter. We are unbowed. We are the unshakable foundation and future of the world.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The Snow Goddess came and sat on my garden
With her vast white bottom

Smashing flat the chard
Drooping the kale
Burning the lettuces with her frigid fires

Then departed

Lifting her divine buttocks skyward
Skirting them in cloud.

There appears to be nothing left but ruin.

All the brave rows lie like a defeated army
Green uniforms rimed in ice
Spattered with mud.
Even the wild wind cannot lift them;
They are sinking back into Earth
 one of her fleeting dreams.

Here is one benefit of age:

I have long memories and know
This crushing descent as a brooding
An incubation.

Spring will vindicate this cold goddess
and my wisdom, too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

All the News That’s Fit to Print

The big news from the Billy Whiskers Café, on Saturday, came from a breakfasting group of pilots. One regaled all present with his tale of losing power on take-off and somehow landing his plane backwards. After he had paid his bill and departed, Karen and Rick, the owners, and David and I debated whether by backwards he meant literally tail first, or if he had somehow managed to circle around and land in the wrong direction on the runway. Either way, he claimed to have ripped off his flaps on a barbed wire fence and had clearly earned the tee shirt he was wearing that proudly proclaimed DEADSTICK.

Meanwhile, the big news on Big Hill is all about the sonic boom caused by a meteor. The Earth annually  goes through the Lyrid meteor shower, a debris field left behind by the comet Thatcher. This meteor was big as a VW bus and traveling at 33,000 miles per hour when it crashed into our atmosphere, setting off an explosion equal in force to 3.8 kilotons of TNT, or about one quarter the energy released by the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima. No wonder our house seemed to lift off its foundation! A 6-year old child who saw the fireball while out playing described it as a big, beautiful bird, a red one, with lots of rainbows.

News, however, that pieces of the meteor hit Big Hill are unfounded, or at least unsubstantiated, as yet. My friend Marianne, her husband, Jake, and son, Michael, were inundated with Forestry and fire trucks, these agencies suspecting that their house and propane tank had been hit, as they had just lit off big burn piles when the boom sounded.

Marianne, who lives about a mile away as the crow flies, called to reassure us that all was well, which was a relief, because they live in a little paradise. We had just been to visit them the day before, in their late 1800’s home, surrounded by old fruit trees, verdant gardens, a koi pond and pens for a wide assortment of birds, including chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. Marianne sent us home with three dozen fresh eggs and a bag of freshly-cut asparagus, while we had brought them a jar of our raw honey.

This is how life on the mountain goes. We all pursue our separate passions and then have the joy of divvying up the results. Plus we keep our ears to the ground and warn one another in the event of fire, suspicious characters, or in this case, falling, exploding space debris.

The weird synchronicity was this: David and I had just been to our attorney, on Thursday last, to update our living trust. As we sat in the waiting room, we chatted about how one never knows when one’s life will end. “Yes,” I said, “who knows? We could walk out of here and get hit by a meteor.” I’ve been working with the idea, generated by quantum physics, that thought takes form, and really watching my thoughts and the things they have the potential to create. If this meteor was an indication, I’m progressing with this practice nicely, if a trifle erratically.

The final bit of news is that I just today received my first royalty check for Commune of Women. It was a goodly sum and made me smile. After years of writing with no payoff but the sense of, as my mother used to say, being weary in well-doing, actual cash generated by the process seems genuinely miraculous. So I’ve decided to think about this more. A 3.8 kiloton explosion in my bank account wouldn’t be hard to take. I’m invoking the big, red, rainbow-trailing Bird of Prosperity. So stay turned. If your house jumps on its foundation, you’ll know I’m succeeding!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Wedding

                                             Mieka and Devi

A week ago today, my niece, Devi Takhar, married Victor Fraga. The venue for this blessed event was The River Mill, an 1873-vintage, 18,000 square foot, brick former chicory mill on the San Joaquin River, in French Camp, California. The place is a paradise of huge native oaks, rose-bordered paths, immaculately groomed flower beds, fountains and sculptures. Sitting smack up against the river levee, the grounds are moist and verdant and filled with birds and the smell of water. It is a perfect place, symbolically, for the union of two lives.

The day dawned bright and warm. This had been a matter of concern for the mountain branch of the family, as we had just experienced a snow storm two days before, which left our spring duds and flimsy sandals in question. As it was an 11 AM wedding, we set out early that morning with me in a white cotton voile skirt, embroidered fuchsia rayon blouse and sheepskin Uggs. I traipsed to the car holding my skirts out of the snow and my sandals in my hand.

We met up with my cousin Dorothy and her partner Jack and in the gorgeous Cadillac that his children had given him for his eightieth birthday, we descended from the snowy realms into the San Joaquin Valley, where all was blooming orchards and balmy breezes. We arrived at The River Mill an hour early and were detained by a militant staff from entering the gates of this earthly paradise, as wedding photos were being taken in the gardens.

 So we stood in the parking lot as more and more members of both families arrived, until we were quite a mob of well-dressed folks, gathered into three groups: the Fraga family, all speaking Portuguese; the Takhar family, many speaking Punjabi; and we four, speaking in undertones that if we weren’t let in to use the restroom, and SOON, things could get difficult.

At last we were allowed in and we filed dutifully through the gardens and through a fountain-graced courtyard, into the truly beautiful building. We were told to take our seats immediately, as the wedding was about to take place, leaving a restroom visit impossible. So there we sat, having traveled for two hours and waiting for another, balancing on delicate ballroom chairs and full bladders.

They say all brides are beautiful, but Devi was truly stunning. The groom was handsome in his tux, the wedding party was lovely and the three little flower girls, in their frilly white dresses, adorable. The ceremony was mercifully short and the restroom close by, and all was right with the world.

In another huge room within the cavernous building we all were seated at round tables, a DJ commenced bombarding us with impossibly loud music and we were served a marvelous luncheon, while more and still more photographs were taken. There were his-family-only groupings and her-family-only-groupings and our-family-only-groupings which, compared to the former two, was piteously small, consisting of the bride and her sister, Mieka; their mother, Carolyn, who is also my sister; me; and our cousin Dorothy. I thought how much my parents would have enjoyed seeing their granddaughter marry, my mother, especially, who loved decorous events and who also loved her granddaughters.

And I thought especially of Devi’s father, who was not there to give her away or to dance the second dance with her, having died when she was eight. He was a brilliant man, a fine doctor and an ardent farmer and a loving father. His brother, a retired veterinarian, gave Devi away and danced that dance. The deepest moment of the entire event occurred when her uncle spoke to her while guiding her around the dance floor, and Devi put her head on his shoulder and wept. I imagined that he had said how proud and happy her father would have been.

In all, it was a fine day. It was wonderful to see my sister, who lives in Taos, New Mexico, even briefly. I always enjoy catching up with her late husband’s family, whose children have all grown up to become doctors or nurses or lawyers and are wonderfully intelligent and gracious adults. There were just enough flashily dressed young women for us old dames to gossip about, particularly two: one in a backless red jumpsuit and, quite evidently, nothing else, a fact which delighted David and Jack; and one in a skin-tight mini-skirt and legs from the ground up to here. Jack leaned toward Dorothy and whispered, “I’ll buy you one of those, if you’ll wear it!”

We piled back into the Cadi and motored home through the verdant hills, took a detour through the Red Hills to see the wildflowers, and arrived merrily and gratefully home. It was a fine wedding and a fine outing. But in considering how much goes into a wedding, both the planning and the execution, I was glad that David and I had bought our rings at Ben Fig, the local import store, walked up to the courthouse, and said our vows before a single, complete stranger. Either way you go about it, getting married is a huge turning point in one’s life, smiled upon by angels.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Yesterday, at 10:45 AM, I finished Fiesta of Smoke! The bouncing baby manuscript came in at 1011 pages, after gestating for almost 30 years. As its mother, I can attest to the intensity of birth pangs. As its father, I can tell you that I went straight down to Staples and had it printed out, in order to start editing and revising the hard copy. It’s never too early to exert discipline.

Of course, every ending is a new beginning. Or several of them. Fiesta of Smoke now enters all the processes that will bring it to publication, hopefully in July. At the same time, ideas for The Waiting Stone, the next novel in the queue, are already bubbling up. I’m already about 200 pages into that manuscript, from a brainstorm several years ago, and it’s been waiting its turn patiently.

In the meantime, I’m slightly written-out, so will keep this short for today. David and I are off to the Billy Whiskers Café, this morning, to fuel up for loading horse manure for the gardens, from a friend’s ranch. Sunshine and hard physical work sound wonderful, after so many hours, days and months at the computer. If anything delicious besides the food happens at the Billy Whiskers, I’ll be sure to let you know.

If your world is anything like mine, there are flowers, mating birds and soft breezes, out there. Let’s all get out and enjoy spring, while it lasts. Have a great day!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fiesta of Smoke: Calypso’s Apartment, Place des Vosges

Today’s post is an excerpt from my novel in progress, Fiesta of Smoke. In this snippet, Calypso has disappeared and the newsman Hill is attempting to track her down.The manuscript for Fiesta of Smoke now numbers over 1000 pages and I’m working hard on the closing scenes. So, back to writing. I hope you enjoy today’s excerpt!

For those who may have missed them, a synopsis of Fiesta of Smoke can be found on the January 5, 2012 post, the Prologue, on January 8, an introduction to the protagonists Calypso, on February 3, Javier, on February 20 and Hill on March 2; Calypso and Hill Dine was posted on March 14; More of Calypso and Hill, on March 30; and More of Calypso and Hill – 2, on April 10.

. . . .

Hill expected to have to half carry Madame Pouillon up the steep, curving stairs, so ancient and vitiated did she appear. However, she went up the two flights with the alacrity of a cricket, leaving Hill panting in her wake. By the time he gained the landing of the duexième étage, she had the door to Calypso’s apartment open.

“She owns the entire third floor,” Madame Pouillon said, holding the door open for him. “It’s a very nice apartment,” she added proudly.

The room Hill entered was a perfect exemplar of early seventeenth-century architecture, long and narrow, with a low ceiling, windows at the end giving onto the street, and a marble mantle framing a small fireplace. Orderly, it would have been a lovely room.

The degree of disruption alarmed him. Rugs were pulled up, sofa cushions slit and books pulled from their shelves into helplessly splayed heaps. He bent and picked one up at random -- Ombre et Soleil, the poetry of Paul Eluard -- and it had been so badly manhandled that the center pages fell out with a thunk.

Oh non, monsieur!” Madame Pouillon shrieked. “You must touch nothing!”

“But, what possible difference . . .” he broke off, gesturing around them at the incalculable mess.

“Yes . . . but no. You must not touch Mademoiselle’s things. On this I insist!”

Hill nodded genteelly, trying to keep down his frustration. He had to work fast, before the old bat insisted he leave altogether.

“It will take some time, Madame, to understand what has happened here. Please let me work in silence for a while.”

The old woman twitched nervously and went to stand by the windows, looking down into the street, obviously expecting the instantaneous epiphany of Mademoiselle Searcy.

He began with a quick survey of the entire apartment. In the bedroom the bedclothes had been pulled onto the floor and the mattress slit. Batting and foam lay about the room like a heavy snowfall. Calypso’s clothes were ripped from the closet and lying in a heap. All the drawers were hanging open and underwear, socks and scarves lay scattered underfoot.

In the bathroom it was the same story -- a glass-fronted cabinet had been overturned; bath salts and perfume pooled on the white tile floor together with beautifully wrapped soaps and the shattered fragments of cream jars.

The kitchen showed signs of hurried sweeping up. Shards of ceramic canisters protruded from the trash and remnants of rice, coffee and some kind of whole grain lurked in the corners and under the kitchen table. In front of the open door of the refrigerator lay a small pile of rotting vegetables, jars of condiments and meat still wrapped from the butcher’s, now stinking badly.

There was a small guest room, similarly devastated. The only other room was a large library that Calypso clearly used as an office. Fighting his way to her desk through a blizzard of ripped pillows exuding goose down, he began a quick assessment of the papers that were scattered there. Many of them held important information -- her bank statement, telephone bill and even her French driver’s license all lay in trampled piles, along with handwritten notes for what was apparently a novel in progress.

The damage was particularly intense in this room. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases had been ransacked, art objects smashed, paintings slashed, as if in this final room the vandal’s frustration had reached a killing frenzy. Hill gazed sadly at a lovely Louis Quinze bronze doré clock smashed on the parquet, its curved enamel face scarred by the horseshoe shape of a boot heel, its gilded hands bent, its glass shattered.

Whatever they sought, they didn’t find it, Hill decided. Unless . . . the thought hit him like lightning. “Oh shit!” he muttered, turning back to the living room.

“Madame Pouillion!” he shouted, startling the little lady who was still at the windows, white-haired, wide-eyed and fiercely vigilant as a Pomeranian. “Was Cal . . . Mademoiselle Searcy . . . are you sure she wasn’t here, at the time of the break-in?”

In the moments that it took the old woman to formulate a response, visions of Calypso putting up an heroic battle throughout the devastated apartment filled Hill’s mind: maybe she was in bed asleep when they surprised her by ripping off the blankets; she fought them, hanging onto and overturning furniture; swept objects to the floor as her desperate hands groped for any kind of defensive weapon . . .

Oh non, monsieur,” he heard the little woman say at last. “Mademoiselle Calypso did not arrive until several minutes later. Je suis sûr et certain.”

“And she seemed perfectly unharmed?”

“Oh, yes, she was fine. Of course, when she heard what had happened she became very upset, but . . .”

“What, exactly, did she say, Madame Pouillon? It’s very important. Can you remember what she said, when she realized what had happened?”

Madame Pouillon pulled a hankie from the sleeve of her sweater and rubbed her nose, reflecting. “No,” she said, at last. “No, I don’t remember.”

Hill was relentless. “There must have been something -- anything. Something that made you stop and wonder, later, when you had the time and calm to think about everything . . . ”

Madame Pouillon carefully folded her handkerchief and in one deft, habitual gesture, slipped it into her sleeve, again. “Well . . . there was one small thing. I found it curious, when I thought about it over supper that night.” She paused, again, oblivious to Hill’s impatient shifting from foot to foot. “She said . . . ,” the old woman recalled, turning to glance again into the street, “when she first saw all this . . .” She turned to gesture toward the ruined room. “She didn’t know I was there, behind her . . .”

Hill was ready to pick her up and shake the information out of her, like coins from a piggy bank.

“She was in the library -- such a terrible mess, non? I have never seen the like -- and I followed her in. And she took one look and then . . . ” The old woman shook her head in mystification, “ . . . she whispered, ‘You bastards! You’ll never find it. Never!’ And then I tiptoed away. I should not have heard that, I think.” She gave Hill a hard, imperative look. “And you must never tell her I told you.”

“Oh, I would never tell her that,” Hill assured her hastily. And then it was his turn to blush. “I mean . . . that is . . . should I ever meet her, of course . . .”
Madame Pouillon continued to stare at him with her jet black, obdurate eyes. Then she tossed her head curtly, gesturing toward the door and Hill was only too glad to accommodate.

. . . .

Hill had the cab deliver him to a brasserie not far from his apartment, a favorite haunt of his where the atmosphere was welcoming and the rabbit stewed with mustard, fava beans and baby onions was exquisite. He had some hard thinking to do.

He had seen his share of tossed rooms in the course of his career. There was a certain order that professionals used which was entirely absent in this case. Calypso’s apartment showed, rather, signs of a kind of frenzied rage or adolescent disappointment.

Clearly the vandals weren’t seeking information about Calypso, as they’d left heaps of it lying on the floor around her desk. No, they were looking for an object, a thing. He considered the drug angle and rejected it. He would lay money that Calypso Searcy was no drug runner -- and he was not a betting man. Some kind of information, then -- a videotape, a computer disc? Possibly.

Almost as mystifying were his own missteps: how had he let it slip to the concierge that he knew Calypso? How had he neglected to call Calypso’s publisher or even to consider finding her book and reading it? Was he losing his edge? Or worse, was he in that state of demented altered consciousness most to be feared -- love?

He let his mind rummage through her apartment, righting overturned chairs and re-shelving books. Restored to order the rooms would be beautiful. With their subdued walls of pale blue-gray and comfortable seating upholstered in rose-colored Toile de Jouy, the walls of books and vibrant paintings, they would have a simple, uncluttered elegance that was both sophisticated and utterly feminine.

In a less crazy world they might have spent some pleasant evenings by the fire, talking books and music and sharing their life stories. It was such an enchanting vision that Hill had to turn from it. How long had this deep longing for a home been lurking secretly in his psyche? And what was it about this damned woman that kept exposing the most vulnerable and well-guarded aspects of his being?

Over coffee and a brandy he pulled his prize from his inner coat pocket and smoothed it on the white linen tablecloth: Calypso’s telephone bill. There were a number of long distance calls on it and he would check those first. Local calls were also listed and, because they were few in number, he decided he would track down each of them and speak with the people involved, directly -- right after he went out and purchased a copy of Calypso’s blockbuster, The Milford File.

A sense of urgency was growing in him. The workday was just beginning on the west side of the Atlantic. He could spend the evening tracking the numbers there. In the morning, he would start ransacking Paris for anyone who might be able to give him the smallest hint of what had happened to Calypso Searcy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oboes and Fireworks


This morning, my friend who is taking an apartment in the Paris Marais, near Place des Vosges, sent me this notice of the square’s anniversary:

A bejewelled treasure, the Place des Vosges was inaurated on 5 April 1612, on the occasion of the double betrothal of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria and his sister Elizabeth to Philip IV of Spain. It was known as Place Royale. The festivities went on for three days, complete with a motley carousel that made its round to the sound of trumpets, oboes and violins, while the guns of the Bastille roared in the distance. At night a torchlight procession left the square and paraded through the streets of Paris to the sound of music, whilst a magnificent display of fireworks illuminated the sky above the Bastille.

I reached page 1000 of Fiesta of Smoke, yesterday, with no more than a couple of dozen pages to go. When I write FINI, I was thinking of a celebration of this sort, myself. Especially the trumpets, violins and oboes.

I’ve always loved and been fascinated by Place des Vosges and so gave the heroine of Fiesta of Smoke an apartment there, so I could live there vicariously for a spell. Tomorrow, I’ll post a description of Calypso’s flat.

Until then, wishing you fireworks and oboes in some part of your life today!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Good morning, my friends! I'm sorry for the 3-day absence. We attended a big family wedding, this weekend, that I'll be writing about in due course. And I've been hammering down the home stretch with Fiesta of Smoke. The manuscript now stands at 987 pages and the finish line is in sight. My deadline is April 21st and, God/ess willing, I'm going to make it!

Thank you for your patience, while this 30-year long opus comes to completion. And have a joyously creative day!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Home Stretch in Spring Storm

I’ve been writing for four days straight, like a racing filly thundering down the home stretch, with the wind at her tail and the bit in her teeth. The manuscript for Fiesta of Smoke now numbers 959 pages, with a few dozen more to go. One part of me is really excited to write FINI, and another will miss these characters desperately. They’ve been part of my life for so many years!

The weather has certainly been cooperating with me to get this book finished. The mountain has been shrouded in clouds, and rain, hail and snow have alternated throughout the days. Wind has pounded first the western walls, then the eastern. Practically the only exercise I’ve gotten, besides the workout for my fingers on the keyboard, is hauling firewood up from the woodshed.

The animals are all in semi-hibernation on these cold days. Maclovio didn’t get out of bed until noon, yesterday. He dashed out into the rain and wind to do his duty and then huddled in David’s chair, looking miserable until I covered him with the Mexican blanket, at which point he went straight back to sleep, again. The cats are exhibiting states of waxy flexibility in various venues about the house. Sophia favors the Chinese rug by the door, where she lies on her back spraddle-legged, or the round footstool, which perfectly contains her, in her coiled form, or the kindling box where, in her waking moments, she endlessly rearranges the sticks of wood. Panda’s favorite haunt is the foot of the bed.

Last night, David was downstairs, planting seeds in pots, to go under grow lights. He passed through to get a glass of wine, saying that he’d planted 8 tomato seeds of various varieties and 8 giant sunflowers. His faith in the eventual arrival of planting season is touching, given this wild weather.

That just leaves me, tapping madly away with the hiss of the fire and the sigh of the wind in the background. Sometimes, a torrent of hail hammering the metal roof. It’s a good life, if a quiet one, which suits my tendency to introversion and my need for concentration.

My friend Charles called from Sacramento to say that TV weather reported a red cell headed our way. David and I dashed out to cover the pea seedlings he just planted during the last sunny spell. As we were hauling two sheets of plywood to teepee over his babies, doves were cooing in the woods. A frog trilled his spring warble under the front stairs. The smell of wet earth, mingled with that of manzanita flowers, was dizzying. And in the gully east of the house, there was a chuckling whisper of running water.

Now, snow is falling thick and fast and is starting to stick. None of us has any complaints, on this Friday the 13th. I hope you are able to say the same! 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Brava! Bravo! to All Brave Souls

Only his sorrow
is silly enough to sit
crying in the rain

This morning, I received this email from my friend Christie Holliday, from up on the California north coast, near Albion:

i know you'll get a big vicarious thrill out of this because you are the dearlings who pump my ink!! This was a haiku that trickled into my head in the deep brown oaken tongue and groove little classroom of English teacher Miss Bohmfalk at Roland Park Country School!!  hooray for RPCS!

Congratulations! Your haiku been chosen for the second place award in our contest, the attached email enthused. Christie went on to say:

I'm pretty happy about this little award, being a bit lazy about putting anything 'out there'. And I beseeeeeech you to put a little altar up for good health and fortune in my two  performances, one singing a high soprano solo Ave Maria (my throat and sinus have been freaking out since I volunteered for this:-0 )  the other was supposed to be a little flamenco blurb and it morphed into a Carmen/gypsy dance--now that's a stretch, kind of like an "old baby"...:-) so beam your goodwitch angels of illusion and silken vocal folds on me?  Thurs 4/27 -28-29--when these haiku awards are being given, oh well.   ... xoc    :-)))))))

Now, this is the kind of news that really makes my skirt blow up, first thing in the morning! What could be more delightful than to know that my dear friend, Stellar Brave Soul and Creative Sphinx is putting it all out there –singing, dancing, writing and, may I add, healing as a naturopath, too. This little sylph dives into the icy Pacific to harvest seaweed, offers her generous wisdom to all in need of healing, cooks the most incredible vegetarian fare, dresses like a cross between a fashion model and the Good Fairy, and has, I believe, the bewitched feet of the cleaved mermaid.

Brava to Miss Bohmfalk for recognizing talent and wisdom when she sees it! Double BRAVA to Christie for giving herself so generously to life! And brava and bravo to all who refuse to let all of themselves sit sorrowfully in the rain today! Isn’t life the most wonderful adventure?!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Of Life, Death and Eagles

On yesterday’s walk Maclovio and I had three interesting encounters. The mountain we walk up has three big microwave communication towers on it and, as we were starting up the last pitch, we encountered the man who maintains the towers, coming down. We stopped to chat about this and that. We were on the west side of the mountain; the wind was coming from the west; it was cold and overcast. Soon Mac was doing a little dance at my feet, looking pitiful and shivery and I was just about to bid my new friend, Dale, farewell and to hustle on home to build a fire, when I saw an amazing sight.

A huge bird was about to land in an old cedar tree about 50 yards up the road. At first I thought it might be a buzzard, but the furling of its wings as it landed showed that it wasn’t. There was only one other thing it could be – an eagle! Dale and I were elated. He ran to his truck and came back with the field glasses he uses to check the towers. With these he confirmed that it was, indeed, a golden eagle, then handed me the glasses so that I could see it, too.

What a magnificent, full-chested, hook-beaked creature! It sat in the top of that tree as if it owned it, fully present and in command. Then, we heard a cry and a second eagle swooped over us and then toward its companion, who leapt from the treetop and swept majestically into the air. Then, for a full half hour, the two eagles spiraled and curled through the air, up into the trees, down into the valley. They seemed to be inspecting trees with flat, broken tops, causing Dale and me to speculate that they might be a mating pair looking for a nesting site.

Finally, they cartwheeled away on the wind and Mac and I headed for home, with me keeping an eagle eye out, just in case the eagles might be interested in Mac the Snack. Golden eagles have a wingspan from 5 to almost 9 feet and they can bring down a deer. They’re even used to hunt wolves, in Asia! For those two, Maclovio would be nothing more than a four-legged meatloaf!

 We were hurrying through the cold wind toward home when we encountered our neighbor’s dog Kia, standing in the road. Now Kai has been Alpha dog on top of this mountain for several years. She’s half wolf and half Rottweiler, big, all black and fairly formidable. She was my dearly departed Misha’s girlfriend, playmate and partner in crime. In her healthier days she would often accompany me home, receive a dog bone for her courtesy, and depart for home with the bone sticking out of her mouth like a cigar.

But recently, at age 12, she’s begun a decline.

So I was surprised to see her on the road, as she rarely leaves her yard, these days, or even eats, for that matter. I greeted her, then kept on toward home, but Kia surprised me by following along. She had the vague, blank look of the elderly in her eyes and, about half way to the house, sat down in the road and took a 5-minute rest. Then she rose up and continued on, even trotting part of the way. She was within a hundred feet of the house when she veered off the road and went sniffing along the edges of a pile of firewood, where she found a little pocket of rain water trapped in the edge of the tarp. She lapped it up thirstily then headed off into the woods.

I had the distinct feeling that she was looking for a place to curl up and die. A part of me wanted to just let her go and do what she instinctively wanted to do. But another part of me both felt responsible for her welfare and simply didn’t want to part with her. I called her back and she came, but unsteadily, then lay down in the middle of the road and refused to budge.

It occurred to me that she might still be thirsty, so I ran to the house and brought her a bowl of water, which she drank to the bottom – about a quart and a half. Still, she would not move from the road, so I ran again to the house and called her people, who came immediately to collect her in the back of their Subaru. So off she went, standing and swaying as they moved off down the bumpy dirt road.

Those three encounters, Dale, the eagles, and Kia, caused me to reflect on the cyclical nature of things. Dale and I are in our prime, strong, healthy and fully involved in life. Kia, on the other hand, is losing interest in this world and is ready to pass into the next one, while the eagles, if they are a mating pair, are preparing to bring new life back across the great divide between dimensions.

So, I got a little philosophy lesson from our hour outside and Maclovio got two bones, one for him and one that should have been Kia’s. It reminds me of a little Argentine gaucho song:

La vida es como un arroyo
Qui va a perderse en el mar.
Hoy, cruza campo de flores.
Mañana, seco arenal.

Life is like a little stream
That goes to lose itself in the sea.
Today, it crosses a field of flowers.
Tomorrow, a dry bed of sand.

As my friend Javier always says to me, This is life, Suzan; this is life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fiesta of Smoke: More of Calypso and Hill -- 2

Today’s post is an excerpt from my novel in progress, Fiesta of Smoke. In this snippet, Hill and Calypso, who have just met for the first time, have dinner together, then sit bantering at an outdoor café. The manuscript for Fiesta of Smoke now numbers 926 pages and I’m working hard on the closing chapters. So, back to writing. I hope you enjoy today’s excerpt!

For those who may have missed them, a synopsis of Fiesta of Smoke can be found on the January 5, 2012 post, the Prologue, on January 8, an introduction to the protagonists Calypso, on February 3, Javier, on February 20 and Hill on March 2; Calypso and Hill Dine was posted on March 14; and More of Calypso and Hill, on March 30.

The waiter, in cut-away coat and long white apron, brought them more drinks and added the saucers to the growing stack. Calypso pulled her fox coat more tightly around her shoulders.

“This is the last one.”

“Good. Then I’ll take you for a little late night snack.”

Calypso laughed. “Is this how you woo women, by over-feeding them like geese destined for pâté?”

“I don’t woo women.”


“Meaning I’ve never been married and I’ve never had a really serious relationship. Not since I was a very young man, anyway.”

“You obviously expect me to believe that. Perhaps I can con you into believing I’m a virgin!”

Hill cupped his big hands around his glass and frowned down into it, his lower lip curled down toward his chin in a pout. He looked like a caged bear, five minutes overdue for feeding.

“Okay. Alright. I believe you: I am the first true love of you life.” Her tone was cajoling, humorous.

“Damned if it doesn’t look like it.”

“Oh Walter, you’re being silly. We’ve just met!”

“Don’t call me that!” His body jerked as if she’d stuck him with a pin.

“If you love me, you’ll let me call you Walter, Walter,” she cooed.

Hill rubbed his chest, feeling for the watch case. What are you babbling, you dolt? For God’s sake, Hill! Have you lost your mind? He shook his head wearily.

“I feel that I am destined to love you.” He said it with a sigh and a resignation that flustered her.

“Are you serious, then?”


She sat back and gazed at him in astonishment.

“But Walter, I can’t love you. I’m in love with someone else.”

It amazed her to have a serious conversation over the possibility of a love affair with a nearly 300-pound man whom she had known for an evening. Yet it all seemed quite natural, really. She felt as comfortable with Hill as if she had known him for an eternity.

“Walter, I think we’re both a little drunk,” she said reasonably. “Let’s try this conversation again another day and see if we don’t feel like complete fools.”

“No,” Hill said firmly. “No. I want you to tell me about him.”

“About whom?”

“Him. My rival.”

“Your rival?  Hill, that’s positively medieval.”

“Nevertheless. . .”

“I don't want to discuss it.”

 “But you must!”

“Look, Hill. I know this is all great fun for you, but I really don’t feel like dragging him out like a plaything for you.”

“It is not fun. It’s awful. I feel like a fool. I’m smitten, and I haven’t any idea what to do about it. Forgive me if I’m making a fool of myself -- I’m an amateur.”

Calypso planted her elbows on the table, ran her fingers up along her temples and buried them deep into her hair, staring at Hill.

“I admit that I do feel a strange attachment to you, as if we’d been friends forever. But love, Hill? It’s preposterous.”

“Not if you remember Egypt, where we were lovers . . .”

“Brother and sister, more likely. That I might admit to . . .”

“Even as your brother I lusted after you.”

“Hmmm -- thirty-five hundred years of unrequited incestuous adolescent horniness. Maybe it’s time to grow up.”

“I’m thirty-five hundred years older now, and that’s led to a maturity and savoire faire that may have been lacking, previously. Tell me about him.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Please . . .”

“You’ll think I’m crazy.”

“Any crazier than you must think me?”

“He doesn’t love me, really. I think.”

“Then he’s the crazy one!”

“He’s married and has three children.”

“Worse and worse. Why are you doing this to yourself?”

“I wish I knew. And lastly, he’s Mexican.”

“Mexican! I knew it -- you’ve fallen for some Latin Romeo. Or Romero, as the case may be,” Hill groaned. “Don’t tell me any more -- I’ll tell you. He looks at you with inscrutable black eyes and tells you hair-raising stories about narrow escapes he’s had. He wears skin-tight sharkskin pants tailored in Tijuana and a vest, with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel, underneath. His nose, in profile, is like the beak of a hawk and he pronounces your name ‘Caleepso’. How’m I doing?”

“A couple of direct hits.”

Hill spat out a vague monosyllable. “Psuuhhh -- it’s the description of every gigolo in Acapulco. Maybe you are crazy -- or naive.”

“You're not being fair. This is different . . . ” Her eyes were filled with tears, he discovered, and she seemed genuinely distressed but Hill was remorseless.

 “That’s what they all say: it was different with me. It’s me he really loves. You’re too old to fall for that crap.”

Calypso gave a little shriek of pure rage and stood so quickly that her chair toppled backward. “You are insufferable! You know nothing of the circumstances! Good night, Mr. Hill.” Snatching up her bag, she spun to her right and strode away.

Hill sat momentarily stupefied by this appalling turn of events. When he leapt up and began to run after her, however, the waiter came after him, shouting for his money. Hill ripped his wallet from his pocket and, pulling out an unknown quantity of franc notes, threw them back over his shoulder and kept running, under a hail of French explicatives.

His brief hesitation had given her a head start and she was already far down the quai. He could hear the rattle of her running feet on the pavement and was amazed at her ability to sprint in high heels. He lumbered after her in desperation and only caught up with her as she was hailing a cab at the entrance to Pont Neuf.

He threw himself into the cab behind her and slammed the door, shouting to the driver, before she could object, “To the Ritz!” At the same instant, his peripheral vision caught the running figure of a man. He turned in time to see a pale face, momentarily flooded by a streetlight, glaring frantically back at him. Then the cab lurched forward.

“Who was that?”
“Who was who?” she asked sullenly, pulling herself into a ball on the far end of the seat.

“Looked like someone who wanted to get your attention.”

Calypso didn’t answer but Hill could feel the recoil slam through her body. As the cab sped toward Place Vendôme, he reached over and touched her arm gently.
 “Somehow I’m going to make up for my appalling rudeness. I’m not sure how but I’m going to start at the bar at the Ritz. I’m going to listen very patiently to your story and I’m not going to say another asinine thing about it. I’m sure it is quite different from any I’ve heard before, despite what I might have said to the contrary.”

“Go to hell, Walter.”

“And as a token of my good faith, I give you freedom to walk out on me at any time, without trying to stop you again.”

“You’re giving me my freedom?”

“After you tell your story.”

“But I thought I already had my freedom. How careless of me.”

. . . .

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Fine Point

My favorite thing is to have my head sharpened to a fine point.
--My former inmate/student, Phil, imagining himself as a pencil.

Today is a serious writing day. Fiesta of Smoke now stands at 917 pages. After a deliciously long and beautiful Easter weekend working in the garden, it's time to sharpen my head to a fine point and get back to writing.

Wishing you a productive and mentally sharp day!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

3 Liberatory Steps

1) Break the chains

 2) Be like the butterfly in the cocoon
 neither worm nor winged
 a jelly

3) Fly!!!

May the rising Sun of Easter remind you of the resplendence of your own shining Self, and may you have joy, the whole day through!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Walkies and Photography

Yesterday was one of those exquisite days in early spring when the temperature is low, the wind is chill and the sunlight is glorious. Clouds filled the bluest sky, sometimes in masses, sometimes sailing along singly. It’s just the kind of day when I can’t wait to grab my camera and go walking. In light like that, every photo is beautiful.

Maclovio, the Chihuahua, after spending the day wrapped in an old Mexican wool blanket, shivering, was doing a tap dance of excitement the entire time I was suiting up. Amazing how he forgets all about the cold, when it’s walk time! We scooted out the door into the icy wind. Then there was a flip of the dog door, and out came Sophia, followed by her nemesis, Panda. So off I went, looking like the Pied Piper, with Mac in the lead and the two cats trailing along behind.

On a day when I really want to move fast, having the cats along is a real trial. Panda doddles, while Sophia moves like a mechanical, wind-up toy, striding along, never missing a beat – but the beats are slow ones. Meanwhile, Mac is darting ahead, then racing back to see what’s holding everyone up, then tearing off, again. The separate styles of the three fur children can pose quite a challenge to getting them all moved down the road in some orderly fashion. Usually, we are strung out for a hundred yards, with Mac in the lead and Sophia patiently bringing up the rear.

Yesterday’s photography expedition, however, moved at just the right pace for all but Maclovio. I stopped to snap a picture. Panda threw himself into the center of the road and rolled onto his back. Sophia came striding up, obviously glad to catch up, for once. I moved on, stopped again for a photo. Panda ran at Sophia, pounced on her and got swatted. Mac came racing back, did a loop around my legs and took off at a gallop. I moved on again, then stopped. Panda was now in the rear, sitting by the side of the road, crying piteously for no reason that I could discern, except the onerous burden of having to walk. Mac went over the side of the road and into the brush, following a deer’s scent. Sophia kept striding. I don’t need to photograph it. You get the picture.

 We hadn’t gone far when a neighbor to the west started pegging away at target practice with what sounded like a big .45 hogleg. Maclovio’s entire demeanor changed instantly. He slunk up to me and hovered by my ankles. He didn’t want to go any further and had to be encouraged, step by step, with many It’s okay, Mac’s. Panda disappeared into the oak woods. Sophia kept striding. I urged Mac another hundred yards, assuring him every step of the way that I wouldn’t let anybody shoot him. Panda reappeared, then skittered sideways at Sophia, his back arched like a Halloween cat. Sophia ignored him and kept on striding.

More shots to the west. Mac is dissolving, shuddering himself to Jell-O. Sophia has disappeared. Panda is already headed home. I backtrack to find Sophie. Mac stands indecisively in the center of the road, loathe to take a single step in any direction not leading homeward. Panda runs back and butts Mac with his head. I find Sophia making a nice potty for herself on the far side of the neighbor’s sand pile. I take a few more pictures of clouds while we wait for Sophie.

Mac is now heading home with his tail between his legs, sort of waddling along, but determinedly. Panda falls behind so he can harass Sophie. Sophie lags behind further still to avoid Panda. I tell them to work it out and keep walking. I stop to take a photo. Panda gallops past me, passes Mac and is the first one into the yard. Mac runs past Panda and up the stairs to tell David his troubles. Sophia is two hundred feet back, striding along. I stop to take more photos.

Five minutes after Mac, Panda and I are back in the house, shivering and complaining of the cold, Sophia, refusing to use the dog door, presents herself at the front door, which I graciously open for her. She strides in, to the same metronomic beat she’s maintained throughout, goes straight into the kitchen, jumps onto the counter and proceeds to eat her crunchies. Mac is swathed in the Mexican blanket again, shivering away his angst over the gunfire. Panda departs to the loft to sleep off the exhaustion of having walked. 

I run excitedly between the east and west side of the house, taking pictures of the rising moon (east) and the setting sun (west). David tells me that, while weedeating, he was trying to answer the philosophical question, What does it mean to be fully human? Personally, I feel like I’ve been living it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

The German means a little serenade, but is often rendered more literally, although less accurately, as a little night music. Last night, with rain and hail pattering, tapping and pounding on the metal roof, it was both. And wind sighed and soughed its deep bass viol notes, tying the entire nocturnal composition together.

There really is little in life more delightful than simply lying awake in the night, warm and snug, listening to the symphonic renderings of the natural world. Cold, sleet, deluge and ice are not sensed on the suffering skin but only as polyphony on the drowsy ear. Sweetly domiciled, the mind relaxes into the rush, shush and rattle of pure sound. There is a wildly seething greenness to April storms, accompanied by lashing branches, their leaf tongues singing wind words. Long vowels howl and wail in the flailing ululations of the trees.

Clouds collide their black bellies; thunder rumbles. All is clatter, clack, rattle and hiss; a stormy, jumbled poetry that creaks and cries, bears down, insists, flattens, a great palm clapping attention, then passes on. The dreamy mind pictures stinging pellets of hail; black, roiling, rolling acres and miles; elevations and altitudes; plains and hills; mountains’ vast timbered tracts leaning windward, snow slanting in their secret, shadow-danced depths.

Streaming stones in kernaled gulleys dance the lashing blue and ash song along through the grumbling, inky night. The heart sinks into the wet cold of anointing. Eyes drift closed beneath this passionate swirl of icy creation; this love; this indigo instant; this storm.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Early April

Now the black oaks flaunt
Their specificity of place:
North side, sill kernaling tight;
Eastern ridge, alizarin buds fat as fingertips;
South slope, tufts of ragged chartreuse ears
Listen the green wind.

Pooled in sodden umber,
Last season’s leaves
Are blurring
Losing specificity.
Great undulations of the year—
Parts up-thrusting, unfurling,
Some diving deep
On the black, moldy undertow
Of Earth.