It’s barely visible, but if you look closely at this photograph, there is a fading rainbow just above the tops of the trees. And it you look even more closely, you’ll see the residue of another  one above it where the clouds are breaking through. It is the Spring of 2014 on the Palouse. This is the backyard of the house on Asbury Street as seen from the upstairs window, where no doubt I was sorting through things as I prepared to move. Or maybe I grabbed my camera and “ran” up the stairs to get a better view of the double rainbow before it faded. That’s why I now have a shot of this yard in all its early Spring greener-than-green glory. Take a good look: grass out of control and needing to be mowed seemingly overnight, the pear tree by the fence, all leafed out and about to burst into blossom, the ancient ornamental hawthorne completely decked out with it’s own fuschia colored blossoms, ready for flower essence -making to strengthen the heart. My herbalist friend once joked that in Spring it reminded her of Sideshow Bob’s hair, and  after that  it became part of The Simpson’s lore my son loved so much, and never failed to get a giggle out of any of us.

The impromptu tulip patch at the back fence is ready to pop, and all the raspberries are leafed and green–EVERY thing is drenched in water soaked emerald. My beloved clothesline is strung out across the emeralds and if I was closer, the water droplets on the clothespins would have shone in the light between storms like spontaneous solar lights.

On the outside of the fence, urban downtown life in Moscow goes on. A car pulls up at the Subway drive-through, a student walks through the parking lot of the real estate agency next door. But inside the fence, the plants are beginning again as they have for at least 20 years–the bulbs and the hawthorne may have been there well close to a century. It seems as if it will never change, will always resurrect itself into a new summer each year. At the time I snapped the photo, I am confident of this because I have sold my house to a woman who feels as I do about the place and will cherish and tend it. I have kept my promise to this land and this house in my bureaucratic and political efforts to make sure she can buy it.

But that world on the outside of the fence grew dragon fire and brimstone in the last three  years. The rezoning I thought would protect it made way for the developer I had sparred with for over a decade to buy up the rest of the block and systematically remove all trees and living things to build duplexes up against every old house he owns. I saw this happen down the alley when I lived there, the first prototype, and I fought him with everything I had the strength to fight him with. I even looked him in the eye and said “you forced him out,” referring to the neighbor with the grapevines and the beautiful garden who had become my friend and who had to leave when his rent was raised. His response to me was to look at his phone (because he couldn’t look me in the eye and lie about that one) and say “who on the city council do you want me to call? I can call any of them right now and they’ll do what I want. They LIKE me.”

At the time, I chalked this up to his youthful arrogance, and continued my letters to the editor, my comments at public hearings and finally, when it became apparent it was the only way to save it, paid for the rezoning of my Asbury Street house. And I did save it. If I had not done that, it would be bulldozed by now. Instead it is intact and will celebrate its birthday of 120 this September.

But apparently he was right about one thing–the city council does love him. They never did anything to stop his style of development in this neighborhood now deemed a place of “urban renewal.” The visions they lied to me of having about that apparently went out the window with all the trees and flowers and peace and quiet. There is a duplex being constructed next door that hugs the fence of the star garden and will loom large with its two stories, blocking the sun. The students will be further crammed in and exploited, with nothing growing but rocks (and no one to sing “the stones are the bones of the earth” to them, as my friend and I did when the commercial building on the corner was “landscaped” with huge rocks and a bobcat that shook my house with the force of a minor earthquake). They will now have a bar across the street where the old co-op once was, open until the wee hours of the morning, featuring loud outside concerts and liquor, where they can further fuel their exploited sorrows and ignite their urges to kick in gates and throw garbage along the alley lined with despair on their disillusioned ways home. My heart aches for them. They won’t have the experiences my former student neighbors had, of learning to grow a garden, of swinging on a tree swing,  of making a pie with cherries all the neighbors picked together, of helping me with my wood or tasting my raspberries and pears.

It will no longer be safe for a dog to stay in the yard, especially at night. It will not be peaceful, or quiet, or optimal for things to grow. The woman I sold the house to is a saavy person when it comes to real estate and she saw the writing speedily gathering on the walls. She saw that as much as she loved it she couldn’t stay as long as she had hoped. It wouldn’t be safe or peaceful anymore for her or her animals, and the value of the house would plummet. She sold to the developer I had held off for over 10 years. He was gracious and gave her a good deal and a lot of time to stay while she looked for a more suitable new home.

I can’t fault her for this; I couldn’t stay either. But it’s hard to see my fantasies of winning the day dashed against the pavement. As I’ve written here before, I used to dream up strategies of redemption that involved giving the house to the Nez Perce Tribe, or Friends of the Clearwater, anyone who would snub their noses at the development ogres and go right on fighting the good fight in the middle of it after I was too tired to do it myself. If I could have afforded to do that, I probably would have. I even wrote the famous musician Carol King, a benefactor of the environment in Idaho, asking if she’d buy it for Friends of the Clearwater. But she never wrote back.

People like to save forests and lakes, and they should like to, and work hard to do it. But no one much cares about an old neighborhood filled with heirloom flowers and fruit,  and huge old shade trees, hidden beyond the beaten path of the main road or the unused railroad tracks, or the huge complex of the university. Instead the powers that be  see growth as property tax revenues that come when wealthy investors invest in their urban renewal schemes.

Thus it comes to be that my dear old backyard will now become a duplex. The house will stand, and be rented, and though the woman who sold it to the developer says he’s changed and she has a good relationship with him and I believe her,  I am doubtful he’ll do anything but what he’s done with every other single old house he owns. Rent it out at exorbitant rates and not fix it up. When it’s ready to fall into the ground, he’ll bulldoze it. And when he has the money he’ll build another ugly duplex.

But this is no ordinary house, though. This house has balls. It’s survived at least one chimney fire, seen moonshine runs, remodels, people knocking on doors in the early hours of the morning, not knowing where they are. It’s sheltered my family and any of my friends who needed a place to stay, it allowed us to carve out its center and build a new core made of a masonry stove, it’s been painted by a hundred students, stood the test of countless storms. It’s strong, and I pray it will continue to work it’s magic on the unsuspecting.

Meanwhile, the living things in the yard had to be saved from the approaching backhoe. The last couple of weeks have seen an amazing “grass roots” effort facilitated by the woman I sold it to and my dear long time herbalist friend to re-home as many plants as possible, and find a solution for how the pear tree can live again as well. Neighbors and friends in Moscow and as far away as Spokane will now take care of plants, stones and the bricks that once made the star garden. My herbalist friend has started a “tree nursery” in her  laundry room, where 8 inch starts from the pear tree and branches from grandmother may hawthorne and the old rose are patiently taking root. Some may end up in my son’s yard in Portland, and a few plants  may even make it all the way to the coast, along with the piece of wall from the house with the image of Martin Luther King.

When changing circumstances require a letting go that is commensurate with a death, there are many simultaneous and equally valid responses. I’ll call them the tributaries of the river grief, separating and running out to the sea, while also carrying a bit of everything from the original river. First, there’s the letting go of my fantasies of winning the day in the forms I have daydreamed of: the house and yard and garden going on for another generation, or more, a pastoral spark of living light in a sea of urban renewal. With that goes the daydreams of sticking it to The Man by giving it back to the tribe or the environmentalists. Following that goes any temptation to want to blame the dear woman I sold it to for not being able to continue as I had hoped she would, since even when I set it up to continue on without me, it was getting too hard for me to maintain the place alone, let alone fight the fight neither one of us foresaw in the form it’s taken to keep it and its land intact. Along they all go through the alluvial clay, down to the ocean. Then there’s the blame I really do assign to the Moscow City planners for their utter failure of imagination when it comes to the urban renewal district. Even the little pocket park we eventually were granted was approved probably because of an environmental impact report from the old grain towers that demonstrated contamination. A full scale clean up was not required to allow the pocket park and the creek day-lighted, but building housing demanded it. And so, in my cynical stream of thought, that’s ultimately why it was un-tabled and passed by a conservative city council, after two years of deadlock–not because I read them a poem about “Seeing Hog Creek.” They made the motions of bowing to the need for green space, but it was also about not wanting to pay to clean up.

This is a hard stream of thought to let go over the boulders without feeling its bitter taste, its utter disappointment. Even so, there is a creek day-lighted and a park where there wouldn’t have been. The big park did not get sold to the school district. The trees I donated in honor of my mother and father, so far as I know, still grow there.

But within all these streams is the most brilliant current of all, the one I must follow if I am to go on, and I plan on going on. That’s the one full of mystery and surprise, the one full of wait-and-see questions about how it all shakes down, what new beginnings come from a seeming end. It carries the cleansing water that will nurse the little 8 inch cuttings from the pear tree, the old rose, the ancient May Hawthorne. It carries the fact that the construction workers over the fence watched in respectful silence as my friends sang to the plants and put them in pots for transport, and that one of them asked if he could have some bulbs.

When something dies, especially something or someone beloved, I believe it releases its essence into more than it was in the form it shed. People do this when they pass; their spirits expand with love and understanding of things they just couldn’t quite “get” when they were alive. I don’t know how it happens, but I know it does. It doesn’t remove the sadness, but it makes these transitions ripe with a potent release of powerful perspective, and the good that can follow from it. And so when I look at this photo of the little pear branches carefully trimmed so that a quart jar will fit over them to create the condensation they need as they begin to root in their carefully created mix of rooting soil, it is like seeing lights emanate from the dark brown starts about to bud out. They are lit up with the future, uncertain and unpredictable though it may be, by the magical light of the past.

And so, I say good-bye to a beloved piece of land that held a space of healing for me and many others connected to me for so long. The star garden was designed by my herbalist friend and me,  and originally built by my former students from the English Department at the University of Idaho, two of them now married to each other with a family of their own. I can still hear them calling “not it! not it! not it!” in order to avoid being the one to have to go to the front of the property and turn the hose on and off. When it was all complete and very young and the plants were small, I hosted a summer solstice ceremony my herbalist friend was having for her students. We lit candles at each tip of the star and stuck them in the dirt. We walked the star, as we would many many more hundreds of times over the years, as a labyrinth. And a little girl who was but five at the most and who is now grown into a lovely young woman, skipped from tip to tip, holding her mother’s hands and laughing, on the longest day of the year. Her nickname was “Bug.” Many more ceremonies and conversations were to come, plants harvested, people helped, including my friend Tom, who fell on his bicycle and didn’t have health insurance to have his arm set in a cast in the traditional way. Instead he kept it in a sling and came to the garden to harvest comfrey leaves and wrap it in a poultice to help it heal. Between my supply and that of my herbalist friend, his arm healed. We all laughed he had chosen the best time of year to break his arm. It’s where I sat with a little todler friend we had learned was functionally deaf, rocking on the glider under the May Hawthorne with him, while we looked up into her branches and signed the sign for “tree,” each of  our faces plastered with leaf shadow and heartfelt smiles.

I set them free on this page, with all the other stories of the garden to rush over the rocks, down to the ocean of unconditional love and overarching mystery, where the past is complete and we hold it in our hearts.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

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Several years ago a man who broke my heart told me that somewhere in the Casteneda books, the wise man told the seeker that if you’re in love with the world you’re never lonely. This man said he thought that I was one of these special people, that I was in love with the world. He didn’t think he was, though he was trying to be. He told me this before he broke my heart, and probably because he knew he would break my heart and didn’t want to, and that I might not be listening. But I was listening.

And he was right. I am a person who is in love with the world. It doesn’t keep my heart from breaking, or save me from feeling lonely, but it lets me know I am never alone. Not in the sense of always having someone beside me or somewhere to go or something to do, or others telling me I am important, but in the sense that I have an infinite number of connection points available to me if I am willing to recognize them.

In the last 3 moves of the last 3 years I have learned to recognize my adjustment process has changed from when I was young. When I was young, the center of feeling grounded anywhere I moved was my desk. If that was set up, with its pencils and paper and markers, journals, typewriter or computer, I was set to go. It was like magic.

But after staying in the house on Asbury Street for two decades and raising my son there, when it was time to go, it was also time to lighten up the accumulation that had occurred. But it was also a process of slowing coaxing out long tap roots of being grounded on that spot that had held me and helped me heal. One night, before I found the house on Van Buren Street or even knew I would, I just had a feeling I was leaving, and there was nothing to do but go. I sat at my desk, made out of a big oak door, and tears of gratitude ran down my face for this old house that had sheltered and healed me so well.

So adjusting to a new house entailed way more than simply setting up my desk. I noticed that once my books were in place on the shelf with the salt lamp that I felt comforted, comfortable even.  I noticed I felt at home the first night I saw the crescent moon setting over the evergreens beyond the bathroom window. But often, too, all of a sudden, I would feel lost, disoriented. I would wait quietly for it to pass. I’d also experience moments of settling in, feeling grounded, content. I learned the disorientation came in like fog, and left like fog, and the moments of contentment were like sun breaking through clouds, lighting and warming everything up. They were part of the same cycle. A dear friend told me there would be a shift in 3 months, and then in six, and I trusted that. Gradually I felt more at home, and the shifts from one end of the cycle to another were less frequent, and less extreme.

In Portland, when it came, that disoriented feeling  felt like being tossed about, like a leaf in the wind. I even said that late one afternoon staring out the passenger window, watching brown leaves scuttle on the sidewalk, as Mike drove  me home from some errands. Another time, I saw all these leaves in the small park outside the Fred Meyer in Hollywood, and it made the leaf-blown aspect of myself feel less alone, and even splendid, and ever so grateful for the company and support of my son through my time of adjustment.

When I moved to my little mobile home at the beach, I still had the condo to return to. Though I fled willingly to the beach for the quiet, the fresh air and the sound of ocean, I also felt somewhat adrift at the wild edge of the continent. And yet it was this very wild edge that also was healing. In a sense, the disorientation had become a kind of reorientation. One day in early October before Cotton came, Romeo and I made our way to the top of Fishing Rock. It turned out to be the last longest walk in mild weather we would take on the beach in that direction for the rest of the year. Here’s what I had to say about it:

“Saturday morning at the beach, Oct 8, low tide, in one of the most beautiful places I can think of:

Overcast, but warm. No rain, very light wind.

Walked: 3 miles, round trip. On the spur of the moment, Romeo and I transformed into badass seniors and climbed up the trail at the end of the beach to Fishing Rock to enjoy the spectacular view: made it back down, too, without incident. Nice gnarled tree roots to hang onto along the way. Beautiful grassy plateau, red dirt and black rock opening out from maze of wind-sculptured trees. Rested on a big earth mother lava claw down below afterwards. Met an interior designer from Corvallis. Encouraged her to go up and see it, too.

On the way there found many treasures, including an intact half of a razor clam shell. Also met Nora the great dane, and Romeo got a treat. He also romped from seaweed clump to seaweed clump.

On the way back, saw friends Jane and Fred. Got a big hug and high fives for climbing the trail up to Fishing Rock.

Saw: a surfer ride a wave

Saw: a whale spouting a few times before diving deep, very close to shore (thanks to Fred)

Saw: a golden retriever digging a hole like mad in the sand, and sitting in it.

Found: 2 more smaller clam shells.

Lost and found: my funny rain hat from Next Adventure Bargain Basement.

Can’t think of a better way to have earned my afternoon nap.”

The significance of this day may have been gestated way back when I was just 13. It was a time when collages were “in” and I was  assigned to make one to express myself. The only photo I remember in it is one that moved me so much I have never forgotten it, to this day: a young woman, in a headband with long braids, standing on a huge rock, overlooking the ocean. The sun sparkles on the water like diamonds. In her stance as she gazed out at the water, I felt the power and possibility, the clarity, the freedom– in solitude–though I couldn’t have said that out loud to anyone at the time. It might have been the first time I felt personally connected  to a largely archetypal and abstract image. When I looked at it, it was where I wanted to be and how I wanted to live, though I could not have put that into words, either. Most likely, I couldn’t have even known what that meant, or what it would look like in “real” life. But I knew the feeling.

Nearly 50 years later, on that day in October with Romeo, without remembering it like a set of instructions, I was living that picture. No one knew we were up there. I had not remembered to bring my phone. I had not planned to climb up there, but when we got to the end of the beach, it seemed like the thing to do and that we had the strength and buoyant energy to do it–and the cooperation of the elements in the land, sea and sky. So we did. I didn’t know what  a rainy hard stormy winter we would have, or that I would get slapped down by the ocean in another 6 weeks, and move to buy a more permanent home in just another month from that. But it certainly was a day when I knew I was in love with the world. I knew, for that time, it would hold me, and it would not matter we did not have a phone “in case something happened,” because nothing would.  It would not be something we would be able to do all the time; this day was a special opening. And within that embrace of the moment, a profound sense of wonder and discovery took root and helped me settle in for the winter.

I’ll admit it, I do not like all the rain we’ve endured this winter. It takes a lot of dressing and undressing and drying of rain gear for one human and two dogs to go out twice a day. But we do it. I was comforted recently when a new neighbor said he was tired of the rain–and he loves the rain!! My real estate agent in Portland, originally from Los Angeles, has told me she loves the rain, too, because it makes the city clean, and that as a result, Portland is a much cleaner big city than most. So I tried to get on that wave length as best I could.

Meanwhile the disorientation fog of adjustment rolls in and out like the coastal storm fronts. Some folks use very conscious positive affirmation techniques offered by others to help navigate or clear that fog. But I find, however counterintuitive it may seem, that if I am just willing to “fog around” in it a while, the perfect way to clarity finds me.

One afternoon last week Romeo and Cotton and I ran into our best friends here in our new neighborhood, also out on a walk between rainstorms. One of them mentioned this region, with all its forests, is considered “the lungs of the earth,” surprisingly emitting more oxygen back into the air than even the equatorial rain forests. In the instant I grasped this idea, the “fog” shifted.

One of the things I love about my new  house is the mini forest of hemlock and cedar and shore pine it sits in. I love feeling nestled in it, and looking out through it, which reminded me that once, when I struggled to move through a creative visualization exercise, dutifully closing my eyes in a class with others, the first place I found myself was on the beach. But then I was instructed to open a secret door in the sand and enter a place that felt totally safe. . .that was hard to conjure at first. Sitting beside a warm fire came, but ultimately I left the room and walked through the forest to a clearing covered in pine needles and soft, fallen leaves. All around me were huge trees arching their branches and speaking with the breeze. One huge tree had an alcove in its huge root system, like the sleeping alcoves my Italian ancestors on the Adriatic coast carved into their unique homes called trulli. I made myself a bed among the leaves in that alcove and slept peacefully, knowing the trees kept watch. Also some kind of angel-fairy-forest lady, with long red hair, the color of the changing leaves, watched over me.

Because of the little forest growing around hummingbird house, I remembered this scrap of visualization effort. But more importantly, I just slipped into attunement with all the trees. I did not have to decide to. It was much more like these wonderful lines from a Wendell Barry poem (# VII in Sabbaths 1998):

There is a place you can go
where you are quiet,
a place of water and the light

on the water. Trees are there,
leaves, and the light
on leaves moved by air.

Birds, singing, move
among leaves, in leaf shadow.
After many years you have come

to no thought of these,
but they are themselves
your thoughts. There seems to be

little to say, less and less.
Here they are. Here you are.

It occurs to me that “living in the lungs of the earth” may require just this kind of matter of fact reverence. It may lift me out of the fog of frustration about how wet everything gets and how tired I get of it. As I walk every day among those beings who help the whole planet breathe, I know they must be working VERY hard right now, and at the very least, need my solidarity and steadfast company in these trying times. It seems to have provided me with a larger context, an even greater sense of shelter, and within that, a sense of purpose. Perhaps my connection to the trees wherever I go has led me here. That maybe just knowing I might be dwelling in the lungs of the earth,  and if I keep appreciating and loving that and living in harmony with it, I’m somehow, beyond my ability to understand it, helping Mother Earth to breathe.

It’s a blessing I can’t put into words that my love affair with the world allows me such spontaneous feelings of connection, in things so tenuous as a phrase or a thought or a line from a poem, or the sound of a hummingbird rushing the feeder, the quiet company of my beautiful dogs. It also helps me trust such mysteries as why I chose a house that is darker inside than either my trailer or my condo, and the odd feeling that even so, it is just perfect, just where I need to be, and that everything else will follow from trusting that.

____

This evening was calm and dry, the temperature milder. Neighbors I am getting to know were at the beach access, watching the sky change or getting down on the sand with their dogs. We were all happy to be out, and to see each other out. I walked home with a new friend who lives down the street from me. She and her golden retriever came in to see my house all set up with my things. She had kindly loaned me a lawn chair and a blanket the day before my furniture came and my kids made my new house look like my home, so I wanted to show her the end result. She was delighted, which, in turn, delighted me. And she helped me figure out how to open my windows, another delight. Now all I need to do is order some screens. This evening it’s been clear that milder days are coming.

The moon rose, shining like a fuzzy angora pearl in the evening sky. We were all happy to be able to see it. Back at hummingbird house, after my neighbor left, I opened the sliding glass door to the sound of frogs. Later, I went out on the front porch to gaze at the moon and listen to them, singing in the cradle of the periwinkle evening. Connected to the moon, the trees and that sound, I felt, again, at home in the world, breathing with the lungs of it. And, at last, it seems, I am also home.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

{ 16 comments }

Thinking About My Things

February 11, 2017

  When I first began to teach myself how to draw again, I focused a lot on objects from life or from photographs that captured my eye. It took me a long time to attempt to draw something from memory. When I do draw from memory, I learn a lot about what was most prominent […]

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A Hummingbird And A Seagull Made Me Do It

January 26, 2017

As Christmas approached, and we were to spend the bulk of it at the trailer, I began to regret that with all the moving, I had no clear idea of where my Christmas decoration box actually was. It wasn’t in my condo in Portland, and I didn’t remember seeing it in the basement storage room […]

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Wrapping The World in Light

December 21, 2016

Happy Solstice Dear Readers! I have performed a little pastel magic to wrap our beautiful blue ball of earth in light. Wherever you live on it, we are all on a threshold through the longest night, or reveling in the longest day. It seems to me to hold such opposites in our hearts is exactly […]

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Blood Oranges and Slow Miracles in Poetry

December 6, 2016

On December 1st, Blood Orange Review, an online literary journal at Washington State University, announced its newest edition, volume 8.2, was now live. That edition includes a poem of mine called “As If We Were Solid and Did Not Go On Forever.” This poem is about an experience I had over 20 years ago that […]

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It’s Just A Tea Bag

November 19, 2016

I am a creature of the deep force of habit. As so many of you might be able to relate to, my morning bowl of oats is at the hub that drives that wheel. The way I prepare them hardly changes through an entire season, and the arc of change is usually gradual, like the […]

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Close Calls

November 15, 2016

Is a wave still a wave after it throws itself onto the shore, and then recedes, flattened, back into the surf? The water is but a few inches deep, and on this particular day, filled with foam. It’s early November, almost noon. We are walking on a state beach at low tide. The sun has […]

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Lunch Is Served: Easy Oil Free Kale Chips and Smashed Chickpea Spread

November 3, 2016

Halloween has never been one of my favorite holidays, but there IS one thing I like about it: the carving of Jack O Lanterns. And as you may recall from way back near the beginning of my blog in my photo essay The Reincarnation of My Jack O Lantern, I am not above cooking it […]

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My Favorite Weird Oatmeal

October 25, 2016

When I was little, the term OCD wasn’t in common parlance. At age 4 or 5, though, I’m pretty sure my bedtime requirements would have met such criteria. They were, not in exact order, as follows:  I needed to be covered with my kitty and doggy blanket; I needed to have Mozart’s Symphony in G […]

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