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.