If there is a chance to spot wildlife in the midst of other people, I’m rarely, if ever, the first to notice, and often the last to do so. But sometimes when I’m alone, I get visited in ways that delight. Last week I had an astounding encounter, one unparalleled in my life, at least that I can recall.

It was dusk, nearing dark, and Cotton and I had started out a little later than usual. We were taking a short cut to the mail box bank along a little street I used to call “The Avenue of the Finches,” because there used to be a woman (may she rest in peace) who lived on it that kept her bird feeders full, and in the Spring the male finches turned their bright yellow would amass in large groups in the high trees around her house, awaiting the food. They’d literally flock to it, but if the dogs and I rounded the corner, they would all fly up into the branches again and wait for us to pass. No one feeds them regularly now, so I cherish that memory as one of my golden ones.

This evening I was on task in some sort of mundane way, wanting to get the mailboxes for some reason I no longer remember. Maybe I just wanted to get there and let Cotton play in the field beyond them before it got too dark, or to get to the beach before it got too dark to see if he could run down there for a few minutes.

Cotton’s nature is to look around, and to be engaged by what he sees; he is the only dog I’ve ever known who looks up in the sky at an airplane. This can be annoying when I want him to stay on task with me, and  this evening when he sharply turned around was no different. I tugged a little on the leash, turning to where he was lagging behind, and said, “let’s go, together,” but when I turned back in the direction we were heading I saw the reason for his distraction. A very large dark gray bird had swooped low to the side of us and flew up into the branches of a large pine on an empty lot that is essentially a forest.  I gasped. I looked up at it and there was this amazing owl, large, and not unlike the pastel above of the Spotted Owl I drew several years ago.

“You’re so beautiful!” I told it over and over again, as Cotton and I stood and looked up at it. We couldn’t have been 10 feet away. The owl continued to gaze at us calmly, only occasionally swiveling its head to the side or the back to look for the prey she must have been stalking. We stood for a long time looking at each other. I was in wonder. There was no display, just a quiet interest and presence. Finally, it was us who had to turn to go as it was getting quite dark. The owl remained where she was as we walked away, seemingly in no hurry to return to the hunt.

Down at the beach a neighbor who used to work in the forest thought it sounded too large to be a spotted owl, that it was most likely a barred owl, which are now more commonly seen than the native spotted owls. No matter which kind it was, I marveled all night at this one of a kind encounter.

As I walked away I recalled the Native American belief that the owl can signify the release of a soul through death. The image from the film Thunder Heart of an owl visiting the FBI agent who was uncovering the murders of Native American activists committed by his colleagues on the Lakota Sioux Reservation came to me. I’d taught this movie in a college class as a compelling twist on the hero’s journey, and for a moment I wondered if this visit was a harbinger of a death in my circle. And I wondered who that I knew had died. But in the moment I couldn’t think of any way it applied. Nevertheless, just on its own as an encounter I knew it was one of a kind for me, and I treasured it, not needing to jump to any symbolic resonance to add to that treasure.

A day or so passed. A friend reached out to me about an astrological reading. Then I saw on social media that she was also mourning the suicide of a friend she had kept in touch with on social media, wishing she had known more and could have done more to help. There were no details mentioned that would place this friend of hers in time or location. It didn’t occur to me that we might know her in common as I expressed my sympathy and support.

As the week unfolded, I came to understand that the friend who posted about losing a friend to suicide was writing of our dear mutual friend Jessica, a young woman we had both met through the Moscow Food Co-op many years ago. My heart was broken. I loved her too. Yet another day later, the sun finally came out here for a while, and I went in the yard to sit in it and be quiet, feeling warmth on my face and listening to the sounds in the trees around my yard. The day a couple of days before when Cotton and I saw that large and beautiful barred owl dip before us in the street and then up into a tree behind us came back to me. Sitting in the sun to calm my own soul, the connection that the owl may have carried an aspect of Jessica’s soul came to me. We were friendly over the years. and I was at times a mother figure to her, or a sister vegan, or a person who shared her quirky sense of humor and love of fresh flowers, gardens and vegetables. I’d been to her house and she to mine, a definition of friendship I was once given by a nine year old who’s perspective I trust completely.

For those few days, I had visualized her surrounded by fragrant flowers and fruits of the season, delighted that they all come to thank her for her love for them, and also carried by angels/beings of light to where she can heal and be comforted, surrounding her with the energy of love. I feel deeply she is being cared for in this way beyond the veil but it doesn’t dismiss the grief, the loss, the sadness, that was there something more I should have known, done, understood? And just the utter sadness that she was in so much pain.

I first met Jessica over a decade ago, when she first worked at in the produce section of the Moscow Food Co-op, before it moved to its present permanent location. She might have been 19.  One of our first conversations I remember was me complementing her on her tiny little ponytails sticking up at the top of her head and teasing her that she reminded me of a pixie. This made her eyes twinkle merrily, and our relationship blossomed from there, mostly as she stocked produce and I shopped for it. But Jessica had many talents; she was an amazing seamstress: she designed her own clothes and for a time she patched jeans and jackets in unique ways for others as well, starting an offbeat mending business. She did cross stitch that was both skillful, pretty and wickedly witty and on the edge. She lived in a truly tiny house a few blocks from my own, built long before tiny houses came into fashion, and I remember fondly the time she gave Romeo and me a tour.  She tiled her own shower, with a small pieces of tile remnants in beautiful bright colors. She was central enough to my life in Moscow over the years to have appeared in two of my blog posts:Pomegranate: To Spank or Not To Spank, and October Scrapbook. In both these posts, though nameless, she appears as a young but wise friend, who comforts, supports and advises.

On the issue of whether or not it’s best to “spank” a pomegranate to get the seeds out:

“I mentioned my failure to spank to one of my favorite people who works in the produce department at the co-op and she said, “Oh, it’s so easy!! Let me show you.” And she took me and Romeo and  a pomegranate into the produce kitchen and I watched as she scored the edges of each half and then expertly tapped all the seeds out by simply hitting the fruit with the back of the paring knife. I was impressed, and resolved to try again.

But the same thing happened. I actually wanted to feel the shape of those lovely three dimensional star tips full of seeds spread themselves slowly in my fingers and hands. I wanted to do what my hands knew how to do. I must have helped my Dad do this more than I actually remember. I know I was very impressed with his patience and dedication. I think we sat there together working the seeds out. We were the only two in the family that had the patience for it.

It’s not surprising that a woman who calls her blog Plant-Based Slow Motion Miracle would decide she’d rather not spank the seeds out of her pomegranate. I decided it might be a matter of whether you are a person who rips open your presents, or one, like me, who carefully unties the ribbon and unfolds the paper. Mike liked that distinction. And so did my friend at the co-op. She went even further. She said there’s really no need to do it that way, especially if you’re just going to eat one pomegranate. And that when she went to visit her Mom over the holiday she had had the same trouble with it I had. Maybe she’s also a person who opens her presents slowly.

To find the past alive in my hands is something worth going slow for. But if you’d like to learn to spank, you have my blessing. And Mike’s. And that of my friend at the Co-op. However you mine the aril-jewels from the fruit, I hope you enjoy the pomegranates that may come your way in this life. They are truly treasure buried in a fruit. They’ll soon be gone for the rest of the year. But until they are, I’m savoring each slow picked delicious gem.”

What I love most about this passage when I reread it is the image of Romeo and I following Jessica into the produce kitchen at the Co-op. I can see Romeo standing attentively and politely beside me as Jessica worked her magic on the pomegranate, watching what I was watching. And I giggle to remember it was a day the produce manager was not in, and Jessica was alone on a shift, and that she had not seen any reason why Romeo could not just come on in with us, something the produce manager might not have agreed with. To remember this now, it shines from the past with the light of love–and the knowledge that these two beloveds were there with me in that moment, and neither one of them is here now. Like seeing the owl, the memory itself is a treasure beyond compare.

The second mention of Jessica, though not by name, came in a post called October Scrapbook, in which I confess and mourn the death of a little mouse I had tried for days to catch humanely, only to have it escape once I finally caught it, and surprise me so terribly that I instinctively stepped on it rather than let it run back into my kitchen:

“There is nothing in what follows I am proud of.  Startled,  my adrenaline already running high, I screamed bloody murder. The mouse, though he was at the threshold of the open door he had been longing for, went the opposite way. (Alas, perhaps  it was the peppermint oil around the edges to keep his friends from joining him that sent him in the wrong direction.) I tried to herd him out with the bag, my feet, anything, screaming continuously, unable to stop. The neighbors, if any were home, must have thought I was being murdered. (When I confessed this to a younger vegan friend of mine here in town she said practically, “No, Maria, they probably thought you had seen a mouse. It’s what most of us do when we see one.” Bless her heart.)”

When Jessica said this, she looked at me with a kind wisdom well beyond her years, and just a touch of “oh come on, don’t be so dramatic.” We were sitting on the back deck of my little house on Van Buren Street six years ago, before I knew I would move to Portland. Or maybe I did know. We certainly did know that Jessica was leaving to travel across country and take up a farm internship in New England. She had come to visit me and we had promised to keep in touch as friends on Facebook. I think it might have been the last time I saw her in person, almost six years ago now. That she could truly comfort me about something I felt so utterly humanly flawed about, is something I will always be deeply grateful to her for. She just didn’t go to the place I feared other vegans would go if I told them about what a hypocrite I was when push came to shove. The fact that I was even able to write October Scrapbook with the candor I was able to muster is in part due to Jessica’s response when I told her what had happened. With those simple words, she saved me from becoming paralyzed in self-blame. I found the strength to shoulder the blame and forgive the utter imperfection as part of life, and to leave a record of that paradox in my blog post.

One of the many sadnesses over the loss of her now is that we had drifted away in the separate directions our lives required and so I wasn’t there to say the right thing to her, if I even could have. Those of us who remain must go through those motions of wondering what else we could have done, said, tried to know better in order to avoid such a sorrowful outcome. And yet, as Jessica herself would have advised, it isn’t in our hands to be superhuman like that.

My usual practice when I write a blog post with a friend in it is to change their names, or tweak them a little, to protect privacy, or because I’m doing that sneaky writer thing of writing about my experience with them without them knowing that’s what I’m doing. I like to think that if Jessica were here and knew I was writing about her with her real name, that she’d arch one eyebrow and show me the twinkle in her eye I loved so much, just like the day she invited both Romeo and I into the produce kitchen. I’d also like to think she’d be honored I felt she might have visited me in the form of the owl that day at dusk, and that I shared one of the pastels I’m most proud of as a reminder of that visit. Thank you for your life, Jessica. Mine was blessed to have crossed with yours over my years in Moscow and a little bit beyond. May your soul move with quiet grace toward a greater peace, with the certain knowledge you will be loved forever.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

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A couple of mornings ago before daybreak, I was sitting on the couch waiting to let Cotton back in and this is what I saw: the fireplace glowing in the still darkened house, and the little miniature of my house my daughter-in-law’s mother made me a few Christmases ago sitting on the hearth, lit from within with a small night light. Even in my sleepy state, I was filled with peace and gratitude for my cozy home sweet home. That I have a warm and dry house through the storms of winter (even if I sometimes share the porch roof attic with a chipmunk “squirreling” away his stash of goodies) is a blessing beyond compare. So I wanted to wish you all the opportunity to call to mind the ways in your life you are held in warmth and safety and love, even in times that seem perilous in very grave ways.

This feeling of gratitude got me thinking about what I’ll call “the sweetness of Winter.” I know lots of people don’t like it, but I was born in early winter, and there’s something about that that helps me appreciate its slower pace, its requirement of methodical preparation, sometimes to do the most simple tasks, its propensity for less instead of more, and the deepened rush of color when it comes up against the cold air and the gray tones. Maybe it’s just because I see them more frequently since it’s when we’re out walking, but as the days grow shorter and the air grows colder, the colors in the sunset can seem almost surreal in their intensity. A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine took this shot of Cotton and I down on the beach in the glow of one:

In a couple of days it will be what would have been Romeo’s fifteenth birthday. I always loved that he was born around the Winter Solstice, which is my favorite of all those ancient markers, and now I’m happy for the grace to be able to accept his passing, however sad and beautiful it was, and feel his spirit come to visit and continue to love me and Cotton and bless us on such an immense continuum of the heart.

And no holiday season would be properly blessed without a little silliness, if you ask me, so to fit that bill here’s a knitting story inspired by my Dad’s legacy that’s still making me chuckle.

When I was in Portland over Thanksgiving, my son and daughter-in-law requested slippers for Christmas, so we went to pick out yarn each of them like. My daughter-in-law picked a colorful striped tweed and my son, true to form, picked the deepest black on the shelf. I read the yardage on the skein and thought, oh that’s enough, even if I make his bigger. Back on the coast in the knitting zone, as I was finishing the first slipper, I started to worry. It didn’t look like there was enough for a second slipper. I started texting a neighbor friend here who knits, saying “I don’t think there’s going to be enough!” So sad. . .” and I promptly ordered another large skein of the same thing online. It was scheduled to come any time between Dec 19 and Christmas Eve. So my worrier self contemplated whether or not to try to get a ride into town to search for yet more I could acquire before that.  Wisely, I decided to sleep on it. The next morning on our early sunrise walk, the image of my Dad, who my son is named after, suddenly being possessed by the Spirit of Christmas each Christmas Eve, made me giggle. It was always the first day of his two week holiday stay-cation from work, and he was positively giddy–he’d go out to shop for all of us, and bring back an ice cream yule log treat and finally in the dark, be out there changing our “Advent” lights to multi-colored Christmas lights, while my mother wrung her hands that he wouldn’t get home in time for dinner or that the lights wouldn’t be up in time. But she was laughing about it too. So that morning, I thought to myself, well if the extra yarn doesn’t come until Christmas Eve, I’ll just call on my Dad’s spirit to get me down the runway at the last minute.

When I got home, after breakfast I just decided I would knit on the second slipper, which was already in progress, until I ran out of yarn. (I had also thought wryly to myself the day before that I needed a miracle of fishes and loaves, only with yarn, in order to have enough.) But this morning, I was happy to just keep knitting and watch the yarn disappear and see how far I could get. Some time into this process the memory of a family trip to San Francisco when I was about ten years old popped into my head. My sister and I were in the back seat and suddenly my Dad had taken a route that didn’t lead right to the place we usually stayed. My mother, a dedicated backseat driver, started bugging him about why he was going the way he was going, which wouldn’t lead to the hotel. He never really answered her, but just nodded and smiled and said we were going a different way this time. Then he took an off ramp that was clearly not where we were headed and she was almost beside herself with exasperation. Down the off ramp we went and then up a gently sloped driveway that landed us right at a gas pump in a gas station where we promptly ran out of gas–close enough to refill.

This story about running out of gas at the gas station became a favorite in the canon of family stories. And as I remembered all this, and how pleased my Dad was with himself in judging it all so exactly, I knew he was telegraphing to me from wherever he is in heaven that I was going to have enough yarn. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud. I’d knit a few stitches and stop and laugh again. And I did, indeed, have enough yarn.

Now I’m using the extra black yarn (which thankfully arrived on the 19th)  to make my son a surprise gift. It can be difficult to see the stitches in black when stitching the panels together, but this lack of visibility and mystery also seems very appropriate to the season. We are changed at this time of year in ways we can’t yet see, that will come to bud when Spring rolls around.

And finally I’ll leave you with a song. I’ve been listening to a lot of piano jazz while I knit and my favorite by far is Bill Evans playing “Like Someone In Love.” If you take a listen and like what you hear, also take a few minutes to read the comments from people all over the world who come to listen to it because they love it so much. Also, it reminds me in a very real way what my friend Clark once said about me: that I am in love with the world. It is, indeed, true, and if that feeling had a theme song, I guess this would be it. And call this Sunday’s Child a little crazy, but there’s no other time than the beginning of Winter, the longest night and the shortest day, when commemorating that love seems especially right. If the weather allows us down on the beach, we might even honor that love with leaving some of Romeo’s ashes down there. He loved it so, and I am so fortunate he was in this world and with me for a long enough time to help me relax into how much I really do love it, even with its “sham, drudgery, and broken dreams.” I feel that again each time Cotton leaps for joy to run. Love really is a continuum, an unbroken sequence, and may we all find our thread in that tapestry this season and weave it into our hearts.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

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Hold Onto Your Heart (and Pumpkin Spice Biscotti)

November 25, 2019

At this season of thankfulness, I am counting some blessings, both quiet and profound. Cotton and I have carried on the tradition of walking early in the morning we started late last Spring with Romeo when I was recovering from the chemical pneumonia prompted by exposure to diesel exhaust. It was such a beautiful part […]

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The Loom and A Homecoming

October 29, 2019

A long time ago, the Spring after I received the “probable” diagnosis of MS, I made a list in my journal of “Things I’d Done Enough Of” and “Things I Haven’t Done Enough Of.” The principle of considering how to spend my carefully curated energy these last nearly 24 years now has continued to be […]

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Tail Winds and Rosy Apparitions

September 12, 2019

A little while ago, a Wednesday, the day of the week Romeo died (which for now, constitutes an anniversary each week), came two literal tail winds, or “wooshes,” as I sometimes like to call them. The first one came when a hummingbird grazed my ear as I sat, a bit lost, in a dear neighbor’s […]

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In Memory of My Romeo

August 12, 2019

  My Dear Readers, For those of you who don’t already know, coming up on  3weeks ago my Romeo crossed the rainbow bridge. I thought I would weave the story of his passing into a narrative with other events, but I find I’m just not ready to do that. So instead, I’d like to offer […]

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Single Figure

July 24, 2019

I was deeply disappointed with this sketch the morning I drew it. I thought I had failed, but I was tired, and it was time to make my oatmeal, so I sighed and left it out on my work space at the slider windows, washed in northern light, and went about my morning. During the […]

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Dessert Rice

July 5, 2019

I know it’s half eaten, and even before I dipped into it, it didn’t have a load of presentation zing, but this slightly sweet rice turned out to be a real treat for me. If, like me, you have been underwhelmed at times with results from trying to make rice pudding, this “dessert” rice may […]

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Sick Bay: A Scrapbook (And A Recipe)

June 23, 2019

Dearest Blog Readers, For the last month I’ve been very sick; in fact I haven’t been this ill in 40 years. I’m much better, and getting better all the time, but that’s why I haven’t written a new post until now. The experience has been so intense and all encompassing that as I joked to […]

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Can’t Be Beet Black Bean Brownie Wedges

April 27, 2019

After eating plant-based for so many years, and basically educating myself on the internet and then experimenting at home, tweaking recipes to work best for my situation, I end up with a lot of delicious fragments of former recipes I read or made floating around in what’s now my long term memory. This recipe is […]

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