Circling In The Invisible Grass

by Maria Theresa Maggi on August 9, 2017

I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard the explanation of why dogs circle around before laying down, but my fascination with the enchanting instinct to tamp down invisible grass has stayed with me all of my life.

It’s fair to say I’ve internalized that fascination at a very deep level. Most recently, I recognize it as a metaphor for finding my way to feeling ever more at home in my new place in the world.

Romeo is the great circler, the fastidious tamper-down of grass that isn’t there. I have watched him do this several times a day for many years. Sometimes he becomes utterly hypnotized by his efforts and I have to call him out of his reverie rather loudly so he doesn’t completely shred his bed, and there are special shred proof blankets that cover the ones I sleep under for just that purpose, He cannot get through the night without smoothing that ancestral grass down at least a few times. When I became aware the repetitions of my daily routine across the weeks as Spring gave way to Summer were giving me a  long awaited sense of stability and comfort, for an instant, standing at the kitchen sink, I “saw” the new things in my environment that were becoming familiar as the invisible grass that needed to be tamed. The “stalks” were starting to bend and make a nest for me to surround myself with.

There is plenty of literal sea grass here at the edges of the beach, and it’s one of my favorite things to watch as it moves and glistens in the passing light. Nothing stays still or holds the same angle of the sun for more than a brief ephemeral moment, if that. What I mostly see is the motion of everything becoming something else. Still, the process of establishing a routine made a small, dependable path through this amazing new edge I’m on that’s “always never the same.”

It’s funny to me that although I see Romeo do this all the time (Cotton is less determined than his elder), it’s nigh impossible to get a photo of it, and even harder to capture it in a life drawing. I put off writing and then finishing this post by giving myself the excuse that I first needed to catch him in the act and then do a high finish drawing to go at the top.

What happened instead was that at last I decided a simple gesture drawing would have to do. The moment comes and goes too quickly for anything else. And maybe that’s as it should be. It isn’t a position so much as a process. And I’m fascinated by trying to draw a process. The moving through a daily routine is also a paradoxical process that evolves and transforms itself over time, inspiring variations on a basic theme. In At Home In The World, I mentioned my adjustment process during the move away from Asbury Street unfolded in increments of 3 months. Here at the coast I am just about hitting the 6 month mark, which will come right around the solar eclipse. My astrologer self knows, too, that eclipse energy also unfolds outward in those same 3 month increments. It now seems to me has been a reason circumstances have conspired to keep me out here and away from returning to Portland: the universe is giving me time to tamp down the invisible grass and make a real place for myself at the edge of the continent.

I trust this slow unfolding, these repetitions, these variations on a theme that transforms itself slowly over time. The repetitions help me reach for the invisible that calls to my soul, like the windows of empty houses hold the brilliance of sunset for a passing moment when the day is over. I’m happy here. It’s quiet. In the gentling down invisible grass, I can dream the words that may someday help transform these blog posts into a memoir. It’s been hard to finish a book or a blog post these days, though; perhaps even this one is a spare and transparent gesture itself. But before I dismiss it as insubstantial, I remember that my walks on the beach have taught me the geological process of getting “clear” is long and unpredictable and wrenching: the transparent agates we all look for as the tide recedes are the very end product of the scouring off of layers of rock. Each layer seems absolute. But under the grey is the tawny grainy sandstone. And under the tawny opaque is the bright amber, and under that is the bright or pearly white. And only after that does the stone begin to show its clear heart. The ocean is determined and the stones surrender to the process in a way that humbles me and returns me to patience with myself, as I sift through the sand and press down the stalks of my invisible grass.

In less than a couple of weeks, I’ll be witness to the only total solar eclipse I’ll have a chance to see in my lifetime. All I will need to do is walk down to the cabana and the stairs to the beach to stand on the bluff and watch the sun darken. A neighbor who is a professional astronomer will be there with a solar telescope. She’s given us a talk on all the amazing phenomenon we might see. And yet, in all her brilliance, her wisdom as a scientist is spare and elegant: above all, watch, listen and feel.

Being alive is a sensory experience, always oscillating between consciousness and instinct. There’s the invisible grass and there’s the discovery of the present moment. Instinct can fill up the present moment, but the moment can transform instinct. The morning of the eclipse the stars will come out for a couple of minutes. We’ll be in the shadow of the invisible grass. It’s a dramatic gateway. I hope we all walk through it toward a new and better world.

Maria (moonwatcher)

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peggy Bean August 11, 2017 at 9:00 am

Thank you for this beautiful piece, Maria. Always good to be reminded of the instincts that can guide us if we let them. Wish I were in Oregon to watch the eclipse but I guess I’ll be able to see a little of it here. Many blessings to you!


2 Maria Theresa Maggi August 13, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Thank you so much dearest Peggy! I love how you put this–letting our instincts guide us. xo


3 Gena August 13, 2017 at 9:57 am

Beautiful and complex reflections, Maria. I’ve often struggled to explain my attachment to routines to other people; at various points in my life (especially after anorexia treatment, in which clinging to routine is actively discouraged) I’ve actually felt a bit ashamed of how much my small, daily rituals mean to me.

As I get older and more comfortable in my skin, I think I’ve come to see repetition and gesture as acts that actually allow me to process my present experience more fully and readily. Rather than confining me, they ground me and calm me enough to open my senses up to what’s going on around me.

I can’t believe it’s been 6 months since your move, but I’ve loved reading about how you’ve adjusted to the wildness of the land around you and your new home in the world. I’m glad that repetition and habit are anchoring you (and Romeo) enough to stay awake and curious. I’m wishing you an incredible experience of the eclipse!



4 Maria Theresa Maggi August 13, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Thank you so much Gena! Exactly!”rather than confining” repetition can “ground” and “calm” us enough to open up — yes, yes!! I couldn’t agree more. 🙂 Thanks too for all the reading along in my adjustment process and for all the well wishes. I hope to be able to report back about the eclipse. Fingers crossed for clear viewing skies! xo


5 Veronica August 14, 2017 at 9:46 am

Tamping down the grass! You’re right- sometimes there are the little things that ground us and make us feel in place. Especially after such upheaval as a move, finding these rituals (even invisible ones) is so helpful! Congratulations on your 6 months at the coast.
I wish I could be in Oregon for the eclipse! Alas, from here, I’ll only see ~85-90% totality (or something like that). It should be pretty amazing, nonetheless! I hope we do, as a people, “walk through it toward a new and better world”…


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