Comfortable with gray

“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.”

Pema Chödrön

I used to throw things away that reminded me of lost loves, drawings and journal entries that weren’t perfect, relevant, thoughtful. Some say that it’s healthy to go to the fire, to purge that which you think won’t let you move on. I think that’s why so many people go to Burning Man, to say goodbye to that which they couldn’t control, the thing that didn’t go their way. I believe we should do the exact opposite.

I keep some of these little relics, like the cheap necklace I was given by a young, handsome, crazy stalker, the garden gnome from linda-who-smoked and would give angel readings to those who believed, the poems from loves and not-so-loved, and the little glass bird my former co-worker brought me from Italy, given with insincere thanks for watching her bird for almost a month.

I keep these odd little gifts, because they remind me that the unwanted, and sometimes wanted, emotions we experience over time make up who we are, and our part of our collective experience. I like the grays of life, for example, would Jane really care if my sink was dirty, and if she did, could we still be friends. Or that snake slowly killing that mouse down in the wildflowers; how sad for the mouse but the snake had to eat. I have to stay with the randomness to keep the extremes at bay.

Today I was at the pet store and I got to watch the “store cat” try to jump up on one of the new soft dog crates, only for it to topple over on it. We were there to catch the crate, while the cat ran away looking pissed and embarrassed. We got a good laugh.

And then we drove home through South SF, enveloped in the smoke of a 4-alarm house fire in downtown. We caught a glimpse of the neighbors balancing themselves on the fence, watching the billows of gray smoke, and perhaps pondering the uncertainties of things.

Starling

Do you love any, do you love none
Do you love twenty, can you love one
Do you love…me?

A long time ago, it seems ages, I fell in love with a bird. He was a long, dark bird, with sun in his feathers and sleepy yellow eyes. He was very different from most birds his kind, and a non-native, a starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

We met one night near the train tracks. I sat alone, waiting for my ride, and he called to me from a power line, “you are so beautiful, may I nestle in your red locks?” I giggled and looked away, and when I looked back he had hopped to the top of a eucalyptus and flown away.

And so it went, these chance meetings, and he would only appear when I was alone. Sitting on a bench near the ferry terminal, he would fly down and peer at me from an empty chair; rattle, whirr, and whistle – fly a little farther away, and do it again.

For a while, starling and I only exchanged fleeting moments like this. One day he dropped a little bookmark at my feet. It looked like a gold paperclip with a small rose engraved at the top. He flew down next to me and watched my expression as I picked it up. I could smell his feathers from where he landed, the heat and the heart underneath them, and I was smitten.

Starlings are relatives of the Myna bird, and like them they have impressive vocal abilities and a gift for mimicry. He learned how to imitate the words “Habibi,” and “maybe,” but I think they might have been the same words, it just depended on which day he said them. I would hang on those words, and depending on which one I thought he said it could make or break me, until we met again.

When we weren’t together, starling would travel with a pack of grackles and blackbirds. I would hear from the house finch “yes, I saw him over on Chestnut, drinking from a gutter and whispering sweet nothings to another.” I did not flinch. I knew that starlings were known for their brood parasitism, and he was only looking for a new, temporary nest. But as I mentioned, he was different from the other starlings, he wasn’t so much interested in proliferation, but the addiction of connection.

Watch while the queen
In one false move
Turns herself into a pawn

Sleepy and shaken

And watching while the blurry night
Turns into a very clear dawn

As the days went on, we became closer and closer. He would abandon his main nest more often, and we would sit together, saying nothing, breathing each other in, learning the other’s own special language. Though he would go back to his home high above the hill the time we spent together was enough to sustain me. I would drive dreamily home, still smelling of the oil from his wings.

I am thinking of your woman
Who is crying in the hall
It’s like drinking gasoline
To quench a thirst
Until there’s nothing there left at all

Alas, it…
Was not meant to be

No clean transition
Wish there was a better ending
The hottest love has the coldest end

Starling
flew
away

Mourning Dove

In a state

I live in one of the most beautiful states in the world. I live and work in California, and I have never not had a job in this state since the age of 13. Quite a remarkable feat for someone who grew up on welfare cheese and was the last of eight children from podunk Redding, CA. In my humble home 15 minutes away from San Francisco, I have arrived, and I have no aspirations to rise any further. My ugly but growing on me wallpaper, my unpainted walls, and the backyard that does what it wants is all I really need. Well, I am taking a bird watching trip to Cairo, Egypt, next year, so maybe I can die after that. In any case, I am well-fed, have a roof over my head, and I have people that love me. I need no more than that.

For those of you that have read my blog all along, you will remember that my sister, Robin, died in 1990 – at the hands (really, gun) of her boyfriend. He later died in prison, of HIV/AIDs.

Every time I see a Robin in any tree, I say “Hi, Robin” and I am happy. Hi, sister.

My sister taught me how to ride horses, and to respect their energy. When I see the breast of a quarter horse or the breast of the Robin, I am drawn to the beauty of that warm color, the horse’s soft muzzle, and the Robin’s beautiful song. My sister’s hair was the color of a Robins’ breast, and I cannot see that bird without seeing her. Her wide hips, the flip of her hair, her commanding presence above us all. Gone at 29.

In the parking lot where I work, sometimes I’ll be sitting in a conference room, post-meeting, and I will hear the sound of a lone Robin in the plum trees outside the window. I never have to strain, he is so loud and clear. I doubt it is the same Robin, but maybe one that has passed on to his ancestors that the best way to call for a mate is from the rooftops overlooking the non-native Eucalyptus that are forced to live above the cars. I leave early, before sundown, to catch the last of his soliloquy. The weight of the sun and breeze rest on me. Let me comb my red breast, deep breath.

Landscapes

When my mornin’ comes around, no one else will be there
so I won’t have to worry about what I’m supposed to say
and I alone will know that I’ve climbed the great big mountain
and that’s all that’ll matter when my mornin’ comes around

~ Iris Dement

My mother’s brother, my uncle Geoffrey, died last October. The cancer in his body from years of smoking metastasized quickly, and just as soon as he was admitted to a terminal care facility, he was gone.

I did not visit him before he died, as he would have not recognized me nor would he have cared that I was there. My sister visited him religiously, but my mother could not face the inevitability, so she kept her distance. However, once he was gone the sheer tsunami of mortality washed over her, leaving her to wander through the landscape of life’s uncertainties.

During his life my uncle was a fairly well-known local artist in San Jose. He created etchings, lithographs, and taught at the local university. His art is in several public permanent collections including the San Jose Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts San Francisco, Lannan Foundation New York, and Crown Press Berkeley.

Just a week ago my sister invited me to his house to choose some of his prints for my own. He had this great studio in the back of his house in Willow Glen — a messy converted garage filled with his creative life. As I stood at the table flipping through his prints I felt like I was standing inside of him, that the walls of the studio was his body’s frame, his art his presence, and the thin layer of dust on the floor his heart. I don’t know any other way to describe it.

One liked one piece in particular very much. It was a print called “Tapas” and he had made ten versions of this print. I think I chose 2/10 and 6/10.

This time I spent looking at this piece got me thinking about how little we know about the mind. I felt like what he put down on paper was his interpretation of his mind’s landscape. I sensed that his prints were a rendering of how life’s wind, rain, sun, death, fruits, and flowers leave their marks on our brain, and this output was my uncle trying to make sense of it all.

Tapas

Nourish

Before I fall to sleep at night my subconscious wakes up and asks me to stay a while. My mind wanders in to my backyard, willing the newly-planted dark clover to thrive, and it wonders at the sturdiness of the nasturtiums that have taken over the gazebo and are considering a war against the tomato cage. I bought a bougainvillea to stop it from advancing, but it’s just been trained and I don’t know yet how effective it will be in combat.

This is the one thing in my life that nourishes me, these late night daydreams where I float through the natural space outside my room.

No hummingbirds yet at the Salvia, but it’s only a matter of time. I want what I plant to provide for the birds that visit. I am excited when we water because that means the soil will loosen and the worms will stir. Though I stopped buying bird seed the house finches make due by eating the dandelions and the flowers and greens they produce. I love comparing their bright red heads to the grass I have let die to the color of straw.

Among the new additions of coleus, bougainvillea, and forget-me-nots, there’s a gathering of river stones where I planted one flower from a pink geranium. My mother told that me that I could just stick these little shoots in the ground and they will take off. “They are sturdy” she likes to say. She says that about all plants, really.

Underneath the stones, about a foot below the surface, lies Morrissey the cockatiel. Morrissey was a foster bird of mine who recently died from a genetic defect of his trachea. Through mites, lice, and a deformed beak…and finally his own makeup he surrendered, but not before he sang through it all, waving his little left foot for effect.

Though I don’t like to use water without purpose Morrissey loved showering with me. So I turn the hose on the rocks at twilight and give Morrissey a little of what nourished him.

Twilight

Love

Today I was feeling very happy. Recently, a kind, gentle person from Iowa contacted me and told me that she would like to use some posts from my blog to teach her nature writing class. For a while, this filled me with love, and not to mention a longing to visit Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Truth be told, I still feel that love, and probably will for a while.

That is how it is with me, that when someone cherishes me for something I did that was born of passion, I tend to feel love, and loved. It’s something I secretly cling to, and long for more of.

And it got me to thinking about love: who I love, and what love is.

Today I learned that someone I deeply love had to experience death and the possible dissolution of their marriage, all in a span of ten days. I ached. I felt a pain in my heart that was not unlike yearning, but I felt a little more lost, and more unsure. It was like peering into space with the feeling that if you didn’t hold on, you might go into a black hole.

In times like these, I like to turn to animals for a lesson. What can animals teach me about love, and loss.

For some reason, when I think of love, I think of last Halloween, when my Greyhound, Jack, plucked a eastern grey squirrel from the Catalpa tree in our backyard, broke its neck, and proceeded to eat it. I shouted “Jack! No! Leave it!” Not only until I pinched his ear did he drop it. His body shook in a primeval way, and I could see he hurt from not only from me pinching his ear but from my disappointment.

I stood on my porch, in the rain, looking at the unbrushed lower teeth and gentle paws of the dead squirrel on my steps, and all I could do is be present with my feelings, that somehow I was responsible for its death. I was hyper-aware of the temperature, the cloudy sky, and my breath as I wondered how to best deal with Rocky. The odd thing is that I never felt more alive, even in death.

This is how it is to be in love, when you experience life without any filters. It’s also when you can let go of expectations and perfection, and learn to enjoy your backyard, even in the driest of winters.

Robin

Robin