Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Fall Day at Quail Meadows

I wake when the sky begins to lighten. Stars mingle with the earliest sky of blue gray light. I watch out my bedroom window, thinking perhaps I will fall asleep once again. But fall means such bounty I simply must rise. Coffee. Three pages of writing. Laundry begun ( I adore clean line dried sheets! oh heaven you are found in laundry! who knew!). A phone call requiring the utmost presence. Then: out to the day!  A day which begins with pink. purple, gray and white puff ball clouds streaming from the southern dawn. Greeting the chickens who are happy to eat fallen apples, the migrating bird-pecked peaches and simultaneously mow the grass beneath the trees. Such virtuous weed whackers, these ladies. What is the most urgent today? Mugwort! Grapes! Peaches! Pears! I keep moving and carefully harvest each one in their turn. After greeting the goats.

Six of these endearing creatures live with on this ranch. They work for a living. Yes, they do. Three years ago there were three serious fires each within three miles of my home. So serious were these fires that crews came to each of the ranches on the road and helped to clear away or suggested where to clear the fire dangers. In my case a somber tall close-shaven man stood for many minutes looking in to the willow, blackberry and horsetail thicket ringing the barn, workshop and garden. He stood looking in to this massive growth and spoke a truth I had felt for a long time. "This is your greatest fire danger, here." His crew, waiting for release into working the fiercest blaze, never made it to my home to help clear as they had with other neighbors on this nine mile long dirt road. But the message remained clear to me. These six goats are now nearly completed with removing extra growth from one half of the thicket identified three years ago. I am greatly pleased that I have found a gentle way to accomplish this work.

I manage to harvest all fruits on my list and run another round of laundry. The sky smells lightly of smoke. A smell I have not had since those fires three years ago. It is a deep awareness we live with out here in the middle of the dry summer forest: fire. There was a small fire south of me sending gray plumes up into the sky yesterday as I traveled home from a long day away helping a dear friend. Three years ago the only way I could handle the tension of impending immolation was to create wood burned sculptures. I returned to the last of those sculptures waiting to be finished and have been working it for two days. Now, hang the last load of laundry and hope the heat of a summer given way to fall will offer enough to dry my comforters. Oh bliss! To climb into bed at the end of a long day of work, freshly washed sheets and me!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marigolds and Sungolds

Sun crests over the ridgeline flashing her first rays onto fiery marigold and tangy sweet sungold tomato. I eat breakfast in this garden. Vitamin C is mine in the sumptous brust of flavor the cherry tomato offers. Our season is marginal for tomatoes without extra care. The small fruits of cherry tomato ripen easily and are wonderful to dry. I add them into soups and stews in the winter or eat them alone, remembering the unique fragrance of tomato leaf and the near stink of the marigolds of summer!

I relish fall. The bounty of the earth is everywhere. I do have a rather conventional planted garden. I also harvest from an unconventional garden: the wilds around my home. This morning I found a new patch of elderberry. I gratefully snap a few fruited heads. They are hanging now in my window to dry. Brewed into a tea they are an excellent immune system booster in the colder months.

Today I walked with a deep prayer for peace. I say prayer but what kept coming through my heart and head was song. A smiling song of happiness received while walking in the wilderness. I felt this song with a deep sense of peace and then hoped this could be felt by all. Grateful for the gift of peaceful feeling. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Value of Silence

I was over on the coast to visit my daughter. A wonderful delight. We walked the plaza in Arcata, California for an arts and music festival. Acapela choirs swayed rhythmically singing gospel music. Belly dancers in finery balanced pots on their heads as hips whirled to the music. A tall thin man in his twenties with gorgeous blond dreadlocks cascading the full length of his back said "this feminine power always makes me a little uncomfortable." I told him that I had heard belly dancing was originally only meant to be performed by women for women. "That explains it," he said as he edged away. One side street hosted a brass band. A mother danced with her tie dyed clad child. Vendors lined the entire plaza selling hemp clothing, beeswax candles, surreal art work, and many expressions of creativity. My brain exploded with possibilities. My daughter and I walked hand in hand along with her boyfriend. My joy was complete in their company and the excitement of people who live with so much freedom. A young man walked down the street bare chested. Swirling patterns of gold paint travelled from his collar bone to his navel, a  triangular breast plate. He wore short shorts over silver stockings and pink high tops. He and his friend strutted down the center of the street gesturing and talking loudly in their own world. Children peeked out from behind their butterfly painted faces while mothers with multicolored skirts over multipatterned pants pushed strollers. Everyone was there in a vibrant expression of life. We walked up H street until we got to the dry goods store where my daughters friend, Cassie,  works. Cassie offers a saturday afternoon of crafting amidst the collectibles. We made fancy animals. miniature plastic animals decorated with rhinestones and feathers, fabric saddles and reins, necklaces and shimmering chains. Fabulous flights of imagination some to life. Then we walked away from the festival down 11th street, retreating to the quieter neighborhood. I drove away east into the mountains as the setting sun illuminated  golden grasses and green forest against a twilight sky infused with pink clouds. Winding deeper and deeper into the wilderness all the chatter in my head, the action of the previous days, at first became so loud I wondered at all the thoughts racing through. As the sky grew dark and the last light faded I found my driveway and made my way to the round chair out on the deck. I sat in this chair watching stars appear in a moonless sky. I know some people have never really seen a fully starlit sky. I was told by an astronomy professor that this particular valley is one of the few California places where the magnificence of the stars can still be known. The chatter of the day melted away under the trails of shooting stars and cicada concerto. The value of silence is clarity.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunrise of a New Day

First light fills the sky. Oaks trees not yet visible as green. Scent of beeswax on the air. I imagine it is fir balsam but I do not know for certain. A summer scent. Rich, spicy, hopeful. Intoxicating. I love to be up in this dawn hour. Everything seems possible. An entire day, 86,400 seconds, ahead of me. Cool morning. I wear my heavy pink bathrobe outside on the deck with my cup of coffee and the writing notebook that has been companion to many such morning for decades now. Wrapped up outside on the deck I watch the clouds color, grow, alter, disappear. The sun rises over the ridge at the halfway point between summer high and winter low. A flock of robins has been visiting. Working the grass where the sprinkler waters. They fly off into the treetop of the giant madrone at the far side of the pond. The call from a bird I do not know moves around the forest. A bell like tone. A single note. Clear. Strong. A tibetan bowl comes to mind and when I first heard this tone I thought someone was creating the sound. But it moved too far too fast to be human in origin. Something new to learn about. One of the many mysteries of the forest I love. Today I will pick blackberries. Perfect luscious ripeness perfume to the tongue. Pie!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Living in the WIlderness

A friend from my distant past has been asking me questions about my life. I mention I live in the wilderness but this somehow is not the most motivating topic. I wonder if this is because it is difficult for any who have not lived in wilderness to know what that might mean. I'm not sure I know what it means and I have lived in the middle of it for thirteen years. My son is an environmental studies major. I get the influence of the wilderness in schooling decision. He is out working in the forest as I write about it now. Thinning. Helps the trees left behind grow larger and reduces fire danger. He tells me that few of his classmates have ever been in the wilds except for perhaps day hikes or camping. He feels the differences in their experiences compared to his own, growing up here.
I spent much of the summer away from this wild place. Months away. Long enough that the callouses softened in my hands. Long enough that I had few bruises or scrapes and no poison oak. Long enough that it takes me a week before I am able to once again walk out into the wilds on my own. I return to the wilderness and I mow the lawn. This is not the usual experience for wilderness living. It is certainly a relic from the life of suburbia. However the lush green of the lawns serves as a fire break from the dry dusty forest surrounding this small oasis.
I was out earlier in the day to help with the thinning. Hiking a mile to get to the site. Climbing up and down slopes, pulling downed limbs and small trees to piles where they will be burned later in the year once the rains have come. Loading into the truck rounds of wet oak to be stored for next years use. A little more dry madrone for me to use this year. I rely on wood for heat. The attempts to work around the fir trees that Travis fell are met with strong resistance from the wasps that have taken up residence in a rotting branch. First Eric and then Travis are stung. We apply mud to draw out the venom and move to another place in the forest to work. Some days go easily. This day is all about the obstacle and the slow cautious work. This work always invites caution. Think about chainsaw blades and crushing trees. But some times the trees just do not fall so easily and more time is needed to get them onto the ground. I slow my work as the ground crew pulling brush to watch the chainsaw work. Chainsaw work  requires the help of others with more muscles than I have. I do love to get out into the middle of the forest and work hard with others and sweat. When I do this the cares and worries of a life connected to computers and telephones and the news which is not always so edifying or confusions within relationships..all of this eventually falls away while I do the work that is not about the big brain. It is not necessary to understand much in order to create a pile of brush. The creation of these piles moves me from my mind, which is going and going, into my body which is grateful for the exercise.
I know that people who do not live in the wilds exercise and know the magic of movement. Wilderness is not necessary for this to occur. What wilderness gives me as I exercise is a place to allow all thoughts to be dissipated. I feel that the earth is able, somehow in ways that I do not really understand, to absorb my emotions and turn them into something softer. Touching wood. Walking in the soft duff. The scent of freshly cut wood. The heat of the summer day as it warms the forest and trees release their rich fragrance. All of this is part of the forest life I have come to love.
I offer to walk back to the house and refill the water bottles. I notice a tree fallen neatly across a small stream bed and I balance myself to walk across this bridge. Stepping over logs, working my way through the tall grasses, noticing how an oak and a madrone have grown together over a long period of time. This is one of the fruits of the life. Near the house I take a few minutes to move sprinklers around, check e-mail and refill the water. I follow a new path back to the work area. Shoes crunch in the crispy carpet of yellow madrone leaves. The oaks are ready with a new crop of acorns. What relevance this has to a life lived in suburbia is unfathomable really.  This is my neighborhood now. This home which supports deer, turkey, bear (big scat full of berries found yesterday), mountain lion and me continually surprises and challenges.