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March 23, 2017

Squirrel Tracks in Snow | Out West Somewhere

Squirrel

If the field in front of the cabin is my quilt and the spruce trees are the pins, then the squirrel draws the needle, leaving stitches in the snow. After the delicate embroidery work of birds, the tree-to-tree tracks of the red squirrel were the first I noticed.

It would be difficult to ignore the squirrels. They dart down tree trunks and jerk their furry heads at me, complaining in my face for walking into their territory. They fling themselves in front of the truck at the last possible moment, bolting across the road in a maneuver perfectly timed to spook me without, yet, killing anybody.

They like to fight and they like to play. The other day I saw one launch itself from the branch of a birch tree maybe fifteen feet off the ground, catching air like a platform diver before dropping into the snow and fastening its paws again to the world.

Four on the floor, here’s a full squirrel print along with tracks from Orrie and me . . .

Squirrel Print in Snow | Out West Somewhere

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Fox Tracks in Snow | Out West Somewhere

Fox

Stewart and I got married in Fairbanks on a rainy afternoon in August 2014. The ceremony was three-minutes long, officiated in Linda and John’s garden gazebo where John read some notes we’d written on a yellow pad in an airport bar the day before. Five people were present: Linda, John, Teri, Stewart and me. Stewart and I kissed over a bouquet of flowers and kale plucked from Linda’s garden. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

After lunch we drove north and turned right at a tiny town called Fox, climbing the long hill to Cleary Summit and the old musher’s cabin at the Mount Aurora Lodge. My strongest memory of that place is the two of us walking out into a misty twilight, grazing wild blueberries on a low, rough ridge, then looking up to see a pair of red foxes quietly gazing at us. They were surprisingly close and completely at ease. When I think of those foxes now, I feel them turning slowly around themselves in my heart, settling down to rest in the soft, shadowed place where they live, noses tucked under their white-tipped tails.

Stewart was here with me last weekend. This trip pivots around his visit: two weeks gone, two more to go. It was wonderful to be with him for those few days at the center of things. One early morning we walked into the field and saw along the little ridge so many fox tracks leading to a den covered in snow.

Life continues to stitch itself together in ways I would never expect.

Fox Den in Snow | Out West Somewhere

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Moose Track in Snow | Out West Somewhere

Moose

The moose moves through the snow like a knob-kneed plow. Those twin-deep furrows are everywhere around the cabin, but I had no idea what I was looking at. Then one day I was walking in the early morning down the little outhouse path when I noticed a new track — a familiar one — next to my own. I’ve seen the prints of moose in mud and soft soil all around our cabin in the deep Interior; they look the same in snow. Now I followed the prints one by one until I came to the edge of the path where the snow banked up, and there began those two deep clefts.

So that’s what a moose track looks like! And this one wasn’t there an hour ago. With great excitement, I followed the fresh track with my eyes. If I got lucky I might see where the moose had disappeared into the trees. Instead, after tracing the path perhaps twenty feet, I found myself looking at the hulk of the moose herself, sitting in snow up to her shoulders, placidly working her enormous jaw over a dead clump of last year’s leaves.

Why is it that sometimes it takes us the longest to see the largest thing in the landscape? Or that an unbudgeable truth that’s been there a while all at once makes us fall off the outhouse steps? Even a smaller truth, like the young moose in the photo below. It will stand there so patiently in spring or in snow. It will look right at you: You there. Yes, you. You know what’s right for you to do.

Young Moose in Snow | Out West Somewhere

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Moon Over Fairbanks | Out West Somewhere

Moon

It made a strong impression, dropping full and centered in the cabin’s eastern window before vanishing into a dark tangle of trees. Impossible to follow yet still I wanted to run after it yelling out my wildest thoughts, imagining I might catch up.

A week later, on the morning of my birthday, it was a fat quarter moving far across the field — flatfooted, beginning to lose its balance. As am I, perhaps, starting to lean away from the center. Fifty-one feels like that. Another year’s sliver gone from my portion of life and I turn ever so slightly more toward night.

This morning it skirts the field again, a brilliant hoof-edge slipping through birch trees in the thin blue light of dawn. I stand happily at the window, fingertips on the ice-cold pane, gasping toward the beauty as it goes.

Photos Wander

Gift From the Sea

February 28, 2017

Last week while waiting for the restroom in the San Rafael Public Library, I had another one of those moments when I realized I was taking life to be too small. Under conditions of urgency, it’s natural to take a narrow focus, but I was adding extra bother because the person in the restroom was taking such a long time. What are they doing in there, I wondered, taking a shower?

That turned out to be close to the truth. There’s a lot of squabbling in Marin County about the right way to handle resources for homeless folks. In this case, the man who came in off the street to wash up wasn’t turned away, and I was glad for that. But even before I figured out what was going on, I thought it might be interesting to back off tapping my impatient, entitled foot and take a look around.

The restroom is near one of my favorite parts of the library — the turning carousels of trade paperbacks that are only loosely organized by authors’ last names. Standing in front of one of these treasure troves makes me feel like I’m playing an old carnival game. Spin the wheel, win a prize.

 

What fell immediately to hand was a book first published in 1955 called Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Though more aware of her famous and also philandering husband, Charles, I had at least heard of this book enough times to wonder why I’d never read it. When I flipped through the introduction, I figured I hadn’t because I never needed it as much as I do now:

[A]s I went on writing and simultaneously talking with other women, young and old, with different lives and experiences — those who supported themselves, those who wished careers, those who were hard-working housewives and mothers, and those with more ease — I found that my point of view was not unique . . . . Even those whose lives had appeared to be ticking imperturbably under their smiling, clock-faces were often trying, like me, to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjustment to their individual needs, and new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.

I felt as though the hand of a friend had reached across a space of more than sixty years and lightly touched my shoulder.

 

The photos are from a quick overnight getaway to Bolinas and Stinson Beach last weekend. I’d be a little embarrassed to say how long it took Stewart and me to catch on to “No Stradamus,” on the bulletin board outside the Parkside Cafe. (Where they serve an excellent breakfast including local Graffeo coffee, by the way.)

Photos Wander

China Camp

February 16, 2017

Yesterday between rainstorms, the skies were wild. Clouds flocking together then fleeing, slipping toward the horizon or fanning up and away like wings. And the air was strangely warm. Put all that together with the fat palm trees and the long fishing pier at McNear’s Beach? It felt like Hawaii to me, so wonderful and strange.

I had been housebound all day, hunkered down working. It was satisfying but I didn’t know what to do after the work was done. I’ve finally accepted that flopping down in front of the television with snacks is rarely the cure for feeling tired. Eight times out of ten I end up feeling more cranky, more empty. As Brother David Steindl-Rast has said, the antidote for exhaustion is not necessarily rest — it is wholeheartedness.

The thing about wholeheartedness is that it likes to break our habits. In turn, breaking habits requires both careful listening and the courage to act on what we hear. Yesterday, for me, wholeheartedness meant being willing to trust my natural inclination to wander, even if it was almost dark and I didn’t have a clue where I might end up. (Does the word “wandering,” by itself, imply an unknown destination? Or at least an unknown path toward a desired end? Or might it be simply an attitude or tempo? All of those things. Any of them.)

This brief field trip to China Camp State Park — which was not at all in my mind when I left the house — was about heeding that call to go out: Not to distract myself but because something in me knew that to simultaneously settle down and perk up, I had to get out and let the world have its say.

 

About China Camp

History of China Camp

Audio interview with Frank Quan, who was the last surviving resident of the China Camp Village until he died last year at the age of ninety.

Photos Trains

Seeing Far

January 9, 2017

Lately I’ve been gifted with the dawning sense of my own small-mindedness. Closed-up views kept in place by fear. Worries that ratchet down the perception of what’s possible for myself and for the world.

I can nearly reach out and touch the greater natural intelligence that opens, infinitely available, when I drop my demands and my tight-fisted plans. Something begins to move then, carrying me beyond the sphere of misperceived limitations.

I’ve been encouraging this growing awareness with daily meditation, both sitting practice and qigong. Certain qigong exercises help soften one’s vision and expand the sense of sight so that seeing becomes more about receiving than gripping with the eyes.

But riding on trains helps, too.

Home, for me, is a place nestled in a furrowed green and gold valley. It’s beautiful, but it lacks a long or changing view. Traveling by train, the view constantly reshapes itself. Life, landscape, every kind of person and thing arises and passes in front of my eyes. I grip and let go, again and again. Then a simple softening, the world easily unfolding; suddenly, through my eyes, that which is nameless is awake and seeing far.

Photos Trains Wander

The Brown Line

January 7, 2017

Riding the Brown Line of the Chicago “L” system from Western to the Loop and back, in 10-degree winter weather.