Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Sanctuary, Here and Now

This time of year we tend to follow the example of the ancient Roman god, Janus, symbolized by a two-faced head looking forward and backward. And last year—and the year before and years prior to that one–there was my own habit of contemplation of change, admiring the force that it is. And how I could best welcome it as is, or steer it along a better course (in my view, anyway): a new beginning, an extension of the trail leading from the past. I’d have concluded, as usual, that positive change often boils down to both respecting the past and heeding it.

It is hard to do that today without unease. It’s 2021, and a large bit of hell has broken loose out there. We hear daily that Covid-19 dominates everyone in every corner. My country has been distressed by a whorl of agitation and dissent; it has been heartbreaking to witness. The world keeps spinning its story, every passing day another addition to history in a manner that surely can confound.

It’s a challenge to even harbor, much less scrutinize, the present and future in one continuous series of thoughts. It’s as if my brain is cramped with a passel of ideas and fragments of data demanding my attention and ravenous for more information. And close examination. So I have to take time more slowly and engage with care. If life is lived as it comes–not dwelling on past or present–it becomes somewhat manageable. Or at least less anxiety-provoking, and I’m someone who has felt fortunate to be much less familiar with anxiety than, say, an intense focus on details… If my feet are firmly planted on the ground, my head can tally facts as best I know them and make some sense of the parts of reality with which I must deal. Did that sound more wishy washy than a solid plan? Well, it is the best I have for this moment. If I stay sentient and lucid, I can think about matters, look into options.

One must make do in times of crisis, and there certainly is Crisis going on in the world–such as huge numbers of us have not seen before. It boggles me, so I have to clear my head again and again.

This state of semi-suspension we are in…. but not the frontline workers who by sheer will face the worst of things every hour of each day. Suspension might to them be an utter luxury. These are warriors of the spirit and flesh who are dedicated to saving the critically ill, to feeding the hungry, to rescuing those endangered, neglected and harmed. But the rest of us, the ones who are not perhaps angels of mercy on earth but want to do something helpful…we still can try offering food as many chefs and neighbors (and my son) do; giving money to helpful organizations as countless donors have; passing out baggies of socks and toiletries and snacks to the homeless, like my friend and others manage despite concern on those streets. But we can also do less visible things. We can speak up, for one. And we can do small acts and not contribute to troubles.

I have begun to see this time as an opportunity for sanctuary. A greater time and space set aside for meditation as well as other action. There is the possibility of finding scared space within my spirit. In this house. Outdoors. Outside pressures force me to delve deeper, look around innermost self. Despite weariness and stress I can act as a sort of prospector, searching for valuable characteristics like stamina, kindness, patience, courage, faith. Listening to my heart. When the spotlight of my brain wants to enumerate all the data on illness and unrest and failures at play, I can swivel about and aim the light on this and that shining piece. It gets dark for us all in varying degrees; the miracle to me is that any tiny light of the soul can illuminate so much to help.

If I don’t take care of myself I will pay later; my thoughts, words and actions will be diminished in quality. Can I afford to devolve into rage or rancor, add to any gathering of ill will? I cannot make the world any better a place–now or tomorrow– unless I am a better person, myself. So I keep trying. I burrow into the inner silence, find a seed of hope, tend it.

A practice of pushing on, caring about life while hanging on to any hope came about by age 13 due to abuse that occurred. The worst, perhaps was being left to my own devices to stay safe by my parents (two smart, caring persons who lacked insight enough or courage, perhaps) and emotionally abandoned as I fought to manage PTSD through my youth and years after. And this left me adrift, scared, alone. I got up each day smiling outwardly, accomplishing things, enjoying friends– all the while shuddering internally. So I designed a motto from which arose the acronym “CSTD”: courage, strength, tolerance and determination. It was a mantra, a special chant, a golden passkey that took me from fear to security, and discouragement to renewed energy. I brought this to the fore whenever I needed it–my secret magic weapon with which to make my way through perilous years. C-es-ti-dy...It was part of my construction of needed sanctuary.

I’m not sure how a few words for abstract concepts can engender self empowerment. It is mysterious, still, to me. But we each must find ways to get through bitter times. I prayed the Twenty-third Psalm (my favorite) and other prayers, made up or quoted other sayings; I sought wisdom and hope in poetry, stories, art, music. But thinking “CSTD” counselled me me to not despair; it put steel in my backbone, lifted my eyes. It asked me to avoid wrong assumptions, to well assess matters, as others had not been able to do for me. In the stormy expanse of my life, I could be my own protector, find comfort. Endure. And I already knew that practice of anything enabled progress leading to better results. Seeking ways to be strong yielded more strength; acting brave instilled enough bravery, most of the time. Of course I plummeted, as well–that is another story. But I found my way back to a place of restoration.

As I recall this it makes sense not only for myself but likely for all: dig in, hang on, seek aid, attend to this moment. Create renewal, and re-create as necessary.

I prefer understanding of anything not clear. I question a great deal, address situations and dilemmas as a reporter does: who/what/why/when/how. (This is not easy for my family, who sometimes wishes I did not.) Of course, I also interpret. We aren’t human without a propensity for finding meaning (right or wrong), pressing segments of things into a framework so the mind can better grasp intention, action and outcome. As for the random parts….they also make their way into the scheme, somehow fit in even if it seems they will not. We puzzle things out, place them in perspective, wait for more input. Then sort it out once more.

But there is also a strong need these days to step back psychologically and intellectually. To allow my spirit to refresh in subtle ways. Often that means simply being in repose. I rest and sleep more these days (despite being an insomniac for years, too.) Read, daydream of nothing much other than places I miss, passing pleasantries. Alright, yes–healing for all, world peace, nature in rebalanced harmony….those, as well. But lately I’ve had the urge to walk without pushing myself ’til panting for a change, and to empty my head of streaming impressions and thoughts. The air I take in is such a gift when so many gasp for it due to the pandemic’s cruelties. The legs that carry me are a bonus when some can barely or may never walk again.

I pull a blanket about my shoulders and watch the cold rainfall, hard beads of water splattering my balcony and majestic pines. Hear the robust music of it, watch birds fluff their feathers and squirrels crack nuts between their teeth. Not every day requires a trudge into gloom of winter, deluges pummeling me front and back. Not every day demands I make a momentous self–or other–discovery. Make a fine poem, bake terrific cookies, write a firebrand of an essay–these are pleasures and goals, not strict mandates. Or give away my clothes and food, even. I can also be at home, in repose. Sheltering body and soul. Allow for a bit of peace. Make room for gentle care.

I often seek sanctuary because I need to commune with God and my minute connection to the design of the universe. With the visceral reality of being alive and okay this moment. To find ways to transform perplexity, worry, dismay or loneliness into something healing, more round with wholeness. Being quieter brings me closer to not only God, but to personhood with its mysteries and conundrums. Looking into the face of who we are truly is not an easy thing. But I know myself while being open to instruction, and welcome it all even if one eye to the door peephole. The life inside and outside raises such questions, more so now.

But I didn’t come into this world without a spirit of adventure–when born a human being I was given the chance to avail myself of knowledge and experience. To surpass my fickle, often misplaced expectations: to be more of a good human, not less. And this asks of me deeper connections with Divine Love/Creator/Infinite Nature. We are what we attach ourselves to, are we not? I remind myself of this often. Even as I do something senseless and superficial like feast eyes on and mark items in a shiny catalog that I know I’ll not buy. I love caring for my spirit more than those blue velveteen pants–mostly.

Well, I am a person, that is all. I find humor and hope in that clear understanding.

Engaging with the world–how I miss it. I want to travel even in my own country and feel safe. And I want to smile unmasked and speak with people in line at the stores, chat with my neighbors at my leisure, gather family for a catch-up and big dinner, hold so close the ones I love or reach to those who may need to be touched kindly for one instant. To hike with a group, crowded as we navigate the winding, narrow trail without concerns. Yes, and laugh loudly with one another in open air–how remarkable a thing we had and didn’t realize it. These days we lift our hands in a mid-air greeting, trying to convey warmth with widened eyes. But it is what is necessary and so I am filled with gratitude for every welcome shared, two hands lifted– sometimes waving with a modicum of cheer.

One day greater spontaneity will return to our behaviors and good will shall be discharged more readily in simple ways. We must do what we must do until things are improved enough. In the meantime, I am more often taking to my desk or easy chair at home, though I am a restless person. Stubbornness, discipline: I shall do my best to stay healthy. To survive. To make personal progress however I might. To have good days while weathering horrid ones. Since it is a time to be pensive, too, I give myself over to it. I can be more patient because life requires this, too–not only the charging forth in unbridled delight and excitement.

If we each take time to meditate on the value of human life, and the sacrifices countless folks have made, it gives us plenty for meditation and prayer, however we do that. We can, too, honor our spirits by giving them respect and nurturing. In whatever homely or sacred space. How much better we might come to grasp the inestimable worth of compassion and civility in times such as these. And how profoundly we will need them going forward from here.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Sting’s and My Christmas Season

Most of my days are classical music days. It flows in my blood as my family’s tapestry is woven with classical musicians; I have sung and played it, as well. There’s no escaping my enduring love of it: the stately, rich cohesion of many parts, its thrilling or delicate compositions with such variety of instruments, voices. And sacred music and hymns this time of year speak to me, yes. But there is also jazz, another mainstay of my life, a musical form that depends on a precise complexity, as well, sparked with glory of innovation. There is a fun infusion of it even in holiday tunes. And I have to admit there is very little music I don’t value. Such an abundance of choices!

Lately I have rummaged through my CD collection–I’m one who still plays them–and listening, as is typical, to more seasonal music including Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and their crowd. Singing their hearts out–they make me happy, just listening to such smooth and lilting tones. It makes me long for a stage and a swirly dress with high-heeled dance shoes, so I can drape myself over the piano when done dancing…

But today I chose another album; it weaves another enchantment entirely. It drew me as I sat waiting for words to settle and unfurl inside me, readied at my desk.

The music of Sting is emitted from my stereo, the album being “If On A Winter’s Night”. The minor keys move through the space, through me. It’s raining here, the fall of water a quietly intrusive hum under his singing. Loads of raindrops with theirs rhythmic shifting over heavy pine tree branches, silently streaming down windows. The geraniums are soaking in drenched, blustery air. The squirrels, chubby with good food scavenged, aren’t racing as usual, but hiding somewhere better. I miss our birds who today also seek refuge, fine wings tucked close.

I get up from my chair, dance slowly to the tune, steps and arms almost courtly, a drum resonant in the winding tune. Sting’s unusual tenor moves about in a tender, plaintive way. The traditional British Isles offerings are interpreted in his style and it suits me today: cool yet dense, smoothly unspooling, slightly melancholic. It travels from his hillocks and valleys to this woman in Oregon. It captures me as ordinary speech cannot. As do the moments of warmth with which he infuses the old songs– despite the greyness of the wintry mix of his album. I am easily pulled from this desk by closing my eyes.

Yes…I am leaning at a long wooden common table, on a bench with a bunch of others, a huge stone fireplace aflame with crackling fire, the room shadowed and yet so warm. We’re witness to and sharing poetic tales beloved by musicians and us. The room is close: a whiff of sweat, pungency of firewood, drinks in hand and the cooking from the kitchen has slowed a bit as cook and helpers come out to hear the music. It’s music that’s going on. It’s the core of the heart for now.

As I open my eyes, it occurs to me this music I’ve long enjoyed makes a nice analogy for this year, as well as the holiday season, at least for me. It is a unique album. It requires close listening and thinking about, for me, and still the songs reflect much of what has been and shall be. Love and loss, heartache and liberation, fears and wonders, babies and creatures hushed. Sting brings me to today’s writing.

There is a differentness of these past months days and nights. There has become a new rendition of human life pushing against dramatic constraints and then, an incremental yielding for most. I seek gentling warmth that is still is lined with an overall bittersweetness. I note a dawning appreciation of what may be discovered within new formats and boundaries. The usual manner of living has been upended, so I have had the choice of either despising it or understanding it all the best I can. Then accepting it even when not understood. Discovering the value of restriction is a challenge. This is not a new idea for me; I’ve lived in other situations that demand a more circumscribed life. I have literally been in situations where little movement is allowed. And there can be meaning and worth in some of that, perhaps oddly.

There is the simplification of daily agendas. I’m not up and running about in the same way as before COVID-19. So, less distractions. They can easily arise with more geographical movements, the body more free, a wider choice of activities. The hours flee–and before I often felt: look how much is undone! Not so much now, though there seems always more to address. Especially if one has children at home: more needs and chores. But my family has all grown up. Now these hours open up now like a long horizon, and I can paint or impress upon it most anything I want–even with several clear limitations. I don’t mean I love all this, but it has narrowed my attentions in a constructive way, too. The boundaries in which we have been living gave rise to a slower, more orderly manner of doing things. A greater meditative tone, if we recognize opportunities.

It can take not only adaptability but discipline to cope with a pandemic or other catastrophic change. A commitment to staying safe and helping others stay well, too. But beyond that critical measure in a time of upheaval and stress, time is still colored and molded by whatever else I feel and do with it. I have greater blocks of time and solitude to create. A chance to define and refine relationships better. And I have an important reason for being more outdoors. I luxuriate in the gifts of nature; being outside saves me during the worst of emotional times, and expands the best. Now, it is as if someone said, “Amid the deprivations and worry, here you go–please avail yourself fully of spiritual and physical sustenance.” And so I do. Not a day goes by without a chance to embrace virtues of nature’s earthy yet heavenly ways.

Even the cooling to chilling onslaughts of winter rains. Like today. I had tasks to do, then writing. But I stepped onto the balcony and…breathed in, out. Piney/mossy-enriched dirt and air scents. And then I saw millions beads of crystalline water adorning both stripped branches, heavier green boughs. What are those tiny jewels? Heard the call of a crow. What message goes there? Breeze gusted my hair across cooled skin. What is today’s wind song? In the far distance beyond the screen of rainfall lie hills, mountain peaks. What secrets of aged earth live and root there? It was a few moments of quiet joy. This earth which is not always easy to live on… it gives well and it takes harshly, we think. But what supreme mystery and wonder. What purity of being. The Creator: manifest in the creation right here for us.

The discipline I’ve rallied the past months derives from a significant store developed over a lifetime. I was taught very young that good things come from labor towards competence and possible mastery. Wanting and getting are two different things. Meeting one’s goals takes devotion, with an expected amount of trial and error. One must try, one must work and so I did. Developing simple habits– attention, well-used times of practice–to what lay before me aided in moving forward, and took me closer to learning what truly mattered to me. This also bred patience, which only means waiting–whether actively or passively–in a relatively calm manner for an event or its results. Things will happen; they happen as they will.

Not wanting to be self-deluded, I realized that though I may help determine many outcomes, this did not mean all. But other outcomes can be useful. Maybe surprisingly better. Not all solutions can be anticipated or even understood entirely. This isn’t easy for someone who is driven to gain solid knowledge, who relentlessly seeks the truth and its finer details. This happens even in the simplest life matters for me. But it is possible to accept outcomes not desired, scenarios not easy. I need to accept things that have finality. But acceptance can be helpful no matter what is at hand–even as I also can find ways to work with it. Bending limits the potential for breakage, after all. Then, in addition to this methodical way of approaching “living life on life’s terms”, is my natural and opposite impulse to live passionately and deeply. And that is what bubbles up–sooner or later– during hard times. My love affair with life hasn’t fizzled, it’s ongoing so why not bring it to the fore in the rougher times? It requires of me to remove preconceptions of what I think matters. And what I think is still mine to enjoy.

Does reading an interesting book matter? Does lighting a candle at mealtime matter? Humming along with or breaking into song when I hear music that enlivens me? Dancing across the room when I get up t o greet the day? Smelling lavender in the vase on a shelf, dabbing perfume for no good reason behind my ears? Siting on a mossy rock and watching the chickadees and juncos? Yes. Hearing the twins’ little voices grow bigger? Yes, please. Marc reading aloud from a book? Savoring a slice of juicy pear? All of it. Every day. And the rest which of the things I need to do: Writing poetry and stories. Taking pictures. Praying for the sick and sorrowful. Writing letters– or sending cards, just because. Seeking greater understanding of relationships. Reaching out to extended family and friends not close by. Greeting neighbors, even when they look down. Leaning more about societal upheavals and how to be a help. I care about human life, so I need to keep acting like it.

The real constraints I put on myself are not much due to the pandemic. It worries and frustrates me, as it does others. Mostly, I miss closer–actual–contact with loved ones, as people do even more these days. Yet the one thing that can trip me up is my mental framework. Sometimes, long-rooted health issues do, but so far I can push or glide onward. In the end I must overcome any vestige of unwillingness to seek what awakens me, moves me. Whatever motivates me to greater insights. I already know I can make do with less, just as I’ve made do with more if nearly overwhelmed by that, too.

It’s a matter of working with what is at hand, figuring it out. Inventiveness is a prime human feature; we are all gifted with it. Why do I-/we ever sell myself/ourselves short?

This Christmas is, for most of us, seemingly less than accustomed to experiencing. It is unusual in terms of carefree roaming in and out of festive shops; in giving of gifts personally, or gathering with others in our homes; sharing convivial feasts; and sharing prayers and praise in celebration if one is Christian, as am I. The candlelight service will be terribly missed; it is a lifelong tradition to raise my lit candle in the sanctuary of darkness with others as we sing “Silent Night.” Yet I also miss conversations with shopkeepers in brightly decorated stores. Strangers’ well wishes at a coffee shop as I slurp my peppermint mocha– without needing a mask, six feet apart from them.

I began this essay stating Sting’s album seems a metaphor for these times in my life, specifically for this Christmas season. His fine group’s performance, his singing of traditional seasonal songs with their own twist on them captivates me. So it comes down to this: Like the music I enjoyed today, I am trying to honor what is good and true of the past, engage with the present creatively, share appreciation for whatever gifted moments arrive, and accept that melancholy may tinge any triumphant moments. This is not essentially different from other years, in a sense. But this December 2020 asks me to glean even more carefully any useful remainders of life’s offerings, to well sort whatever is enhancing and enriching from the dross. To reap fulfillment of this moment, then give the best away. And I know there is ever much to learn. More to enjoy. Plenty to share from the soul’s stirrings.

The rain has suddenly slowed to a stop. The night has begun to spread its magic over the woods. The candles are glowing, casting changing shadows over walls and ceiling. Quietness envelops me, another kindness, now that the lovely music has ended. I am glad I heard Sting winter music today and evening. And blessed to be sitting with a good peace this moment. May there be greater peace for all beyond this room.

And meantime, I’ll be listening to Handel’s “Messiah” and more exquisite–or fun–music soon. May you find your musical sustenance for the holidays.

Monday’s Meander on Tuesday: Back to the Refuge

Yesterday I was slowed by a health matter but today I return to a favorite place, Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge in Washington State. It’s been far too long since I walked those trails, gawked at hordes of birds and heard the wild grasses rustle in the wind. Above are two shots; please move the arrows to see full shot. Some of these photographs were taken March 2018, others January 2019. No matter the season, I am completely enamored of this place. The wind is strong, the sky so big. But since it’s been closed, I’m eager to revisit it here.

In 2019 the $22 million habitat restoration began; it is not open for another year or two The floodplain of this Lower Columbia River area is being reconfigured so the refuge will be reconnected to the natural ebb and flow of the mighty Columbia. Levees will be lowered to their natural height. Soon, species of salmon and trout and lamprey, as well as other wildlife will greatly benefit. Nine hundred acres are being restored so, although Marc and I miss these long walks and birdwatching, we have great appreciation for work being done.

Monday’s Meander: Where to Go with Sorrow? To Snow and Candles

My nephew, Reid, died the first week of December. It was several years ago but once more he appears in the middle of my mind. His living and dying: both were hard, both perhaps longer than he wanted. I will never know. In truth, I understood him less than I imagined though I felt his burdens’ weight as I talked with him. He took refuge in my house awhile after one hospital stay; I took him to 12 step meetings. He was carried along by and troubled by life –powerful emotions, a puzzle of thoughts, and demons of addiction–until he was in his forties. He had a passion for life–music, skateboarding, movies, reading. Much more, and so many things unknown to me. I loved him as I knew how; we all loved him, yes. But despair can outweigh all the rest. Reid plunged from a bridge into the swift Willamette River, into silent darkness of a rainy night that was moving toward pale morning.

Really, I wanted to share, as usual, outdoorsy rambles, attractive pictures. But I find I cannot. Instead, I have found a few winter pictures, quite unlike the views outside my windows right now–green, damp, sunny to partly sunny with more rain on the wind. But they feel right: snow is quintessential December in my dreams. I burrow in this month between outings. And candlelight, oh, the flames tinting the greyness orange and yellow. It is a gentled magic, steady but mutable, rich and clarifying.

There is something about snow and candles that move me in unique ways. Still me. Then rouse me.

December’s onset brings Reid back to me a little. (It also, conversely, brings to me my mother’s December birth date: juxtaposition of death and birth dates is like seeing two birds of different colors and flight patterns move across the sky.). I can recall his smile when he was convivial, happy, at times–for a time. His eyes bright and dancing. And then, the obdurate pit of sorrow. There is our enduring complexity of family ties and lovingness. And this being alive-ness, and remaining alive, too, when others leave.

We have had or heard of too much death this year, I know. But, seemingly irrelevant to this post, I still want to offer snow. But to consider its shapeshifting beauty, its softness, its welcoming spirit, its austerity and daunting challenges that can offer victory. Like when I ice skate and fall and start off once more. That long slide on the toboggan, uproarious with laughter, into glittering white fluff, or a crunch of iciness. Oh, I long for it sometimes. It doesn’t snow much where I live in Oregon–though Mt. Hood dazzles me in the distance all winter long on my walks. But I grew up in snow, heaps of it, five foot drifts of it in the Michigan country. I made small houses of snow. So when it snows here I return to the shimmer and drift of winter’s wild glory. It eases a knot in me.

It somehow brings Reid to mind, too, hands stuffed in his packets, a half-smile, solemn eyes. Maybe it is the blood we have shared: cold plains of northern Midwest, the mountain and valley greens of Oregon.

The candles here are for Reid. But I light many for others, as well. And want them lit just for darkened days and nights, so they may be ignited with simplest joy more often, and for a prayer for peace shared among those of us who remain. Sit with that flame and remember: we have such capacity for hope and courage.

This year has been so much more arduous than what we expected. Millions in the world suffer from depression and though 2020 has brought us all to moments of great uncertainty and worry, too many feel pushed to the very brink. Suicides have increased greatly during the pandemic. If you feel suicidal or know anyone who shares suicidal thoughts, or mentions even a vague, possible plan to die, please seek help now. If you know someone who needs even kindly support, offer a listening ear, a helpful hand. There is nothing better than the community of humankind when moved to support and aid one another. Let’s be present for each other as much as we can–no charity is too small a thing–and listen to our own hearts as much as possible.

Wednesday’s Words: Wildfire Nightmare

This is an old picture taken near city center; what I see out my own window is far, far worse.

The sky beyond our conifers and deciduous trees turns pastel orange before 4:00 pm, and the jittery air beyond is clogging up with smoke. Since last evening we have been under a Level 1 warning for wildfires, which means our bags are packed, our documents are gathered and we are alert to changes in conditions. Our particular Oregon county–Clackamas Co.– is already partly engulfed by fires; a third to one half on the fire map is noted in a critical state, a deep red color. Though these are not yet too close to our home, they have already destroyed so many properties. We don’t know how many acres are charred, or what the loss of life and property is yet. But we have packed our bags and are alert to the ongoing reports and notices. Where will we go, with COVID-19 still circulating? An emergency shelter site? We’re thinking on a workable plan.

It is very difficult for firefighters and other agencies’ aid to keep on top of multitudinous firestorm areas, as we have been experiencing higher gusts of wind a couple of days; foliage and trees are so dry that ravenous fires spread rapidly. And we cherish our a multitude of trees, including this spot where we are. It is a fraction of the greater state of Oregon. There are 35 devastating wildfires burning now. And worse in California. There are some burning in the State of Washington, our neighbor across the Columbia River and Portland metro.

We have a yearly fire season; the Columbia Gorge in 2017 was a bad season. This time they are occurring in areas not often impacted, not ever as huge or close to suburban spots and many small towns. Thousands have been evacuated from the area, but south/southeast of us. Our governor has declared a State of Emergency, as there are these various and broad areas of raging fires. In fact, it has been called “unprecedented fire behavior.”

Unfortunately, sliding glass doors were left open a short while as potted balcony plants were watered early morning. Even before I came downstairs, I could smell it–that dry, noxious permeation of unmistakable if faint smoke. The doors were closed tightly again; we taped every window shut. We do not have an air purifier or even air conditioner. The good portable purifier broke a couple months ago. I didn’t think to replace it yet since my allergies don’t kick up until the leaves start to fall. So we’re sealed inside our townhouse. We’ve not needed the air conditioner as it remains evenly cool, even when temperatures reach mid-nineties. Why? Because we live among an abundance of trees…and face the west side, looking toward the Coast Mountain Range… where now the sky is not ordinary sky but a blanket of tangerine smoke that camouflages foothills and peaks.

It is ominous, strange. I feel secure here in the valley between mountain ranges. But now both an external and internal energy is powerfully unnerving, as if a suddenly unearthed demon spewed its breath across our astonishing and gorgeous topography. It feels irrelevant to calmly type as the smoke layers and bunches. The updates on fires are a constant background track to our days and nights. Just now another evacuation notice was posted, and people will flee with little in hand and hearts in their throats, pets under their arms and families rushing beside them. All the while knowing their homes will likely be gone, just like that. I cannot imagine such reverberating loss, not having endured it before.

This has been a blessing, to live within hills by rivers and forests, mountain ranges on both sides, beauty that is awe-inspiring. It has been both solace and joy to walk circuitous, challenging trails, visit rejuvenating waters that abound nearby. Now all we can do is wait out the horror of September 2020 wildfires and hope that the area is spared. Such a small word, hope, but essential.

Yet my words feel off-kilter as I try to think carefully–it feels uncomfortable or even wrong, for our state’s neighbors are not safe as they evacuate or wait to hear if they must go. None of us could imagine this, not here, not away from forested mountains. None of us are safe, nowhere near it yet. Not until towering fires are contained as dominating winds settle down–until our usual pure “green” air is near-breathable once more. It is enough to humble this woman, to threaten tears–but I remain vigilant, organized and prepared to leave all that fills this home if need be.

Think of us kindly, and countless numbers more. Discover and hold close all the gratitude for your lives. One never knows what is ahead–not in these peculiar and often dangerous times. I plan on writing another poem to share with you this Friday. Such is the nature of my own stubborn hope.