Saturday, August 30, 2014


I believe the verdict of most “hard-nosed” scientists would be that, while Indigenous metaphysics and philosophy is certainly fascinating and, to the extent that brings people close to nature, attractive; nevertheless, it should not be called a science. This is the inevitable conclusion within a worldview whose values are dominated by the need for progress, development, improvement, evolution, and the linear unfolding of time. Within such a world it stands to reason that things evolve, that automobile engines become more efficient, that new computers are faster, and that some societies are more highly developed than others.
Our Western concept of nature is based on an evolutionary model. Left to the natural forces around them, things will “progress,” getting better and better. Going along with this worldview is the need, when faced with alternatives, to decide which one is “better” than the others. It goes without saying that when it comes to other people’s cultures we are generally the ones who are doing the measuring, and are supplying the yardstick as well!

- F. David Peat, Blackfoot Physics

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Heart ship
Kin ship
Fellow ship
Apprentice ship

Slave ship
Whaling ship
Wailing, wailing, wailing ship

Contain-her ship
For end ship
Twin ship
Sense her ship

Star ship
Mother ship
Hard ship
My other ship

Common good
come in good
c’mon, good
Write lively hood

Little red writing hood
Mother hood
Monk’s hood

Priest hood
Saint hood
Robin hood
Brrr other hood

Farther hood
Sister hood
Insists her hood

Baruch atah adonai ehud

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

QUOTE: Robin Wall Kimmerer

“The names we use for rocks and other beings depends on our perspective, whether we are speaking from the inside or the outside of the circle. The name on our lips reveals the knowledge we have of each other, hence the sweet secret names we have for the ones we love…. Outside the circle, scientific names for mosses (or other natural beings, CT) may suffice, but within the circle, what do they call themselves?”

- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss, A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Sunday, August 24, 2014


It begins like this:
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai Echod.
And then:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohaynu Melach Ha Olam, Shechianu Vetsivanu Vehiggianu, Lazman Hazeh.
And then:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohaynu Melach Ha Olam, Asher kidishanu, Beimitzvotzu vetzianu, Lechadlich ner shel This Day.
These are the prayers that I sing to call my grandfather. I’m not religious, wasn’t Bat Mitzvah’ed, didn’t (and don’t) go to temple. These are the words I use to call my grandfather because he asked me to. I sing the prayers and he comes. He comes,
I sing. The dead have as much need for us as we for them.
When he speaks to me, his words have a cadence and a logic not my own. That’s how I weed out the words that might come from my thinking mind. When my grandfather speaks to me, often I can see him. He’s facing me, a little to the left, next to my shoulder, just out of reach. He’s smiling. He looks expectant. Ready.
I am in the habit of asking lots of questions, especially when I need help. Today I wonder if there’s anything he’d like to ask me. He smiles that knowing smile and nods slightly. (As I write this, I have a fit of sneezes. In Africa they say a sneeze means the ancestors are with you, so instead of Bless You they say Thank You.)
It’s lonely here when you don’t talk to us, he says.
Even dead?” I say. “You’re doing the guilt trip even when you’re dead?”
Not that kind of lonely, he says. A different kind. He pauses, choosing his words with care. Feedback, he says. You feed us, you make your offerings. We want to feed you back. He pauses again. It would go better for you if you let us tell you how you’re doing. Ask us from time to time.
I say, “Is it true that the ancestors need us and want us to talk to them, to ask them for help? Is it true they need our help cross over?”

He says, The silence we cannot cross. Our experience of life is for you. What use here? We see sharp stones we fell on. ‘Put your feet there, not there.’ All the love we could not give. Beads for you to string together. Look how beautiful. Collect them! Will you sing to us? Will you tap to us? We cook what you have not tasted. You will like it. Your mouth will fill with words from here. A life for nothing if not for you.

Friday, August 22, 2014


My suggestion is that the West’s desire for progress, growth and increase has brought about the very diseases that have become its scourge … I suggest that sickness that sweeps through a population has its origin not so much in viruses but in ideas. A virus is information, a segment of DNA that enters into the cells of a healthy body and instructs them to operate in a different way…the conditions under which human immune systems become debilitated are the direct result of social conditions. Disease is a manifestation of human thought because it is ideas, worldviews, and beliefs that create the conditions in which a society can be riddled with disease, strife and poverty or can continue in health and harmony.
- F. David Peat, Blackfoot Physics

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I was at a Gandhian nonviolence conference a couple of years ago. An American veteran of the Vietnam war began to speak to a packed room. Very soon, the man began to sob. For a full hour, he choked his way through the story of his initiation into soldiering and the work he was now doing to heal from what he had experienced. On his first day in Vietnam, an officer took him up in a helicopter and flew him over a rice paddy. Looking down, they saw a lone farmer. “Shoot him!” the officer commanded. The soldier hesitated, and turned to question the order. Shoot a lone, unarmed civilian? The officer told him that the farmer, anyone, could be Viet Cong, probably was. So, just to be sure…. Again the command, “Shoot!” It was his first killing. For the rest of the war, he remembers nothing else, no other battles or killings.

At the end of the war, again, an officer took him up in a helicopter. They saw a water buffalo. Again the command, “Shoot!” Again the hesitation… Incomprehension. “Water buffalo are essential to the enemy for his farming. Kill the animal, destroy the enemy.” The soldier remembers that he pulled the trigger, and ‘turned it into hamburger.’

He went on to become a professional airline pilot, as many vets do. He married, raised a family, had a successful career. After he retired, he began having a recurring dream. In it, he saw the water buffalo’s face very close. He said it’s eyes were docile, loving, almost Christ like. Night after night, the same dream and the same conversation:

The water buffalo asks, “Do you want to meet them? Do you want to meet them?” The soldier answers, “But I don’t know who they are. I don’t know who they are.”

Night after night, always the same. He would wake up in a sweat and a panic. Other dreams ensued. His life came apart. His wife left him. He stopped paying taxes so that none of his money would go toward war. He was sent to prison. He had a nervous breakdown. In time, he understood that to clear his heart he had to share his story. He had to shed his tears for all to see. And there he was weeping and talking to us, complete strangers, at that conference.

I came to the end of the story. I wasn’t even sure why I had told it. I turned to Bethelson and shrugged. He had an odd look on is face, as if he were somewhere else. Then he said, “But I just remembered something. I remember! I remember!”

“The first time I killed… I was a young recruit in the Liberian national army. There had been a failed coup and the officers responsible, a general among them, went into hiding. I was selected to go with a small reconnaissance party to look for them. And we found them. They were hiding at the edge of a swamp, deep in the bush. The general came out waving a white handkerchief. He had been gone several weeks and I think they were starving. He was very thin and very weak. So he came out with the handkerchief. My commanding officer ordered that general to kneel. Then he handed me a gun and said, “Shoot him!” Can you imagine? Me, a private, shoot a general? And they had surrendered. The man was on his knees. I hesitated. My hand was trembling. My commander told me, “SHOOT!” So I pulled the trigger. The man’s body just toppled over. There was blood everywhere.

“That night I got very drunk. I started drinking heavily, in fact. I became an alcoholic. I started using all kinds of drugs… I wasn’t to myself. This is the first time since that day that I remember it. My first killing. I had forgotten for 37 years.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


As the reality shows, it perhaps required the lives of at least 700 humans, hundreds more infected, including the deaths of key medical doctors and hospital administrators including some of Liberia's and Sierra Leone's key profile doctors, 2 other American medical practitioners who are said to be infected and at the brink of the their lives, and Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian who flew to Nigeria with the disease and left high alert panic in that region…In retrospect, did it require all these alerts before we came to our senses? Where is the trust between our leaders and the citizens gone? And why is it so? 

- Bill Saa, everyday gandhis and WANEP (West Africa Network for Peacebuilding)

Sunday, August 17, 2014


In the dream, there are rows of elephants, or rows and clusters, tied to a post like cowboys’ horses, standing in the dust, and suddenly collapsing as if they were inflated life-size models that had been punctured and just crumpled to the ground. No popping or whistling sounds of air escaping, suddenly they are just deflated and piled limp and empty in the dirt.
It’s as if the Holy has gone out of them - it’s too painful, they’re her most complex creatures, and they’re under attack and struggling. She wants them out of their misery. Spirit can’t stand it any longer and just withdraws. Later, I am sitting in the rich afternoon sun facing the view of Santa Cruz Island. I close my eyes and ask what I can do for the animals, for the elephants, for whom and for what, what can I do and how can I do it, better said, what can we do and how can we do it, what are we to do? I see images of Elephants, Chimps, Tigers, and I hear them called The Beleaguered Ones. It is important for writers to write on behalf of The Beleaguered Ones, because, since they are big and were so numerous, they hold large amounts of Spirit, of the Holy, they are huge repositories of magic, mystery, and ancient knowing. They are indispensable. We cannot do without them. According to news articles, we can’t even do without their shit:

“A drop in the number of hippos has led to a reduction in phytoplankton in African freshwaters, and has caused a decline in fish populations.” The hunting of hippopotami for their meat is responsible for a change in the composition of the water at Kampala, East Africa, and this has led to a reduction in the catch of food fish.” (
"Hippos are extremely important in maintaining the ecological balance in rivers and lakes and nearby grasslands," says Marc Languy of WWF's Eastern Africa Regional Programme. "Hippo dung provides essential basic elements for the food chain, particularly for fish. The loss of more than 27,000 hippos in the past few decades is a double blow: fish catches have dwindled and the freshwater ecosystems are losing hundreds of tons of nutrients every day. Lake Edward supports over 20,000 people living around the Park who depend on fish for their livelihood." (World Wildlife Fund, East Africa Regional Programme Office)
I go on the internet and find a chorus of articles about hippo poaching perpetrated primarily by ex-combatants. The hippo population of the Congo was once the world's largest but now may soon be extinct. In Virunga National Park, there are now less than 1,000 hippos, though in the 1970’s there were almost 30,000.

“The poachers are believed to be veterans of Congolese bush wars and former Hutu rebels who fled to eastern Congo in 1994 after killing Tutsis in the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. They hunt because they are hungry, but also for profit — the meat, though tough, is a pricey delicacy and a three-ton hippo fetches thousands of dollars in village markets across northeastern Congo. In his poaching days in the Congo forests, Guillaume Kasereka used a rusty Russian-made rocket launcher to kill hippos for meat. These days, he says, they're too scarce and the competition too fierce — rebels and militiamen machine-gun the animals and even dynamite lakes to bring dead hippo to the surface.” (
My friend, Hassan Yusufzai, a Pakistani peacebuilder says, “Violence is a form of communication.” Violence communicates frustration, rage, desperation that cannot see other options. I picture men with machine guns, AK’s and grenades, blowing up hippos and lakes and huge tracts of rainforest and I know that Hassan is right. I read headlines about car bombs and drones and I know he is right. I think of my Liberian sons and brothers who are ex-combatants, and I know he is right. I see my neighbor spraying poison on his weeds (a few yards from my well head), and I know Hassan is right. I reach for the fly swatter and I know that Hassan is right.

Colonization, religious zealotry, and, now, resource extraction, sunder indigenous people – including ourselves – from our connection to the earth and each other. The issue, then, is the trauma of isolation that pits us against ourselves and the communities we are necessarily part of. In our anguish, we lash out at the essence of that which sustains us.

Trauma is an epidemic that stretches across generations, geographies and centuries. Even our nervous systems are traumatized by the relentless onslaught of information, of light when there should be darkness, of noise in place of quiet.

Healing is a journey from trauma to wholeness that passes through many landscapes – mountains of forgiveness and grace, valleys of personal responsibility, forests of amends. I once knew a woman named Jean who said, The opposite of enemy is personal responsibility.

When we divorced, my ex-husband made terrible threats and I believed him capable of following through, though, thankfully, he did not. Since those harrowing days, we have gone in and out of détente, in and out of court, and in and out of touch. Because I didn’t understand conflict, I married an angry man. Because I found it difficult to forgive, I became fascinated with stories of people who could. What I had done, and hadn’t done, for my children was what I needed help carrying: The husband I chose, the grandmother in whose footsteps I had unwittingly walked... To stop that freight train of generations that pushed my ex-husband and me together and forced us apart, to make peace with all that, became as irresistible as a dare. Being around communities seeking to make peace after war has helped me put my own dilemmas into perspective and taught me to see possibility rather than impasse.

I had a friend in Santa Barbara who was a profound peacemaker. Forgiveness was a lifelong quest for her. She had divorced her husband when she found out he had molested their daughters. More than twenty years after the divorce she told me, “I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t wish him harm.” She paused and gathered herself. “It’s taken me years to get that far. I have to let that be enough, because I doubt I’ll be able to forgive him in this lifetime.” We go as far as we can.

Why is it, then, that sometimes those who have lost so much more, lost everything, are able to make the leap into real forgiveness? Is there an inverse proportionality here between heartbreak and generosity, between suffering and the ability to transcend it, a chemical reaction that happens unpredictably and unexpectedly sometimes? And, if so, how to render the stories so that their medicine is distilled but not oversimplified, or, worse yet, so that we don’t mistakenly assume that extreme suffering is required – or is it? – or that suffering alone prepares us for feats of transcendence? Like the wildflowers in the California chaparral, are our human hearts fire-climax seeds, too? It’s possible, and it’s terrifying and dangerous to think so.

Liberian peacebuilder Samuel Gbaydee Doe once told me: “Those who have perfected violence are saying, ‘I’m hurt’… and that is why we need to deliberately move into the field and lavish love on those incapable of loving.” May we be worthy of that challenge, whether giving or receiving. Like forgiveness, like love, grace is a big word. There are those that can naturally sense its coordinates and lock in, while the rest of us remain struggling. It requires that everything be given to those who seem to least deserve it, whether they reach out their hands to accept it or not. But, by accepting it, they begin to earn it, and to be able to offer it to someone else. Grace requires dedication to possibilities not visible to the naked eye, only to the naked heart.

Friday, August 15, 2014


It's only when you see a mosquito landing on your testicles that you realize there is always a way to solve problems without using violence.”
- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, August 14, 2014


“A gift comes with responsibility.”
- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss, A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


"Live stories worth telling! Stop hitting the snooze button. Try not to squander your life on meaningless, multi-tasking bullshit."
Annie Lamott (writer), friend of Robin Williams

Sunday, August 10, 2014


During the 1980’s, when I was married and the kids were small, we lived in West Los Angeles. My neighbor was an eminent professor of pain research at UCLA, revered by colleagues and students alike for his dedication to pain relief. Shortly before his death, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences for his early groundbreaking work, interviews with early proponents of adequate medication for cancer patients and others in severe pain, and his pioneering work paving the way for unrestricted morphine use for the terminally ill. Why worry about morphine addiction if someone was dying? Although commonplace now, it was revolutionary thinking at the time.

He kept a predictable routine, had a ready smile and a saucy sense of humor. He liked Willy Nelson and Nelson Eddy. He was kind and funny and the sort of joke teller that would have us doubled up laughing, practically peeing in our pants. He collected first editions of rare books, didn’t exercise, and couldn’t say no to his spoiled older sons from his first marriage. He was utterly dependable, “Like an old diesel engine,” in the words of his wife, my friend Julia. I would never have guessed how unyielding he could be at times, how frightened, how desperately he clung to his routine and resisted the slightest change.

Eighteen years ago he died of a sudden throat cancer. A persistent sore throat worsened until one night he felt his throat was closing up altogether. They rushed him to the emergency room where the doctors removed what they thought was a small polyp or perhaps a resistant patch of infection, but was in fact the tip of a fast-growing tumor which became inflamed by the surgery and filled his throat within a few days. They removed his vocal chords and the tumor, leaving a permanent tracheotomy. He joined the Lost Chord Society, a self-help group for people without voices, and quickly learned to talk in a comical, lecherous rasp by covering and uncovering the hole in his neck. He developed a great imitation of Darth Vader.

The last time I saw him, he had lost fifty pounds. Ever the realist, he was on his way to UCLA to clear out his office. We hugged goodbye, and as he stepped out the door he turned with a smile and called over his shoulder, “Goodbye, Neighbor! See ya around the block!” and was gone.

In the 1960’s, at the beginning of his career, he had won a graduate research fellowship, gotten married, and moved to Paris with his young wife and infant son. The lab was state-of-the-art: well-lit, well stocked, with a sizeable budget assured for several years. My neighbor was hired to run all the experiments. They had plenty of lab animals, clean cages, the crème de la crème of young assistants and lab techs. J. scored a tiny apartment on the Bohemian left bank. Mondieu! It didn’t get much better than that!

At first the work went well. The scientists felt they were on the cutting edge, ahead of the curve, in understanding pain and how to control it. J. desperately wanted to do something for the world that really mattered. It seemed barbaric to him that in the mid-1960’s people should still be suffering from preventable and/or treatable pain. The experiments were done on West African chimps, likely from Liberia, which bred and supplied them to labs around the world.

J. didn’t handle the animals himself. When he was in the lab, he found it easier not to make eye contact with them. Especially Josef, the baby chimpanzee he worked with primarily. For the most part, life was uneventful and J. was happy. He occasionally had small anxiety attacks, and a persistent sense of unease, but he learned to ignore it, attributing his difficulties to the challenges of adjusting to their new life. As his own young son grew to be a toddler, J. began having a recurring dream that eventually forced him to leave the lab and return to the States.

I am in the lab early in the morning or late at night, when all the others have gone. Josef is strapped into a high chair. His gaze follows me as I move about the lab. He never takes his eyes off me. His eyes are pleading with me and although his mouth doesn’t move I hear him speaking in the voice of a human child. “Help me, please, let me out of here! Save me! Get me out of here!”
A few months later he returned to the States, settled in Los Angeles and worked at UCLA until the time of his death. A second son was born. He divorced his first wife and married my friend, J., with whom he also had a son. Twenty years later, he still kept a framed photograph of Josef in his office.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


A piece of bark given by a baobab tree sits on the altar. On it are the tracks and scrapings of beetles, worms and termites, the inscriptions of lives she once held. An elephant might have rubbed that piece of bark loose, or the tree might have lent it to the ground beneath her in the partnership of sheltering they have developed over time. In Africa, baobabs are known as ‘upside down trees’ because their branches look like gnarled roots. The elephants rub and rub against them until the trees get hollowed out. But this does not kill them. They simply regenerate from the inside out. Much of savannah life seeks refuge inside those hollow trees: birds, insects, foxes, bees, snakes and sometimes fugitives, usually poachers. Inside the hollow, the bark forms a rough skin with whorls and creases that look like the tips of elbows, or vulva, or turtle shells, each sculpted pattern a universe. In spring, the trees are festooned with huge, elongated fruits covered with circles that look like eyes looking at nothing, seeing everything.

We had been in the Ruaha game reserve in Tanzania for three days, sighing, gasping, at the edges of our seats and the edges of our breath. There were sand rivers like freshly raked zen gardens, pocked with hoof prints and lion tracks and elephant pot holes. Boulders and bushes were arranged just so, and water appeared in sudden veins and pools bluer than the sky, peeking through drifts of fallen gold leaves turning purple as bruises in the afternoon sun. A red-beaked guinea hen perched on a sable gray termite mound that rose from the scrub like a fist. A bat eared fox stared out from within a roadside cairn of stones at a crossroads. On the morning of my son’s and my shared August birthday, because we are Leos, he wished to see lions, and right away there were twelve of them feasting on a freshly killed kudu, dragged to the side of the road as if in gracious response to our longing. And in the shade of an immense sausage tree, a baboon sat motionless as the Buddha, watching us from an overhanging limb, his ash-white fur framed in tufts of dark brown, with only his eyes moving as he tracked us. Underneath the branch hung a beehive, a huge, suspended triangle of honeycomb white as the baboon, except for the glistening bees surging and buzzing around it. Even Peter Mathiessen himself appeared. We told him that we were there because of him, because we had re-read his book, The Sand Rivers, and so had chosen this place.

Gratitude casts a spell, and the force field of mystery is irresistible, so when I saw the Mother of all Baobabs and she whispered my name, I suddenly felt I had to get out of the car and walk towards her. Brandishing my camera, I asked our guide to please stop for a photo. His name was Josphat but he had the practiced patience of Job, and he stopped the car. When I asked to get out and walk a bit closer to that tree, he must have said yes because suddenly I was striding into the bush as if I had stepped onto a conveyor belt and had only to keep moving my legs while it carried me to the Mother Tree. I would soon be scrambling up boulders and clambering into her branches to rock in her embrace and look out over the plain to gaze into the far distance as she saw it. A ringing silence encased me and carried me forward as if dormant cells of her ancient roots had awakened in my belly and were suddenly reaching toward her and pulling me with them.

It was only the frantic shouts and whistles of Josphat, and then my son and everyone else in the car, that called me back. I heard them faintly at first, as if from another room. Then words like ‘Lions!’ and ‘Come back!’ filtered through, and began exerting a counterforce to the Mother Tree. I remember turning my head and seeing the looks of alarm on their faces, everything in slow motion like a flashback, then looking back at the tree, and turning away again to begin the slow, reluctant walk back to the car. I was so sure I was safe and that I was meant to go to her. Couldn’t they feel it, too? Though their upset surprised me and I regretted their worry, I regretted more having to leave her. Was it hubris, or maybe ignorance, that made me think I could just walk up there like that as if immune to danger, as if I could actually wander so far and scale that little cliff or shimmy up her massive trunk? Perhaps ignorance and hubris played their part. And yet, I know the call was real because I can feel the longing even now, fluttering in my chest like a memory of wings.

Sunday, August 3, 2014


I have a new lover. He’s tall, seems like over 100 feet sometimes. His skin smells like honey and forest and sun-warmed resin. When I look at him, I feel like making love to him, and sometimes we do. He insists that I tell you that.

The first year, I kept finding nails hammered into him. I’d pull them out. Jigsaw puzzle chunks would tear out of him, layer after layer, peeling away like scabs, with these perfect round holes in them like bullet holes. Finally there were no more nails. I’d pull out the nails as gently as possible, whispering apologies. It reminded me of stories of manta rays and dolphins letting divers painstakingly unwind fishing line and pull hooks out of fins. He stayed very still and waited patiently, too.

Then it seemed that the die-back stopped and I couldn’t tell yet, but maybe the healthy needles were just a little greener. And were there a few more of them? Were they a little higher up this time, and a little thicker? And was it perhaps because we loved each other? When the last dry needles, and the small branches that hold them are finally bare, will the eagles come and nest there? Last week a golden eagle landed briefly on the railing of the deck. Checking out the neighborhood?

The wind comes off the lake, picking up the scent of algae-wrapped fish asleep in the murk, trout and bass and catfish. They’ve settled in already, waiting for winter. The wind scoops up the little glistening flecks of light and throws them down again. They tumble like dice across the water’s surface, divining the present, now and now and now again in endless revelations as long as there is light. After dark, the divining continues in secret, with no one but the sky to see it. On this blustery day it twinkles like circuitry on a switchboard. All those lights and flashes, sparkles and whiteness. A landscape of joy outside the window, the stage and props for the joy indoors of sitting mesmerized by the fire, notebook in lap. That’s in his scent, too.

I think, dazzling and dancing and, What is the exact right word for the blue of the water? A blue-green lake reflecting pines along the shore and waterweeds underneath. Not an astonishing blue, and yet it matters. Not the blue of sky, not blue jay, not country-cottage. Not Delft. More like mocha or latte, only instead of coffee it’s a milky blue lake.

I make offerings and pour milk into it, and I like to think I help make it that color faded denim, or help keep it that way. I pour Thank You, and Bless You, and Thank You, I Love You, from a pale blue pitcher with birds on it. I pray thoughts and it drinks them. I make jokes to myself: Lake-accino and Lake-au-lait and Thanks-a-latte.

My lover wants me to tell you what it feels like to fall in love again, and for the first time. The steady way it glows just below your skin and reminds you of who you are because of each other. He says, Say it! Say it! Tell them what it’s like… OK. Here’s how it is: I open my arms so my whole chest presses up to him, and he likes it. My fingers tingle when I open my hands and let him enter through my palms, my cheek flat against his chest, and that scent again, pulling off the lake and wafting up from the brown sugar crevices of his skin. I can’t inhale without closing my eyes and melting gratefully into him.

Tell them, he says, how you sometimes forget all about me and then suddenly remember and how you long to put your arms around me when that happens. Tell them how handsome you think I am, and how happy I make you and how often you tell me you are glad and grateful that we have each other.
Is it cheating on a man to fall in love with a sugar pine? I look out the window and talk to him. It’s cold in the mornings and at night now, so I stand in the dining room or on the landing and we talk. I can sit in the hot tub and watch the light as it moves up to his crown and disappears. The torn and faded green tissue paper kite is still there, its rippling string tail still caught in the second branch from the top. I hope this winter it finally blows loose and floats away. I blame it for the lightning strike.

During the drought, the brown needles kept appearing lower and lower until I thought he might be dying. Each time I visited I’d stand there and cry. I’d sprinkle birdseed and water and beg the birds to sing more, thinking they could call out the greening, raise the healthy sap and banish the damn kite. That’s how I fell in love with him.

Last night we were talking before I fell asleep. He nodded toward the lush, tall pine by the little forest I planted. Begin to notice her, to love her, that tall healthy pine by the shed. She lost a partner years ago and has many things to say. I can picture her easily. There is a huge stump beside her where I put peanuts and birdseed for the squirrels and jays. She has no branches along one whole side, where her partner used to be. In the morning I greet her and the others nearby. I thank her and sniff her skin. She speaks: We were here when they built the first cabins, and later, when it was a Japanese internment camp. We were here before the dam, before there was a lake at all.

The wind kicks up. I am watching the trees along the point across the channel. They lean together and rub branches. Watch how happy we are when we can grow close together, they say, how we love each other in the wind. See how easily our needles fit together, how they interlace. See how we can’t reach to touch each other when we have to grow alone or too far apart. See how things happen when you can begin to see? Just then, did you notice?

A burst of blackbirds pulses off the reeds in front of the house, gusting onto my deck in the low sun, gusting back toward the water. The lake grass, the sun, the insects, the seeds. The blue water. The whitecaps. The blackbirds. The sun. You see how it happens? says my lover.

My neighbor wanted to cut him down. The County Office of Hazardous Tree Removal wanted to cut him down. I threatened a lawsuit. I did all the usual things: I took photos and sent faxes. I signed paper work. I wrote a nasty letter, and even put in a good word for the not-dead, not-hazardous trees across the street that they also wanted to cut down. In the end, they fell silent and for now we are safe. Now I know you meant it when you told me you loved me, he says gently. They can’t cut me down as long as you’re here. Again, the birds. Arcing toward and away, towards the sun and back again, sweeping into the afternoon wind.

Friday, August 1, 2014


“To hear the unembodied call of a place, that numinous voice, one has to wait for it to speak through the harmony of its features – the soughing of the wind across it, its upward reach against a clear night sky, its fragrance after a rain. One must wait for the moment when the thin – the hill, the tarn, the lunette, the kiss tank, the caliche flat, the bajada – ceases to be a thing and becomes something that knows we are there.”
- Barry Lopez, in Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape