place, poetry, Uncategorized

Investments of the Heart


September Afternoon at Four O’Clock
Marge Piercy

Full in the hand, heavy
with ripeness, perfume spreading
it’s fan: moments now resemble
sweet russet pears glowing
on the bough, peaches warm
from the afternoon sun, amber
and juicy, flesh that can 
make you drunk.

This month I moved from a place I called home for decades in Santa Cruz County, California, a location rich with beauty that has filled me with wonder and gratitude where morning mist drifted between tree-covered hills and summer’s noon sun lifted the redwood’s green scent from the forest floor. Wasps drinking the grapes’ sweetness hummed under the arbor on autumn afternoons, crickets sang at twilight, and at night the horned owls call from among the redwoods.

Bees Among the Arbor Grapes

Though I lived abroad for over two and a half decades in urban environments, I always looked forward to coming home to Santa Cruz County to be restored, a place with a multitude of trails through forests, as well as being near the coast with the sea stretching into the far distance. After rains, moisture rose from the redwood duff and the bay laurels, making the earth smell medicinal green. Walking on that earth, I felt the sweetness of being alive, as if I were tasting one of the pears Marge Percy describes in the opening stanza of her above poem.

Mists Among the Trees Out the Back Door, Soquel

When my husband and I moved to our house in the Soquel Hills of Santa Cruz County years ago, I never suspected I would move, never considered that one day it would be wise to have an easier home to manage and a smaller amount of land to care for. We can’t see all the way to the end of a road we’re traveling on. Needs change, bodies age, environments alter, and so do world economics. As Percy writes,

There is a turn in things
that makes the heart catch.
We are ripening…

Whenever we let go of what we’ve loved and held dear we experience loss. We have to leave behind much in our lives when moving–people we hold dear, pathways we’re familiar with, places that bring us joy, routines we find comfort in and all the many memories place holds–the tree we sat under in afternoons, the hill we rode down on a bicycle, the restaurant where we ate a favorite food, the steps we argued with someone on, the school we graduated from, the storm that carried the bridge away or the quake that tumbled the house’s chimney–griefs and joys–all the many ways we experience the turn of light and the sounds of the earth we walk on through the seasons across years.

Just as we can’t wear the same shoes throughout our lives and a favorite piece of clothing wears out, even though we may not want it to happen or feel unprepared for it when it does, transitions are necessary. Wanted or unwanted, transformations require adjustment, internal and external. If we can arrive at the place of embracing the change as part of a journey rather than a final destination, we can discover new ways of understanding and being in the world. “We are ripening,” Percy calls it. Potential and possibility are there.

As Percy goes on to say,

Whatever happens, whatever,
we say, and hold hard and let
go and go on. In the perfect 
moment the future coils,
a tree inside a pit. Take,
eat, we are each other’s
perfection, the wine of our
mouths is sweet and heavy.
Soon enough comes the vinegar.
The fruit is ripe for the taking
and we take. There is
no other wisdom.

The past, present and future are all contained in the fruit we hold even though we may not fully see it. The seed, the tree, the fruit, the vinegar–reality is all of these simultaneously, not just one of these things by itself–even if one aspect appears more dominant. Vinegar comes, and with it will come, the sour things we don’t like to taste. But the vinegar is not all. There’s also the fruit. “Hold hard,” Percy says. Let what we love be dear. Feel its weight. Taste the flavor of each other’s perfection and the perfection of the world around us in this moment just as it is, the perfection of its imperfection.

Percy also says, “let go and go on.” Hold on. But also let go! Everything around us is in transformation anyway. It is in relationship with each other and with the world around us that through time we transform and become whole. This is how we are each other’s perfection that Percy describes.

Here are trees I lived beside and called my friends, and this is the garden I nurtured that fed me and gave me beauty, and this is the ocean and fields I loved, though there’s so much more inside the experience of each of these—all the ways the land I lived on whispered its life, bestowed its presence, left its imprint. I hold all these, and more, dear.

There are many ways of knowing something. One of them is to live beside it for a long time, to observe it for many seasons and through many kinds of weather and light until in the end it takes on life. You see the same scene but with more depth, with all its nuances, history, subtleties and character. I have left now these things I’ve held dear, but paradoxically, they are still with me and still alive, as are the many other places and people I hold dear who are no longer with me yet still influence how I live.

The evening I left Santa Cruz for the last time to drive up the coast and then inland to my new home, the sun was setting, an ongoing display of dying light in all its beauty. I’ve entered a new world now, further north in Sonoma County. I don’t know where time will take me from here but I’m holding on to the fruit of this experience, savoring it until it’s again time to let go.

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid,” wrote Fredrick Buechner. There’s a lot of uncertainty we collectively face as a planet in the years ahead. Moving is a practice in death and rebirth. I hope I can learn to face every future transformation and not be afraid.


Noise and Silence–Noticing #4

As I walked around this evening, out again with the intent to purposefully notice my surroundings, I became acutely aware of the noise that surrounds me. The neighborhood hums with machinery, electricity’s high pitched whine, and the roar of generators. Even inside the room where I now sit, a machine drones away on the other side of the wall. Even at rest, the world here whirs.

What if this sound took on life in a different form and became color? Imagine what that world would look like, or any world where sound became color, as if synesthesia were possible for a day. What would different things we see become if they were sound? Would we respond to noise differently than we do now?

The way we view a place is, in part, the associations we have with the sound. I will always remember my months at Lincoln College, Oxford for the bells that rang through the city in the evening. I will remember Izmir, Turkey for the peddlers walking down the street calling out “Aygaz,” followed by a dinging bell, and Izmir, again, for the mosque calls ringing through the cannoned walls of apartments in the morning’s early hours like a thousand voices calling out all at once.

photo-38When I return to my home in Santa Cruz, I am always stunned by the purity of the silence at night, in the morning, and how it seems to flood over me like a blessing, my whole body giving itself to a quietness so beautiful, so rare and set aside from other experiences of places I know that it feels I enter into a kind holy space–my whole body sighing in a kind of inner relief.

But of course sound can be more than noise. It can also be beautiful–the voice of the ones we love is always a sound that resonates in our hearts with happiness, and what could be a better antidote to noise than that sound which is like music?

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Franco Corelli’s voice as I was looking up “Torna a Surriento.” What a magnificent presence his voice has–rich with the intensity and depth of life that wells up from the longing in the soul that opera evokes so well, bringing the listener totally inside the moment of the sound rising from the singer’s body. Here is Corelli singing “O Pase d’ ‘o Sole.”

The noise of the world only makes sound and silence all the more precious.

What do you hear today? What are the sounds around you telling you?


What Ties You to Where You Live

Coast above Santa Cruz at Año Nuevo

It’s a beautiful day here in Santa Cruz, California. The sun shines off the oak trees as I sit in front of the post office, observing the wonderful kinetic sculpture at the front of the mall, Santa Cruz’s main downtown street, with its silvery wheels inside of wheels spinning, turning, and reflecting the morning sun coming down. If you stand at the ocean’s edge on West Cliff Drive, you can see 50 miles across the bay to Monterrey. Further up the coast you can walk along the cliffs near Wilder Ranch and stare out past the waves into the plain of stretching water and the fabulous sense of freedom it evokes.

photo-31I’m sure that people love the towns and counties they live in for a variety of reasons. Santa Cruz is a wonderful place to live and to spend time. Something I especially love about the area is the wide variety of people here. The town has a strong sense community, and you can also enjoy diverse outdoor activities in the area: hiking, kayaking, surfing, biking. I love books, and Bookshop Santa Cruz in downtown Santa Cruz, with its wide variety of reading choices, is a fantastic place to while away several hours. Also, the presence of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College offer additional character and interest to the town. Shakespeare Santa Cuz is held every year at UCSC, and Cabrillo College has its music festival. Additionally, there are many choices of restaurants to try and several farmers markets to buy locally grown food.

Temperatures in the area tend to be mild–not too hot, and not too cold. The mountains with redwoods are only minutes from the beach, allowing for micro climates and micro plant communities as well. As you can see, there are many things to like about this town, but there are things to like about many places. Delhi has it’s historical monuments and ancient history. Japan, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand, Zimbabwe–the list could go on and on, all have amazing monuments and each their unique beauty, so, what is it that bonds me in particular to this location? I think it is my connection to and interaction with the natural world here. Wild sweet peas and California poppies shine their sunny faces along the roadsides, oaks dot the hillsides and grassy meadows, redwoods grow in the hills 15 minutes inland from the beach. Their presence is something that has grown in importance to me over the years The trees on my land seem almost like part of my family. I love to stand in the yard and suddenly smell their enigmatic perfume drifting by. When you visit a place, it may be beautiful, but you’re just passing through. When you repeatedly come back to a place or live in an area, you see it in all it’s moods. It grows inside of you and becomes part of the geography of your soul.

photo-28More than this, I am working on the land here, getting my hands in the soil, digging, weeding, planting, watering, harvesting fruit, herbs, and vegetables from the garden. Bit by bit the garden grows, and I am watching as plants surprise me, like the red flame grape that is taking over the arbor and currently has a hundred clusters of grapes on it, and the blue berries that have given us several bowls full of fruit since arriving home. They are beautiful to see in the morning with the dew gathering on their dusty blue fruit. The sun shines through the grape leaves, and they glow like stained glass. Each plant has its own character and habit, and as I work with them and care for them, I learn from them. I previously felt bad about cutting back the lavender, for example, but now that I have, it is growing more profusely and seems much happier, making me think that a limitless pruning might  be good for all of us at certain times, whether that means minimizing our possessions according to what no longer helps us become our best selves, or learning self-control, not giving in to all of our desires, again, so that we can be more of the person we most want to be in the long run–the bigger picture of our lives.

At night here in the Soquel hills just south of Santa Cruz, a myriad of stars illuminate the sky. It is a rare and wonderful thing to be so enveloped in nature as I am when I am here, to constantly be aware of the earth’s gifts, to be able to walk out on to the earth instead of a sidewalk, to be able to smell the air’s sweetness–air without smoke or chemicals. It seems a miracle here every day in my home county. I suppose if you lived here every day you might start to think that this is the way the earth is. In reality, I think places like this, communities that still have open space and nature around them are becoming more rare. Living in a place that allows me too connect with nature on a daily basis feeds my spirit, brings me a sense of peace and renewal, and is deeply satisfying. Maybe this is because I grew up in a rural area and it is part of the geography of my soul, something I long for after living in so many large cities in my adult life. Is it the same for others? What connects you to the place you live?