Starry Night, August 2021

Morning, Spanish Bottom

Starry Night

This is the last stop on the Colorado River, after eight days canoe camping on the Green River in the canyonland wilderness of Utah. The worst day was gotten over on the first day with miserable cold and rain and too many miles. The last day, was a lazy one on a long sandy beach. We arrived in the early afternoon before the coolness of the day was blown away by hot afternoon winds.

Why is this beach so white when everything visible for hundreds of square miles is red rock?

We staked our claim to this beach by spreading out and luxuriating in the soft, wide, open space after a week on hardpack and gravel and almost impossible climbs to find enough dry, flat ground for a tent. We had seen four other people, not counting a Canyonlands National Park Ranger who stopped his jetboat to say hello. On our beach it is just the four of us.

The last day, we are taking our time.

The tent can go almost anywhere we choose.

Our gear is all over the place, drying after washing off the loose sand and mud.

The canoes are rinsed out and draining, two bright red, hard edged curves laying on their sides, the bottoms turned against the light wind. Later, as the wind picks up, we move them into the shelter of a ledge and weigh them down because the wind is strong enough to flip them back into the river. Canoes are like fish, they struggle on land and take the wind as an opportunity to fly back into the river. I’ve seen that more than once; 80 pound canoes flying.

It’s too hot to hike and there’s very little shade so we sit in the water to cool off; wet rags on our heads and shoulders, laughing at the shock of cold water on our skin, every time. Quiet talk, joking, telling stories, knowing this is the last day. Carefully untying the threads that have bound the four of us together for the trip. Placing memories in each other’s minds to take home.

The river was solid with silt. We could not see beyond its surface.

Every night there had been distant thunder storms and occasionally the sky behind an abutment would light up, but no rain fell after that first day and night. The desert monsoon storms are small but violent – loud with thunder and rain drops the size of pennies. But the storms are so localized that we would be dry. Because each side canyon is cut into rock of a different color, the flash floods that poured into the main channel of the Green River shifted it’s color daily, even hourly, from brown to gray, to gray green, to pinkish beige.

On the last day the water was greenish, wide and quiet. From downstream, where we will not go, we could hear the first of the Cataract Canyon rapids roaring like a distant freeway or a huge waterfall.

I always feel that sound as a pull at my chest that is slightly fear and slightly the desire to throw myself into it bodily. This desire to be in the river is not to drown but to lose myself in the rough tumble of water and rock, to let go and be part of the river, to flow in a way that is bigger than my body. I’ve had unpleasant swims in rivers and I know that throwing myself into a rapid would be painful. I would helplessly bang into rocks and get sucked under water and inhale water and cough and cough and cough. No, I don’t want to do that, again.  This desire to be in the river is bigger than my body and beautiful.

There was still some faint light from the sunset when we climbed into the tent and our sleeping bags. I fell asleep almost immediately. In the few moments before I dropped off I heard, I could almost feel, a subsonic thump of a wave slamming against itself in the rapid downstream, a refrigerator door’s muffled slamming.

I woke after a few hours. I had to pee. It was strangely light out but the full moon hadn’t cleared the canyon walls. I put on my glasses and unzipped the door and stumbled around putting on my sandals. Then I looked up.

I am struck by light. The Milky Way is solid with starlight, so much so that I don’t need my flashlight to walk across the beach which glows. The canyon walls and the river are black. I feel myself standing in a small canyon on the rough surface of the Earth with a star-cut bowl curving overhead. A billion stars spreading across blackness like a toss of glitter. I feel scared and safe at the same time, the edge of our Galaxy is so big and I am infinitely small and unimportant. I can be squished like a bug and it won’t make an iota of difference. I am terrifyingly inconsequential. At the same time I am so small that I won’t be noticed. Whatever happens to me is pure accident. The Universe is so full of busyness bigness, it has no time to think about me, to target me.

Statistically I am safe.

That’s the lie I feel in that moment under the starry sky.

To the East the whole expanse of sandstone cliffs was suddenly backlit by lightening. All night there is a light show of flashes beyond our canyon walls and in the morning the flash floods from upstream turned the river bright red.

The Invention of the Wheel

            So we have a wagon of sorts. Probably a one wheel upgrade of a travois, two long poles tied to an draft animal with the long ends tied together in a point that drags on the ground. Instead of dragging the poles on the ground, there is a crude wheel. It keeps breaking but even so, it can carry a larger load for longer distances before it needs repair. Each repair teaches it’s inventor a bit more about how to make it last. I can’t imagine whether it was invented by a man or woman. I do imagine that in those days women weren’t put on a pedestal and treated as fragile wimps. They would have to be a strongly functional part of the community. Maybe not quite as much brawn, but certainly as much brains as the men.

            This group of nomads rolls into a cluster of huts next to a ford across a stream. The kids who are not occupied with their chores, are in the outskirts of the cluster of huts, impromptu scouts on the lookout for strangers that rarely show up. This time they see something different about the vehicle the visitors are dragging behind them. A cow or a goat or camel is tied to the travois – this is normal. The whole troupe is tired and covered with dust. The animal dragging the wheeled vehicle heads straight for the water. All this is normal, but the person tending the travois is struggling to stop the travois. Usually when the animal stops, the travois stops. The animal-tender drags her feet to keep the travois’ momentum from pushing the animal into the water. Brakes would come later. The local kids can see that the travois seems to be pushing the goat on its own as it rolls down the slope to the river. Spooky, right?

            Some of the people would be frightened by this, others curious and some would see the advantages and rush out and buy one right away. The elders would complain that it wasn’t right that their stuff should be hauled in such an unreliable thing as a travois with a wheel. Pretty quickly, many of the younger ones would start adapting and inventing on their own until they couldn’t imagine dragging the forked sticks of a travois down the road. They would have made jokes about sticks-in-the-mud and told stories about runaway goats (or cows or camels) that left a trail of possessions a mile wide down a path in the mountains.

            Then someone would want to carry a shitload of stuff and the idea of a box with two wheels would arrive and it would be a wagon. Since thin, seasoned planking was difficult to make until 300AD when the Romans built a water powered sawmill, these wagons would be made of split wood and very heavy. Their owners would be proud of them and take care of them, possibly better than they took care of their children. They would paint eyes on the front so the wagon could find it’s way and wings on the side so it would be light like a bird. They would hang a few strands of straw at the tail end as a joke. Instead of leaving Grandma to die in the shade of a roadside tree, they could bundle her up and take her with them to the cluster of huts where there might be someone kind enough to take care of her until she passed away at the ripe old age of 35.

            But I keep thinking about a person seeing that wheeled vehicle for the first time. How magical it would be. And frightening. Just like seeing your sofa adjust itself to a better spot in front of the TV.

Catch and Release

Eric Resting Before Dinner

Catch and Release

            I learned about Catch and Release, not from a fishing expedition, although we were on a river in Northern California, but from rocks.

            I have a faint glimmer of an understanding of why the Eel River has such a spectacular selection of rocks. I know a little bit of the geology of the area, but of course the reason I was out there was to go canoeing with my friends on Memorial Weekend.

            I was walking on a beach made of rocks from fist to head sized and occasionally larger. I was with Don and Karen and we were all looking at the rocks as we walked along. We had to look because the footing was dangerous – the rocks were unstable – but we were also treasure hunting.

            The rocks. At least half the shore was some kind of marble. We stumbled across pink, pale green, deep red, blue, purple rocks, all with tangles of white crystals of quartz running thru, sometimes cutting a deep groove in the rock.

            We were all ooooing and ahhhhing over our finds. I was particularly drawn to one the size, color and shape of a brain. The quartz had formed valleys between the lobes. There was a deep crevice where the brain stem would go and the reptilian brain hid deep inside, full of sand. We admired it.

            “Maybe I can take this one home.” I tapped it with my toe.

            “It’s a long way to the cars from the take out,” said Don. He was right of course, carrying a 15 pound rock a quarter mile then all our gear and the boats spoiled a lot of my attraction for the rock. Even carrying it back to camp was going to be a chore.

            But it was so beautiful. We formed a small triangle of appreciation around it for a moment, then left, picking our way along like demented ostriches.

            Karen picked up a more reasonably sized rock. It was green but this time, instead of white quartz crystals, it had blood red veins running through it. The stone had worn down, tumbling down the river,  the veins of red, slightly harder than the green were raised a little above the green surface. She handed it around.

            It was small enough that it wouldn’t be a problem to carry it home but she placed it carefully back in the bowl of packed sand she had taken it out of.

            “Don taught me about Catch and Release,” she said. “I see them. I admire them. Then I release them back into the wild.” She dusted the sand off her hand on her pant leg.

            I loved the image of the barb-less hook catching a flashing and alive rainbow rock. The excitement of landing it and then the moments of love for it, then feeling it leap free as you lower it onto the sand to release it.  Applied to rocks, catch and release was a pretty funny idea; they are anything but alive and picking one up isn’t a challenge, but Karen was right, we pick them up because they are beautiful. They thrill us with color and light and texture. They bring us into the world. But we don’t have to own the rock. We don’t have to carry its dead weight uphill from its source or bring it home and display it in the garden only to have it be forgotten in the weeds. Great rocks can be loved in place. Besides, they get heavier the further you carry them.

            Anything can be loved in its place. Love is in the mind and heart after all, not in the rock.

            Perhaps the reason I want to take the rock home is to have a reminder of the river. I fantasize a trigger on my porch to make me remember and love the place again. A portable idol to replace the missing river. The missed river. The missed conversations around the campfire after dinner. The peacefulness that everyone feels after a long day in the wind and sun doing energetic things. The rock is a remembering device. It is for feeling the moment of discovery and admiration again, later when you need it.

            Besides, where would we be if everyone took rocks home with them, there wouldn’t be any left!

            I joke, but I have to admit that in the back of my head I would hesitate about carrying the rocks home with me because they took up precious cargo space in the boat. They added weight to an already overloaded boat, slowed it down when there wasn’t much current. And when you are among thousands of beautiful stones how can you possibly just pick one? All those other ones need to come home with me, too. I also felt that there was always the slight possibility that if the canoe flipped the rocks would cause problems like tangling in my gear and sinking the boat or bashing my legs or head.

            Many years ago I had to go to a Christmas party where I was supposed to have a small gift for everyone at the party. There were 7 or 8 of us. Financially this was going to be a stretch and I stumbled on the idea of buying 7 gifts under $5 each and making the wrapping of the packages be the gift. I bought a deck of cards and a small puzzle and other similar things. I also bought a package of origami paper and spent several hours folding and wrapping the packages. It was a lot of fun and each package was a fragile and lovely work of art. I loved the idea that they would have to tear the package apart to get into the present.  There was something about making these presents deliberately temporary that appealed to me.

            This was before I discovered ‘catch and release’ with Karen and Don on the Eel River, but I suppose the reason ‘catch and release’ caught me was that I was already practicing it when I wrapped those presents. Karen gave me the words for a form I already understood.

            I live in a house full of things I have difficulty in releasing; furniture from my Grandmother, the interior designer, and paintings by my mother, the artist, things that feel good to me, that I want to hold close. Things that are beautiful and valuable not only to me but to someone who might buy or inherit them someday.

            But I am getting tired of lugging them around. I am not as interested in the quantity of stuff I can cram into my shrinking space but of the quality. What things do I really care about? What is the shape of my life and how does this thing, this object, this treasure, fit into it. What things, fish caught years ago by generations of my family, can I release?

            Is the coffee table beyond repair? Do I really need a 5 disc CD player? How many tea cups do I need? Should I take down the Christmas ornaments that have hung in the living room for years beyond memory? Can I really live in three rooms instead of eight? How do I trade off functionality versus beauty? Toss the cups and keep the mug? I’ll use the mug…

            The tea cups have a lot of memories. Some are from my grandmother and others my mother but a large portion of them, Charlie and I collected. Maybe I should keep one from each generation and let the rest go.

            Letting go of things has become a complex issue, too. There is a part of me that is kind of greedy, that wants to squeeze money out of these objects, that wants to hold a huge yard sale with huge prices. But there is  apart of me that feels that it would be selling the rocks on the Eel River. The objects have no intrinsic value to me – or do they? What is the cash value of an antique, hand-painted tea cup? If my time is worth $25/hour and I spend an hour researching the sale price of the tea cup and it turns out to be $5 I have really wasted my time. The value of the tea cup would have to be at least $50 to make the whole process worth while financially. I don’t think this is very likely.

            I know people who really enjoy this process. They go shopping and take home loads of stuff. Others are really good at selling things and getting $10 for  the cup they spent $5 on makes them happy. I suppose that’s the engine that makes capitalism work. Buy low, sell high.

            I guess I didn’t catch the capitalism rock. I am not enchanted by selling. I like money but selling feels like a waste of time. Giving things away cheers me up.

From the Poem, ‘Blossoms’ by Li-Young Lee

“From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches”

As you might have guessed I am in love with peaches. I love the smell and texture and taste.

I make a peach Galette that I love, but since I live alone, now, it is way too much food and the crust gets soggy before I can eat the whole thing. I suppose I could make tarts and freeze them but I will wait until there is an occasion where I can share one with others. Making people ooh and ahh is the best part. Looks like it won’t be this year.

Here is my recipe:

Preheat the oven to 375 or 400 depending on your mood and how much you want to keep an eye on it. The oven should be very hot when you put the galette into it to set the crust.

Use enough ripe Peaches to over-fill  a 12 inch pie shell 2.5 pounds??? 3?? They don’t have to be super ripe but very close to it.

Wash and rub off the fuzz and cut into bite sized pieces. This is also a good way to get rid of bruises because they wash out with the rubbing.

Sweeten to taste

A couple of heaping tablespoons of cornstarch

Stir this mess in a large microwaveable bowl

Zap it for 5 minutes, stir, and zap for another 5. The peaches should be all dente and the cornstarch should be transparent and have thickened. Stir and zap again if the cornstarch is still raw. It should not be soupy. Sometimes I put in a dash of vanilla.

While the peaches are cooking I take a package of TJ’s frozen pie dough that is at room temperature and mush the two crusts into a ball and roll it out into a large circle. As with any pie crust don’t over work it although TJ’s is sturdy enough to survive my treatment.

I put the dough on a pizza pan if I am making the Galette with apples but the peaches are far too juicy so I use a green glass casserole dish which is deep enough to hold the inevitable sweet ooze. It also has a convenient lid for storing the left overs. I scatter a handful of toasted almonds across the bottom and pour the still hot fruit into the crust. There should be a lot of extra dough around the edges. Maybe as much as 3 inches. Fold this dough over the fruit, pat the high points down so they don’t burn and sprinkle with sugar. It should make a tidy package with a large opening in the middle. You can look online for images of galettes to see what it should look like. All the images I’ve seen look pretty much the same. (check out: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/peach-plum-galette)

Image may contain: Food, Dessert, Cake, Pie, Plant, and Fruit

In that published image you can see on the bottom right that it leaked onto the parchment and I would say it was a little over-done. Mine are rustic and a little bit paler.

Bake in the hot oven for 20 to 30 minutes. I check at 20 and usually gauge it by eye after that. You are looking for a browned crust with sprinkles of caramelized sugar. Freckles. Another good thing about the glass dish is that I can look at the bottom to see if it has browned. All you have to worry about is the crust, you’ve already cooked the fruit. This is really handy with apples because in order to get them cooked you can easily burn the crust in a traditional bake. The whole process takes less than an hour including baking.

This year and last year, the peaches have been great but 2 years ago they were mealy and tasteless everywhere I bought them.

“To take what we love inside

to carry within us an orchard.”

Isn’t that what memory is? You can remember the bees, the sweaty heat, the farm worker’s struggles, the fertilizer and pesticides and all the horrible things we hate about agribusiness and forget about the 5 pounds of luscious wonderful peaches. If all you remember is the crap in the world you might as well toss the peaches in the compost and be done.

Or you can remember the soft smell, the tugs as your teeth penetrate the skin, the weirdness of the fuzz on your tongue, the dark red heart that surrounds the stone.

I’ve made myself hungry for another one but I’ve run out.

And to be frank, I had so many good peaches this summer that I am ready for the tart, crunchy, and juicy apples that will soon fill the shelves at the farmer’s market.

The fruit stand at the El Cerrito Farmer’s Market on Saturday’s must have had 15 different kinds of organic peaches and plums. Does anyone know what the story is with those donut peaches? They look so weird I’ve never tried one.

The first fresh peach I remember eating was when I was 17 and in London. There was a small fruit stand out side the Safeway (I was disappointed that there was a Safeway in London, it seemed impossible to get away from the USA). I examined the lovely peaches on display and reached for one. The vendor slapped my hand away, not hard, but enough to startle me. I didn’t understand that he was supposed to pick the fruit for me. He handed me the one I was reaching for and charged me for it. In those days they used shillings and pounds and pence and I had no idea how much I paid for that peach. I went into Safeway and bought a container of sweet cream that was the texture of sour cream without the tartness. That is still the best peach I have ever eaten and since then I have had some that made me moan in pleasure.

08-17-2020

 

On Leadership

08-12-2020

On being a leader

I had a friend who said that he could never be friends with anyone who wanted to be a cop because anyone who wanted to be a cop was not going to be a good cop. I guess the same could be said for politicians. If you want to be one, you are unsuitable for the job. I agree somewhat with this sentiment. The word, leader, itself makes me quiver in an unpleasant way, like a leader is someone inexorably  tied to Adolf Hitler or #45.

But somehow I have become a leader.

I joke that the reason I became a leader to my Monday writing group is because I made sure there were chairs for everyone and in a way this is true. But all I was doing was making sure everyone had a seat and the heater was on. And coffee and sometimes cookies and as things evolved I made sure my group on Wednesday had nuts and cheese and crackers when we met in the house. Remember those days when a group of friends could get together in the same room?

I find small talk difficult and being a hostess is a way I can participate with groups of people without having to embarrass myself or others with my inept attempts to converse lightly on forgettable subjects.

That is the joke answer to the question of how I became a leader. The serious one is illustrated by something that happened a lot when I was a teenager. A group of us were sitting around coming on to some ACID. Someone proposed that we go to Cascade Creek and play in the falls there. It took 3 hours for us to get it together to get in the car and go. This delay was caused by the short attention span caused by the drugs of course, but it also happened because no one said, “Let’s get in the car and go.”

Dithering. (gotta look that one up; originally it meant to shiver or tremble, now it means to be indecisive and hesitant).

I get irritable when dithering gets in the way of doing. It seems to be in the nature of groups to  dither until someone says, “Let’s get in the car.” That person is often me. Once you say, “Lets get in the car.” People relax and get in the car, they know what to do, now.

Long and indecisive conversations about where to go, what to do, who to include are not my forte. Because of my ambivalence about leadership (Am I being bossy? Will someone get mad? What if someone goes along and resents it and punishes me later?) I tend to be overly agreeable and avoid conflict. I think I am saying, “Let’s get in the car.” but what I might be saying out loud is, “Are we getting in the car, now?” or, if I am tired and hungry or unsure of the company, I might really dither and say, “I’m hungry” hoping someone will take that as a hint to get in the car. As you can imagine, that is not very effective.

So in my impatience with dithering I became the one to say, “Let’s get in the car.” It’s pretty easy to say and very effective in getting people organized.

The hard part of leadership is when people want me to speak for them. I experience an emotional feeling much akin to the feeling when you’ve swallowed too much unadulterated hard boiled egg yolk. It won’t go down, it won’t come up, my throat is spasming around it. I take that as a clue that I should think carefully before I get involved. I would make a terrible politician. Sometimes I do nothing, sometimes I play it as it lays.

I think people should speak for themselves but in groups that energy flow can get real messy. Pods and cliques can form that can shred a group. Huffs arrive and people depart in them. I worked there and office politics are intensely awful and bewildering. The only way I know how to avoid that egg yolk feeling is to avoid getting in the middle of it but my fear is that the little car we are traveling in together will be broken if I don’t do something. Unfortunately it is never clear to me what that thing is.

I guess that is where rules and laws come from. Instead of pointing a finger to single out a problem, a rule needs to be made making that Troublesome Specific into a general behavior modification. Something clear and followable and, something that is extremely necessary, a rule that does not stir rebellion. “Let’s get in the car, so we can all go to the beautiful creek and play in the waters there.” as opposed to, “Johnny, get the fucking keys and lets get out of here before these flakes drive me nuts!”

I will err on the side of doing nothing beyond saying, “Lets get in the car,” and making sure we have gas and directions and a time to arrive and a phone number just in case someone gets lost and a spare key so that if one locks theirs in their car we can still get in. If I meet resistance I back off. I am not a fighter, a pusher, a blind follower of my own rule of thumb. I don’t call people out in public unless it is absolutely necessary and I hope I never publicly humiliate anyone – ever. I keep the timer but I am not going to mute anyone that has something to say. It’s a fact. I am not a cop and I am not interested in being a cop but that is probably why I ended up being a sort-of-cop to the various groups I lead.

 

Inside, today

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My Shirt

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Holding It Together

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Running Away From Home

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Time Stopped, Cat Leaving

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Racines Adventives, Atlas

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Tortoise With Head Held back

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Ginger in A Bowl

After Reading, “Miracle Fair” but Wislawa Szymborska

This year I like poems that are lists.

Yesterday I was bored so I took a bunch of pictures of things in my house. This shirt for one. It was one of Charlie’s. He was very hard to buy presents for so I resorted to T-shirts from places we visited. This is a nice rayon shirt with batik fish. It is not a quiet shirt.

I have been setting the camera on the kitchen counter and taking pictures of what is there with a little staging. It changes every day.

Yesterday there was a peach that I had cut in half. The shot from above wasn’t satisfying so I leaned it against a bowl so the beautiful orange and red flesh glowed in the middle. There is a bowl of dark plums behind it and in the distance my tea kettle and coffee grinder. The cabinet roof looms over everything looking very industrial. And a corner of the spice rack shows in the top left. Out of focus. Deleted. Not all the pictures made the cut.

An aerial shot of a small drawer full of paper clips and binder clips and a round container and some white wire bag ties and some string.

A picture of a picture with a little tray of gravel and a salt and pepper shaker set that is a blue car pulling a white trailer. I made that up to look like the car and trailer were going through the scene of the picture. It didn’t work very well. There are also S&P shakers in the form of cactus.

My cat Ginger through the bars of the chair-back. She is sitting in a large bowl that used to be on the table with my sun hats. I couldn’t keep her off the table as long as the bowl was asking her to fill it. Now the bowl is on the chair with a towel in it. Bert, the other cat is sleeping on another piece of furniture that has been surrendered to the cats. He has to be near a window. He is a window addict like I am a solitaire addict. He watches things move out there. I wish he wouldn’t kill them if I gave him the chance.

The water stains in my dining room ceiling. I am taking pictures of them periodically to diagnose what is causing them. It could be rain, it could also be the bathtub is leaking.

My going away  clock from when I ‘retired’ from BBI, the construction firm where I worked for many years. It’s in a brass  and glass box and the battery wore out years ago. There is a wooden cat climbing down off of it.

All my shopping bags that are in temporary retirement because of the plague. And two melons that Karen, my part-time roommate bought at TJ’s on Saturday.

An extension cord laying helplessly on a mahogany dresser in the dining room.

A face mask laying on the table. It made me laugh because it looks like a pure white tortoise with its head and feet pulled in.

My bookcase with lamp and pictures. It’s a pretty alcove of warmth in the living room.

The Invention of Heaven

If I were in charge of inventing Heaven, what would I do?

I will have dandelions blinking, out of the grass, bright yellow then impossibly fragile white balls, then the little inverted umbrellas floating away on the breeze, tiny Mary Poppins hanging from each seed.

I will keep my friends but I wouldn’t force them to come to my heaven, besides they will be busy inventing their own. I’ll throw in a few suggestions if I may.

I will keep this room as full of its spirit of kindness as possible. I will probably redesign this cement walled room to have wood floors and walls and a lower ceiling to trap the heat. The cathedral ceiling is lovely but not efficient. I will keep the windows and I will allow the view to change every day. Sometimes I will substitute views of Yosemite, the deserts of Nevada and Utah, sunrises anywhere, sunsets. Sometimes I will give the view a rest by filling the air with fog.

I will keep chocolate. I will keep Ben and Jerry’s ‘Cherry Garcia’ ice cream and their ‘chocolate fudge core.’ I will keep potatoes in all their delicious forms and corn on the cob, sometimes with butter and sometimes just the sweet kernels, and smokehouse almonds, and salads on hot days and soup on cold ones.

I will have sudden rain storms to clear the air and snow storms to shut us in and make a fire to keep cozy and warm. I will have lightning and thunder in the mountains and a dry tent by a river.

I will keep my jobs because I like the variety of people and experiences they provide. I like solving the puzzles

I will keep my cats and my daughter and husband – but not in that order.

In heaven I will be busy but with some empty time where I can stare and think.

The Christmas decorations will spontaneously appear all over the house and on January 7th they will begin to disappear, one at a time, just when I stop noticing their glitter and shine. None of the light bulbs will burn out.

The furniture will all weigh 10 pounds so I can move it around. It can weigh what it likes the rest of the time.

I will wash my face in many rivers and not worry about giardia. There will be sleek and cheerful otters on the banks. My cats will be able to transform into otters when they feel like it. I won’t need a boat to swim in Class II rapids and the water will be warm and there will be a large quiet pool at the bottom with friends smiling at me on the bank, tossing me a rescue rope. I will be able to hike the whole Pacific Crest trail in one long summer without a backpack. I’ll make it hard, but not impossible. I will raft down the Grand Canyon every time I want to feel small. I will paddle the Smith River in Montana when I want to laugh and take pictures of wildflowers and eat dinner with people I love. We will sit by the river and watch Mergansers and Falcons and Night Hawks and Golden Eagles. There will be the damp smell of distant rapids on sunny days. There will be a piece of duck-down slowly spinning on deep, dark, silent waters.

I want to take pictures of everything so I can show my friends what my heaven looks like.

People will be assigned death dates where they will blink out of time. Those who want to know when they are going to die can send an email to the powers that be. The others, because they aren’t afraid of the suffering that often accompanies death, will accept death as a partner to their life. They will be looking forward to reinventing heaven.

I am going to invent a system that creates random events but I am not going to dread anything.

Maybe that is the essential part of my heaven, the engine that runs it. No dread, no worry. I want to feel like I belong and that I will be able to face whatever comes next. Dread is the feeling I get when I am not sure about this.

The thought that I am already in heaven keeps interrupting me. I know I am not there because I am always dragging that bag of anxiety and uncertainty behind me, but I am close sometimes. I can feel it.

I can feel how close heaven is to me even when there is nothing I can do to change this world. Its like the beginning of a sneeze before you know its going to be a sneeze. There is something there but it hasn’t announced itself. There is already a heaven, I don’t have to invent one, and it’s very, very close.

It would be a good idea to leave that nasty bag of woes someplace where it can’t do any harm. Maybe in Area 51. But it does provide a contrast, doesn’t it? And maybe that bag of anxiety is actually what is keeping me alive and when it is time to leave it somewhere, that will be when I get to the final draft of heaven.

After ‘The Invention of Heaven’ by Dean Young

 

To Jane Hirshfield

The Rest-Note

The moment between the injury and the cry.
The breath taken before saying an unwelcome truth.
4 AM in a Redwood forest – even the owls are asleep.
The sound of the bell before it is struck and after its music fades.
The moment of astonishment after your hand caught the falling child.
Everything that isn’t between you on the top of Half Dome and the Merced River below.
The moment when you realize you have fallen in love.
The moment when you realize you have fallen in love with the wrong person.
The moment when the voice on the phone says, “He’s dead.”
The space between the ceiling and the roof.
A mouse when it sees the cat.
A cat when it sees the mouse.
The sound of a leaf letting go of its branch.
The moment after the pilot says, “Oh, shit.”
The moment after “I do.”
The moment before the baby’s first breath.
The moment when you flip the switch and nothing happens.
Stopping the car in the middle of highway 395 when you haven’t seen another car for an hour and the only sound is the ticking of the cooling car and the crunch of gravel that has gathered between the double yellow line as you spin slowly to see Spring daring the desert plain. Then you breathe to break the silence.
The space between the Earth and the Moon. The space between atoms in your cup of coffee.
The space between inhaling and exhaling.
Sleep.
The seconds between the flash and rumble and the seconds before the rain and hail pound the walls of your tent and the sound of dripping afterwards. The long pause between the drops.
The darkness when you blink and the light when you eyes are open again.
The smell of your mother’s Shalimar perfume after she’s been dead for 20 years.
The moment when you realize your wallet is missing. Your credit cards. Your journal.