Sunday, January 31, 2010


Up at four again today: a good thing. Wandering in my yard, led by my steaming cup of sweet, strong coffee, and followed by my sleepy-headed golden retriever, I'm savoring the moist air. Last night's snow wraps white around tree limbs, shrubs, and grass. The quiet is precious. Only delivery people are out and about this early. Automobiles are wanting to stay put for awhile longer, a blessing.

Sometimes I wish that dawn could last all day. The quiet, the soft colors, the solitude make this so special. I also like the sense of anticipation that greets me. It's an assurance that something really wonderful could happen today, that I could make a big difference in someone's life today, that another miracle may be about to unfold. Annie Dillard's quote snapshots it for me: "Each day is a god." The sacred prevails at dawn.

The Romans understood this, giving the guardianship of dawn to Aurora. This rosy-fingered goddess renews herself every morning and flies across the sky in saffron robes to announce the arrival of the sun. Wouldn't that be the best job? Gotta go to work...gotta let folks know our light source, our life source is on its way!

Dawn, I've learned, is different from sunrise and there are different kinds of dawn. The earliest is astronomical dawn when the sky is no longer dark and the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. A little while later, nautical dawn arrives, bringing enough light to see the horizon and some objects. The sun is, at this point, 12 degrees below the horizon. When the sun has moved another 6 degrees, civil dawn is reached and there is enough light to see objects and do things outside.

My dog and I often run when it's just barely light, just between nautical dawn and civil dawn. It's especially pleasant to do that when snow is in the neighborhood, because the sky is light and the ground is light and objects are clearly visible earlier.

I'm glad that Aurora is one of my buds. I like being able to share that exciting stretch of day when the planet rolls from night's deep into full light. I like being able to approach another day with the rosy-fingered, saffron-draped goddess racing across the sky!

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I could worship raptors. Just watching birds of prey, in flight or rock still, takes my breath. When we lived riverside, we were blessed to have nesting ospreys, large "fish hawks," as stunning neighbors. From our living room we'd witness aeronautics that rivalled Blue Angels' airshows. Black and white feathered rockets would plummet to the river's surface, then soar up again with squiggling fish in their talons. Then, gliding above the river, they'd tilt their Zorro-masked heads to zero in on more fish that would be dinner.

Hard workers, they'd carry stick after stick to the six-foot wide nest perched atop the power pole along the river. When their young hatched, we'd get to watch balls of grey fuzz morph into clumbsy "tweens," screeching at their parents for more, more, more food! The kids would then trade their geeky-looking outfits for sleeker feathered garb and we'd be treated to their pre-flight tests: perched on the edge of the nest, they would teeter and flap their wings with increasing speed and fervor. Little hops looked like dress-rehearsal take-offs. Then one day we'd look out and the nest would be empty. The whole family was out and about. Awhile longer, and they would all have moved out of the neighborhood.

Bald eagles would fly over our yard on occasion, typically frigid January days, searching for succulent, accessible prey. Red-tailed hawks soared high above throughout the year. Their ease of movement, without appearing to flap a wing, was astounding. Seems they could ride thermals for hours. Sometimes smaller hawks, like merlins or Cooper's hawks, would swoosh through our yard, intent on capturing one of the hundreds of song birds our feeders drew in. The place was an edenic birding spot and we never tired of our raptor friends.

Living now in town, with no river close by, I'm not treated to these sightings so often. A kestrel will sometimes drop by and, on some sultry July afternoons, a red-tailed hawk will be a ghost high above the house. My raptor treats now, sadly, are too scarce.

So I was thrilled this week to find, as I drove to a cabin in a small mountain town, the route flush with raptors. Red-tailed hawks perched in tall cottonwoods all along my route. Puffed up to ward off the nasty January weather, they looked huge. Their distinctive bibs were quilted down vests. The birds seemed a bit surly, as though they wanted to grab a bite to eat and were annoyed that their preferred small mammal entrees weren't out. Cowardly avoiding the inclement conditions, the fuzzy little meals were hunkered down in toasty burrows. So the red-tails just sat, scowled, and stared.

Other hawks, probably Swainson's, were working to find some fast food. And one beautiful harrier, a marsh hawk with its distinctive white band above the tail, swept across a field like a fighter jet, its zips showing off the bird's amazing speed and agility. A stealth fighter, the marsh hawk is a superior mouser in tall vegetation because its rounded face, much like an owl's, directs very slight mouse sounds to her ears, allowing her to surprise the unsuspecting prey. (I once watched a harrier hunt for almost two hours...fascinating show, just enthralling.)

On this trek, brave little kestrels patrolled the highway itself, sentries alert for any ground squirrels or voles who needed to be "taken out" for the good of the planet. Most were fluffed nearly a third bigger than normal, insulating themselves against the chill of wind and snow. One bold kestrel cruised over my car and lit on a power line, its four-legged furry banquet dangling. Dinner was almost served.

When I arrived at the cabin, I gave thanks, thanks for the chance to see these incredible predators working, waiting, watching. Better than any in-car DVD, these raptors made an enjoyable drive something quite precious, even sacred.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Four-legged angel

A friend recently posted a lovely set of instructions a pet might send its human roomie. One notion was that heaven is on this planet in the form of four-legged creatures, our pets. I like that idea.

Have to admit that Sadie, my golden retriever, is one of my very best friends. Just can't fathom how much she appears to adore me. After a recent overnight trip, she sat on the bed as I snuggled in. She gazed at me and placed her front paw lightly on my chest. I watched her silhouette in the dark for five or six minutes. Was she expressing how things were right, now that I was back home? Was she guarding me? Was she prepared to protest should I try leaving again? Who could say. All I know is that she bubbled up joy inside me, intense humility that a creature as beautiful as this tawny one would station herself so.

Sadie has endured a broken heart. Selected from Cassie Sassy Rockette's litter by my late husband, she was his special one. She was with him every day at home as his illness progressed. Licking his arm, gently resting her chin on his thigh, letting him brush her teeth every single day, she was his bed-buddy. When he died, she was lost, lost for a very long time. Years later Sadie still seems a bit fragile, unwilling, maybe unable to accept our departures, even for a bit. She hates suitcases, knowing what they mean! She's needy, wimpering at our feet when we come home, as though a century has passed since she last saw us.

And yet this needy creature strengthens us so. A crumby day at work dissolves under her exuberant bounds across the yard. A snarly conversation at home fades as she vaults her gaze from one to the other, instructing us, it seems, to change the mood, to focus on life's important things: playing fetch, running, putting food in the ceramic bowl by the fridge. Focus, people, focus.

Sadie, a four-legged angel? Not sure she'd meet the minimum qualifications if they include being really, really well behaved. That, she's not. But if the MQs state that she should be loyal, bubbly, always in the present moment, always ready to go have fun, always filled with gratitude that she lives with us, then, by all means, Sadie is a four-legged angel. A blessing for us indeed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sacred...the Drum

The rolls of drumbeat bound from hardwood floor, against ivory ceiling, next to teal walls. I'm surrounded. The pulse. The pulse.

They strike the sacred drum for her.
sacred timbrel--
Stand forth before holy Inanna.

from "The Holy One," a Sumerian praise poem

My friend Vera died last night. She was beautiful. She savored living. She sang; she sang. Her rhythm bounced off those around her: off Terry, the boys, Clyde and Jake, her kids, us. She was lyrical.

Awhile back I held her hands, cherished the instant, was grateful for the chance to tell her what a vibrant, beautiful soul she is. Now she's gone. The drums beat.

The beat has weaned me before. The big conga on the deck, pounding out a grief deeper than I could fathom. Pulse, pulse, pulling from somewhere a muscle. Pulling from somewhere a tendon, something too deep to be seen, to be felt, to be articulated. Grief deeper than the earth's yolk, miles beneath the mantle, next to, probably, the reddened core that keeps the planet spinning. Grief none could see, hear, feel, without the help of a taut, framed skin.

The book "When the Drummers Were Women" chronicles a time when a society trusted the rhythmic movement of its women to transport folks from one milestone to another, to ease the pain of loss, to help comprehend the incomprehensible. The book's been next to my drums for years, reminding me that the simple act of beating repeatedly on a surface has sacred roots.

I'm turning to my drums tonight, not to repeat the lovely parade of sound I heard last night at a jazz concert, not to regale in the ecstatic beat of my favorite salsa/hip-hop band, but to beat the pulse of grief and of celebration. You are gone, my beautiful friend, but my beat pulls your pulse, your memory, your image from deep within. With me, always, Vera, always.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Running with Sadie today was a candied treat. The feral field, normally an expanse of weed to be ignored, was spectacular! Hoarfrost had gilded the most innocuous, despicable undesirables with incredible jewelry. Couldn't believe what I saw close up: tawny stems, non-descript bracts, so-so desiccated blooms were all transformed! Frost King had arrived. All had been graced with his royal presence.

I was stunned, shocked even, by the ferocity of his crystals. Stabbing sharply into the blued sky, these spicules could have drawn deep blood. Jab, jab, jab, from plant to azure dome, icey spiked threats. Yet, when I touched the dire spears, they melted into my warm fingertips. They disappeared. Frost's threat was just a bluff.

Later I learned that hoarfrost's arrows form on clear nights when objects cloaked with water vapor are colder than surrounding air. It's a surface thing. It's also magical. Hard to describe. Pictures are surreal. Spikes that jagged just don't exist, especially in such an ephemeral form. In moments, they'll be gone.

I think about how many times Sadie and I have trekked past these plants, dismissing them as low-lifes, not worthy of even a glance. And yet today they screeched for attention: they were red carpet starlets, fabulous! I was amazed at the structural rhapsody of these weeds. Why hadn't I noticed that before? Where was I?

I remember my late husband joking as we strolled along the Snake River. He'd say, "Ah, an old growth grove of kosha," a weed we both abhorred. I cringed at the connection of the sacred phrase "old grove" with a term as disdainful as "kosha." Today I was puzzled again that I could revere such the foliage before me, this "trash" flora, dressed up in its iced wardrobe. Normally I scorn. Today I supplicate. What gives?

Maybe it's the oddity. Maybe it's the white. Maybe it's the ephemeral. Maybe, who knows, it's magic, the enchanting touch of the Frost King, granting the mundane with a precious glow. Who can say?