Clusters of red and white brittlegills dotted the path through the back woods. Can’t know for sure which species, there are over 750 in the genus. But if there is any poetry in happenstance, then surely my path was strewn with Russula sanguinaria, bloody brittlegill, the deep, rich red of a life poured out at your feet.
“It cracks me up that you took pics of all of the messy places,” she texts.
“Those are all of the beautiful places,” I text back.
And it’s true. Every corner of her home held beauty. All things burst green with the late northern spring in the Oran Valley. We stayed at her place even though she was away, but her family members that remained at home were charming and perfect hosts.
Bruce gathered eggs from the hens’ favorite corner of the barn (why they don’t lay in their coop, no one understands, but chickens are complicated people) and served them up for our Saturday morning breakfast. Tilly had each of us (in genteel rotation) hurl a chunk of tree bark into the brush for her to retrieve. Monty caressed my girl’s neck with his? her? forked tongue and was a welcome, dense, comforting weight in her hands. Not about to be superseded by Thomas Merton, Jag pushed my book aside, curled up in my lap, and dug her claws into my thighs, teaching me something new about pain and pleasure.
(And then there were those chickens. I couldn’t stop myself–I took about 900 pictures of chickens that weekend. Why? I have no idea, but who wouldn’t take pictures of giant pet birds that wander around outside the house and inside the house and start making noise at 4:30 AM and keep going all day?)
When we were away from the house doing family things, attending the events for which we’d made the trip north in the first place, we talked about what Tilly, Monty, Jag and the chickens might be up to back at the house. And when it was time to leave, certain of us planted kisses on all things canine, feline, and anguine, and there were tears, and long pauses while taking one last look up the hill before closing the car door.
Weeks later, I stand in the kitchen while the tulsi steeps. I reach out and touch each picture and remember sweet birdsong, the squeak of trampoline springs, the crack of a bonfire, the quiet of a stairwell.
- I could barely believe the beauty of Manhattan Beach. Lemon trees and succulents in nearly every front yard, warm and fragrant breezes, my feet in soft sand after a painfully long winter.
- I’d never before attended a wedding held outside in the rain, but now I can heartily recommend it: huge smiles peeking out from under dripping raincoat hoods and umbrellas, steam rising from the pavement, the sound of water all around.
- I made a cake, sewed a colorful bunting and watched a newly minted teenager dive into blue water over a long weekend.
- Bonum est praestolari cum silentio salutare Dei.
I spend hours in the garden. I weed the beds and tie the bamboo supports with fresh twine. I spread black gold from my illicit compost pile over the turned soil. For a while I listen to music, then I listen to the wind, then I just listen. I feel gratitude for the warm sunshine and cool air, for a functioning (if aging) body, for the worms and dirt, for the smell of the wild mint and chives made fragrant by the cut of my spade.
But I also ache: for a little farm to tend with my gentleman farmer at my side; for the quiet evening conversation that often follows a long day spent outside; for sweet words of poetry whispered back and forth by the light of the full moon.
“…and being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” ~ Luke 22:44
I clear the dinner plates from the table, pile them into the sink and begin to rinse them off when the crushing weight of remembering hits me again, making my heart thump heavy. In three days my mind will know nothing.
The night before, I lay curled on our bed, weeping, terrible fear smothering reason. I asked John what happens to our souls when we are under anesthesia. He pulled wet ribbons of hair off of my cheeks and said our souls sleep, honey, we just go to sleep so we don’t feel pain.
I stand in front of the sink and watch the water flow down from one rounded plate edge to the next, and I begin to think about Jesus in the garden, praying in the dark hours of the night. He understood exactly how His days in this world would end: “drawing the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony” on a hillside crossbeam, missing great portions of His flesh and most of His blood. In the garden, the knowing of what was to come caused Jesus unbearable suffering, and while His love brothers slept a stone’s throw away, His fear fell down around Him like fat raindrops.
And yet when His prayers were complete, in an act of astonishing self-control, He rose from His knees for a third and final time and turned to face His fate.
I finish the rinsing and file the plates away into the dishwasher. I wash down the kitchen counters in slow circles, the rhythmic motion soothing, and I whisper under my breath, not my will but Thine.
:: a pod of dolphins hunting for their breakfast in the waters across the cove
:: the smell of laundry that has dried in the salty bay air
:: laughing and carrying on with old friends over wine and clams casino
:: a funky haircut that heralds a new season in my life
:: rounded triangles of moonlight reflected off the backs of thousands of waves and minnows
:: linguine con le vongole made by my former chef of a husband using clams dug from the bay with our own big and little hands. so. very. yummy.
:: reading sonnets under blankets after the weather turned much colder