Alice

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If you ever want to see how ingrained a habit is, try breaking it, even once. I meditate every day after work. The weather has been unseasonably warm and to not go out in it would be a travesty, as my mother would say. To catch it I have to leave as soon as I get home and delay my sit for just a bit. Small thing, right? Even as I feel an exhilaration to hit the trail my feet drag as my body clearly wants to sit for meditation. Working at getting out the front door is tantamount to walking through a tunnel of cotton candy. It’s odd feeling your body wanting to go back inside as your head, heads out. That odd feeling though, is the sound of gears grinding on my ego’s ideas on how life should be. I’ve been thinking lately that I should practice that grind more often.

On any given day, goose poop litters the paths and sidewalks all the way to the marsh. On my walks I hop between the piles looking as if I’m playing the longest game of hopscotch ever. I know it’s pointless since, as the snow melts, the runoff is full of goose poop. What appears to be a clean path, isn’t. Still, I hop along imagining I am a paratrooper crossing a mind field into enemy lines. One wrong step and I’m done. Its entertainment for me, if not my neighbors and reminds me of being ten. Today, however, I remembered the muckers. I have sneakers I only wear to my friend’s barn to muck the stalls. Their bottoms have slogged through a lot of horse manure and I leave them in the garage. I don them happily knowing they were made for the world’s biggest piles of dung and finally leave my stoop.

A neighbor’s voice carries easily across the lake in a deep baritone, as he appears to be talking to someone on the phone. It is impossible not to eavesdrop.

“Everywhere we go, I ask after someone and they always say, “Oh that guy, he’s been dead for ages”. Then they seem all apologetic. Alice just says, “Don’t worry honey, we thought we should be dead ages ago, too.” His laughter banks off the houses on the other side of the lake and I can’t help but smile.

“Listen, listen here… I went to my 61st high school reunion. They had a list of names of those who graduated that year. Three pages of dead folks and a page of the living. All anyone wants to talk about is how so and so died. If he died parachuting out of a plane or in a runaway train ya got my ear, but other than that, hearing how old people died is about as interesting as stewed beets. Honestly, I’ve had a better time at a funeral.” He guffaws loudly. “Huh? Hell, I’ve already written my obit. No one lies about my accomplishments better than me. Ain’t that right, Alice.” I think I hear a kind of grunt come from inside the house, presumably Alice.

“No, no… I’m gonna be 87 next week. No, I’m not kidding.” He slams his hand down, emphatically, on the deck rail. “I’ll be 87. A guy called the other day to try to sell Alice and I life insurance. We told ’em if he was selling death insurance we’d be in!” Laughter storms the lake.

“I make a damn fine Rob Roy, I tell ya and here, listen up… If I get to heaven before you, I’ll have the finest Rob Roy you’ve ever had sittin’ there on the bar…. Well, hell, if you can’t drink in heaven where can you drink? Ain’t that right, Alice” Finally, Alice appears on the deck, “Ask him if he thinks that was water they were drinkin’ in those cups at the last supper? Ask him that.” I realize I’ve fallen in love with a woman I’ve never met.

Their banter continues and I walk on facing the setting western sun. They say sunlight is good for the cones in your eyes and that all of our sunglass wearing is actually weakening our eyesight. All our indoors-ness and computer screens are shortening our cones and causing them to vibrate in shorter color ranges. Holistic practitioners say we should get at least thirty minutes of sun every day. This is also true of the pituitary gland, I’ve read. That as we age the pituitary calcifies and it needs sunlight to blast off those calcifications. These are the sort of odd concerns and thoughts one has as they age. Do I have a clean pituitary gland? I mean, who wants a pituitary as hard as your shin bone. So I walk with my eye lids half closed and let the sun warm my eyes and imagine a limber pituitary and long, vibrating cones. Or I do for few moments, but the sun is warm and speaks so much of spring that after a time I am walking, half lidded thinking of beaches and warmer days to come. My meditation time is now long forgotten, along with the goose poop, as I walk into the sunny marsh. I realize I have gone from weird hopscotch lady to pituitary worrying sun bather. I remember the old man having himself a fine laugh at death with his old gal, Alice. I laugh, too. Me and my muckers and my calcified pituitary and short, faded, retinal cones, breaking the ceiling on my wierd little habits. I laugh even harder and wish I could confirm how funny life is with old Alice.

Field Sprites

Bear Lake:  Photo by Noelle

Bear Creek Lake: Photo by Noelle

Late afternoon and they are the briefest flash. Light catchers snagging flames before dark. I don’t know who I was before I was the one who sees them. I suspect it doesn’t matter now. Once the heart sees it can never be truly blind again.

Listening

Lakeside: Photo by Noelle

Lakeside: Photo by Noelle

The bench is on the west side of the lake. The trail on this side is little more than mud in January’s warm up. The Eastern side has some stone trails that are well cleared and thus, more trafficked. I am alone, for the moment, and commit to listening and little more.

The wind rubs the winter grass stalks at my feet against each other, dry even in the mud. A warm sun would turn them green, but in these short days their rattle is little more than a reminder of summer snakes long asleep in their holes. Prairie dogs bark incessantly at me, at first. My stillness conquers. Eventually, they chatter amongst themselves no more than old women over a mahjong board. Even in the animal kingdom, neighborhoods have their gossips. The jet passes to the north heading up the spine of the Rockies. I think of travel and vacations both taken and imagined, but the real fly boys bring me back, as the geese come trumpeting off the icy lake heading for fields to dine. I marvel at the pattern. Squawking and honking begins until some unknown pitch is hit and then part of the flock suddenly rises and flies off. The length of this flock must be more than a city block. The group that rises comes from one end of the lake to the other. Some of the groups head east, while others to the south, as if they are aware where the group before them headed and know to seek pastures elsewhere.

I can hear the jogger coming for some time as her running shoes slap the surface of the mud. She is breathing hard and there is the faint tinny sound of music coming through earbuds. Another flock takes off and the wind pushes back my hood. Two women cut through the grassy hillside to beat the muddy trail and talk about teenagers with piercings. The longer I sit the more I’m aware I seem to have left the machine. The swaying cattails are riveting compared to nose rings. I wonder, briefly, where this disengagement with the fast moving world will take me, but even that thought seems more intense then this winter sun will allow. I rest back against the bench and listen.

Scrub

Photos by Noelle

I stand at the foot of the hill, as chaos of scrub fills me. How did I get so confused? Where did my need for order and uniformity come from? I was never the stately garden. I have always been the wild beauty of an open field.

Death and the Owl

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He caught me completely unaware. I have stalked this owl for more than a year. He hoots, tempting me into the wood, but is gone before I get there; hidden in summer leaves or a winter’s bark. I have waited upwards of half an hour only to realize he has flown off and I’ve been left with a crick in my neck. I was completely distracted by thoughts of death and cold. On this evening two mutually exclusive topics. I was home safe and warm in cozy flannels when I saw it begin to snow. Death whispered in my ear, rather dramatically I might add, that one day I would lie upon my death bed and think of this night. How life and nature offered me a chance at a winter’s walk in a dreamy snow and I declined for warmth and comfort. I do my best to ignore death, as she can seem a ridiculous chatterbox in my ear, but on balance, she is more friend than foe. She oft reminds me to live while time is allowed me. Thus, I found myself trading slippers for boots and wondering how death usurped my woolen blankets, when the owl took me by surprise.

He was perched on a the lowest branch of a deliciously, knobby tree. He bobbed and turned his head taking stock of me. My face was stiff and my teeth ached in this biting cold, but I could not leave him so soon. This is his domain. The night and the open field. Sometimes you have to honor the presence of a master with your time. I dreamt once of being given an owl feather. The dream has drifted off into the mist, but that feather often comes to me while meditating. It floats before my closed eyes vivid in it’s pattern. I’d fly with this fellow if it was within me, but I am wrapped as tight as a mummy. I watch as he preens his feathers oblivious to the cold.

I have never regretted anything I felt inspired to do. Magic lies on paths of inspiration and they are the only roads that death does not haunt. Now I sit relishing toasted ciabatta, slathered in peanut butter and cinnamon honey. My nose warms its way back from the icy precipice and my cat lounges across my shoulders, a living scarf. I am alone again as it would appear death has flown off with the owl. Alas, such fickle friends.