Sunday, April 26, 2009

Breaking (my heart) News

Spring has come to the mountain. When I walk in the morning at 5:00, a hooded sweatshirt is sufficient to keep me warm—without ear muffs, gloves and other encumbering garments. At that hour, I walk through invisible spider webs slung across the road, and I listen to the birdsong of tanagers and canyon wrens as the sun makes its way toward cresting the ridge. There is enough light now when I get home from work to sit on the front porch with a cup of tea and read while the cats investigate the places they’ve watched robins scratching all day.

I’m gonna miss this place.

With great sadness and some sense of adventure, I have recently come to the decision to leave this mountain and return to the flatland below. Last Monday, I listed my cabin for sale. The day before, I had dinner with my daughter and ‘other son.’ Just hearing shali’s reaction to my news—“Thank god, Mom, I’m so relieved”—was all the confirmation I needed. (And I have clung to her words over this past week, as well-intentioned friends have made comments such as, “Good luck selling in this market!” and “You’re gonna take a beating on the sale” and, my personal favorite, “Have you thought this through?”

That last one, of course, makes me laugh. If anything, I’ve been accused many times in my life of thinking too much… and I have to admit, I am guilty of that.

Over the past several weeks, certain events have occurred that started me thinking… and thinking… and thinking. This place… this place is magical, and I love where I live. No, I didn’t ‘just get tired of the snow,’ as some have suggested; I love the quiet and beauty of the snow, despite its inconvenience. But logistically, in order to make all my dreams come true—or at least the important ones—I need to be down the mountain.

And so—as hard as it will be to say good-by to my jays and my ‘coonies and my squirrels and my ‘yotes and the neighbors who have become beloved friends and the peace and quiet which has enabled me to write more in the past two years than I have in the five before I moved here—I look forward to what the future will bring. I look forward to sitting at my granddaughter’s softball games and attending more awards ceremonies for all my grandkids and to more brunches with my son and his man and more road trips to promote my current book… and the one to follow. I will miss lying on the couch in front of the fire, waiting for a full moon to pass over so the light will flood the cabin through the skylights. But I won’t miss the mountain. Because I’ll be right back up here every weekend, just as I was before I lived here, hiking the trails and visiting good friends… and checking in on my raccoons.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How the Light Gets In

The following is a true account and has not been fictionalized or embellished in any way. It’s just the way my life goes… and what a life it is….

Some months ago I received an email from Vince, a good buddy on the mountain. “A bunch of us are going to see Leonard Cohen at the new Nokia theater in L.A. in April. Wanna come?” Leonard Cohen. Poet, artist, songwriter extraordinaire, composer of songs that have haunted me over four decades—“Suzanne,” “Anthem,” and “Hallelujah” (the hands down best song every written, I don’t care what you bring to compare it with)—to name a few. My email response was three words: “Count me in!”
The tickets were ordered and our event was organized by Tamara, beautiful, glowing, mother-goddess on the mountain, a therapist by gift and trade, the kind of person to whom you want to say aloud, “Just keep talking; I think I’m getting better just by listening to you.”

So this past Saturday night, Vince drove up from his place and picked me up, and we drove down to Tamara’s cabin to pick her up, as we would all be riding in her Passport to L.A. She walked out, ready to go, and we stood for a quiet moment in the gravel next to her home, saying our good-bys to Nikita, the “mostly wolf” dog who began a deep-throated howl in the direction of the moon when she realized she couldn’t go with us.

The three of us drove down to Claremont to meet Tamara’s friends, Karen and Roberto, and to have some dinner before hitting the freeway. Karen and Roberto… kind, open, fully conscious folks… who worked with Cesar Chavez, one of my life-heroes, and more recently campaigned for Obama. “Thank you,” I told Roberto, who shrugged it off in his ‘we’re all in this together’ way, and went on to tell me that yes, Barack really is that cool in real life.

After dinner, the boys sat in the front, Vince driving, and we three girls climbed into the backseat of Tamara’s car, and off we headed for Tinsel Town.

Talk in the car immediately turned to Tamara’s ‘friendship’ with Leonard Cohen….

Fans of Cohen know that he has struggled with depression for most of his life (I hear you, my brother), and that as part of his quest to find joy—or at least contentment—he studied various religions, including Zen Buddhism. Devoted fans know that for some time, he lived in a Buddhist monastery. And really, really devoted fans know that that monastery was located on a somewhat obscure mountain in the San Gabriel mountain range… and that the mountain is nicknamed “Mt Baldy.” Cohen stayed at the monastery in the late 1990’s, and (amazingly) up until that time, the Zen Center had yet to install modern, indoor, flush toilets. During Cohen’s search for enlightenment, some money was raised, and ‘the bathroom project’ was carried out—after which someone thought that a nice way to thank sponsors would be to host a breakfast at the Center and invite honored guests. Tamara was one of those guests, and she just happened to rub shoulders with Cohen, who eventually asked for her phone number. Alas, while they had several conversations about writing, the relationship never progressed any further—prompting Roberto and Karen to suggest we all hold up signs at the concert saying, “Tamara hasn’t forgotten you!”

Tamara, of course, told us of these golden days in her relationship with Cohen as we traveled along the freeway—then (to prove her devotion, I suppose) she produced Cohen’s latest book of poems and drawings and proceeded to read them aloud to us—especially those mentioning Mt Baldy by name—as we sat in traffic.

With Vince’s ample foot on the pedal, we reached L.A. with an hour to spare, so we hit a Starbuck’s next to the Nokia—only to find more Baldy-ites, some from the Zen Center, others just fans, all grabbing a coffee and chattering about the show.

But nothing could have prepared us.

I’ve been to a few concerts in my day—probably the most notable being the Jimi Hendrix concert in 1969. Unforgettable…. But even that wasn’t as good as Cohen’s concert. I love this man’s spirit and heart and passion, and it was there, floating through vocals and instrumentation that gleamed as fresh and clean as new-fallen snow on the mountain. And Cohen. At 75, he is still bright-eyed and alive and he drank in the energy of the audience like it was Red Bull. He did five encores. Five. Each time he left the stage, he humbly doffed his fedora and skipped away. And each time the audience rose in thunderous applause so that he would return again—skipping—to sing another song. The concert started at 8:00. We left the theater at 11:45. We were beaming, humming, vibrating alive with his music, his words, the sharing of his soul.

Somewhere around 1:00a.m., we returned Tamara to her cabin. The mountain was quiet and luminescent under a full moon. We stood together silently again, drinking in the clean air, harmonies still dancing through our brains.

I could not sleep after Vince dropped me off. One of Cohen’s lyrics had been put on a continuous loop in my head: “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

The following is a link to a posting on YouTube of Cohen reciting “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” Go there and listen in the quiet….

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Footsteps in the snow

The storm that blew through last night left behind breezes and huge white fluffy clouds to float across the valley below. But wild weather still remained on the mountain; I could step out of my classroom door and see it up there, swirling around and filling the canyons with dark shadows. I’ve been walking every day without fail, doing the loop—down the road to the highway, up the highway to the fire road, up to the falls, then through my neighbor’s ‘yards’ back to my cabin. So today was no different. Even though I drove home in steady hail, I still donned hikers and my big squall jacket after I fed the cats, and off I went. My jacket is actually a thigh-length, wool-lined coat with a waterproof shell. The hood is wide, so as I walked along in the hail—which had the consistency of tiny snow dots—the coat provided a sort of small moving hut, with the hail glancing off and falling all around me while I was safe and snug (and eventually way too warm) inside.

The mountain becomes unbelievably quiet in a storm; the birds and animals huddle up somewhere, and the few people who are up here get comfortable in front of a fire and stay put. One car passed as I walked along the highway—someone coming down from the ski lift, I’m sure. And then nothing, no one, until I reached the fire road that winds up to the falls. A lone hiker passed me as I started up, looking annoyed by the weather. (He hadn’t hat nor hood.)

By this time, the hail had accumulated enough on the road to make a soft white carpet about an inch thick. At the turnoff by the falls, I looked back. Mine were the only footprints visible for a half mile down the trail. But I knew that in half an hour’s time, they’d be blotted out, covered over, with no trace left behind.

I often wonder if my life will be like this—a set of lone footprints will show that I passed through, but they will be gone in the same amount of time that it took to make them—say, a generation or two. I know that my children are my strongest legacy, and at this point in my life, I know I never did enough when I had them with me to show them how much I love and appreciate them, not just as my children but as unique individuals. My kids would testify, I’m sure, that while I worked to build a better life for them, I had little time to simply be their mom. And so I often wonder if the truths I tried to teach them about life, about respect for all sentient beings, about being people of integrity… about how deeply I love them… made a lasting impression.

I cannot leave them a legacy of riches. At times, though, it is a comfort to know that I will leave behind a legacy of words. While the old adage tells us that actions speak louder than words, I believe that the written word may have a voice hundreds perhaps even thousands of years after it is laid down. I don’t presume that my own writing will last that long, but I do have hope that my words will remain at least a bit longer than those footsteps in the snow.