Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Drive Slowly

She snuck into the quiet chapel about 10 minutes after the liturgy had begun. Jingling her keys restlessly in her left hand, she plunked down on the bench beside me, exuding a nervous energy. The liturgy rolled on. She shifted her feet. Choruses were chanted. She stretched her arms. Scriptures were read. She inspected the ceiling. Prayers were spoken. She blurted out call and response one beat ahead of everyone else. I started thinking of her as the Frenzied Female.

Officiating monk: “The Lord be with you”.
Frenzied Female: “Andalsowithyou”.

At the appropriate time in the liturgy the monks formed an inner circle around the altar and the retreatants stood as an outside circle along the walls. Frenzied Female stood next to me. More Scripture readings, more prayers, and then the passing of the peace. Hesitant retreatants received robust hugs from grinning monks.

Retreatants and monks: “Peace to you.”
Frenzied Female: “Peace to you father, brother—WHATEVER IT IS!”
The kindly monk graciously smiled and nodded.

The elements of wine and bread were ceremoniously served up. I waited patiently for the monks to go through the line first, and the Frenzied Female kept inching toward me, trying to get me to cut in their line.

Hissing Frenzied Female: “Areyougoingtogo?”
Me: “Yes, I’m going to go…”

After the Eucharist service my 5 day retreat was over, so with great regret I got in my car and started down the two mile road to coastal Highway 1. About a third of the way down, I glimpsed a car in my rear view mirror and within seconds it bore down on me. “Who would be tailgating me from a monastery?” I thought. I felt an immediate sense of urgency and an annoyance at being shaken out of my peacefulness during my first five minutes off the mountain. It was rude, obtrusive, and incongruous.

Nevertheless, the driver of the Volvo Stationwagon didn’t back off from tailgating me. As soon as I could, I pulled over at a turnoff and the Volvo whizzed past me. The driver wore dark sunglasses, she stared straight ahead, and she didn’t give me a glance or a wave of “thanks” for letting her pass me. The driver was the Frenzied Female.

Car idling, I stared in disbelief at the dust her car was churning up down the road. Easing my car into gear, I looked up through my windshield at a hand-painted sign the monks had posted by the road.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mustangs Roaming the American West

I spotted a wild herd of at least 25 Mustangs roaming the California coast between Santa Cruz and Hearst Castle. Clustering at the best vista points, they cling to the cliffs overlooking spectacular bridges constructed in the 1950’s. They are playful and beautiful-- their bodies gleaming in the California sun. Symbols of freedom and adventure, the Mustangs roam unfettered throughout the American west, wind blowing past them as they race up and down the coast. They travel to isolated areas, embracing the wonders of the natural world and invoking the pioneer spirit. Mustangs are slightly domesticated and are one of the most splendid means of transportation known to man.

I speak, of course, of the Ford Mustang convertible. Highway 1 is rife with them. Blue ones, yellow ones, black ones, red ones. And there are only two combinations of people riding in them:
1) middle-aged man/woman couples indulging in a mid-life crisis
2) four or five screeching young women indulging in a weekend bachelorette party

A Ford Mustang convertible can be rented from rental car companies for the reasonable cost of $85.46 per day—which is a small price to pay for roaming the coast looking like the coolest cat in town.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why California Doesn’t Suck

YES, California has…
Wild Fires
Heinous State Budget Deficit
A Legislature that Can’t Get the Job done
The Governator
Atrocious Education System
Insane Traffic and Congestion

BUT, this is why California doesn’t suck:
Big Sur, California Coast, Highway 1
I rest my case.

Easing Into Sweet Silence

I knew I had eased into sweet silence when I woke up in the middle of the night thinking “what the heck is that infernal racket?” And really it was just a deer walking on the gravel in my garden.

At the monastery where I spent my silent retreat, every retreatant has their own simple room with a single bed, a desk, and a rocking chair. The desk faces out a window overlooking the retreatants’ private garden, and the garden overlooks the mountains, fog, and the Pacific Ocean.

As I lounged in my garden, a stellar jay hopped from branch to branch in the fig tree. Two hummingbirds whizzed by, playing follow the leader. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the Morning Glory creeping up the fence. The faint sound of barking sea lions echoed uphill from the seaside. Various birds chirped, cheeped, screeched, and twittered. A bee buzzed happily as it drew nectar from a Sticky Monkey Flower.

In San Francisco my ears are continually assaulted by the sounds of Muni rushing down the tracks of Judah Street, automobiles racing to the next stop sign, sirens, neighbor’s parties, and homeless couples yelling at each other on the sidewalk “I’M NOT DRUNK!” (Note to the clueless- pretty much every time you find yourself yelling “I’M NOT DRUNK!” to your significant other, the chances are that you ARE drunk)

I know a lot of fabulous people who intensely dislike silence. Silence provides the opportunity for unpleasant thoughts to be heard in their heads. Silence makes people feel lonely. Silence feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar. But I crave silence. Immediately upon arrival, I sat down in my garden and eased into the silence like it was a fur-covered La-Z Boy recliner. The chorus of animal and insect voices resounded, but believing in this proverb, I kept my mouth closed:

Do not speak unless you can improve the silence.

Wildlife Welcome Wagon

In the absence of human contact and communication for my 5 day retreat, the local wildlife stepped up to fill the void. I mean, they really rolled out the welcome wagon. In the first 10 minutes in my private garden a plump, 6-inch long lizard scurried along the wooden fence and stopped 2 feet in front of where I was sitting. She tilted her head to better cock one eye at me, and I held my breath to stare back. After a 5 minute stare-down, apparently determining that I had passed muster to sit in her garden, she went on her way.

Then a whole family of rowdy quail invaded my garden like they owned the place. They are the California State bird, so I guess there is some entitlement. The head quail stood apart and watched over the covey, with her “plume” (that funny squiggly thing on top of her head) waggling her pleasure or displeasure. The babies rushed madly about the garden, tossing small sticks and leaves in the air like women at a 75% off clothing sale.

When the sun made a downward turn towards the sea, the bunnies came out. Little grey bunnies with white tails. They tentatively nibbled grass, noses twitching, ears perking at minute sounds, eyes on the lookout for circling hawks. They occasionally stood up on their back legs to peer at me from 4 more inches of higher ground. But try as I might, none of them would let me scoop them up and give them a big hug and kiss on the nose.

The deer came fashionably late to the garden at dusk. One-by-one they strolled by my fence, peering curiously into my room before heading downhill to graze for the evening.

By this time it was starting to feel like that scene in Cinderella where all the mice and birds run about gleefully singing,
“Cinderelly, Cinderelly,
And we'll make a lovely dress for Cinderelly!”
By day's end I half expected this enchanted place to produce a talking mouse who would start sewing me a ball gown.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Silent on the Details

Last week I savored every hour of a 5 day silent retreat at a Franciscan monastery below Big Sur. My purposes for going were to be quiet, to clear the clattering in my mind, and to listen to the primary sound that matters to me—the voice of Mystery. And while the retreat was life-giving and life-changing, I’m reluctant to write about it in depth, because the experience was something akin to going on a romantic weekend tryst with a lover.

In the same way that a loving couple wouldn’t return from a weekend spouting detailed descriptions of their intimacy—“and as we laid in each other’s arms we talked about…”, “and we made love this many times…with this position_____ being a mind-numbing favorite…”, “and we both wept as we told each other…” –- so too it would be indecorous to reveal sordid details of pillow talk with Mystery.

It was fitting to kiss and tell when we were in high school, but giving intimate details of Love is just bad form when we are older. A sacred relationship of body, heart, and soul should be shielded from the profane at all costs. Sure, there are plenty of brazen bloggers who pin their spiritual delicates on the internet clothes line, but I’m not one of them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pets Taking a Dirt Nap

I'm assuming this is a parrot- and it's the oldest animal in the cemetery at 51 years old

a bunny
It would take Frodo a very long time to get that damn Ring if he was a turtle
Not just a lizard-- that's Mr. Iguana to you.
a fishy
a kitty (20 years old!)
And my favorite.... a couple of GREAT hamsters!

Presidio Pet Cemetery

Lord knows I cried my eyes out for days when I had to euthanize my beloved black cat, Bart, many years ago. So the pain of losing a cherished pet is not lost on me but I was surprised and touched by my visit to the Pet Cemetery in the Presidio recently.

The pet cemetery sits on a slight incline on a plot of ground about 100 feet wide by 200 feet long. The soil is dry and sandy and it is the kind of place where you are always looking out for snakes. Gopher holes frequently collapsed beneath my feet, making me wonder exactly how many animal corpses I was stepping on. Bright pink flower bushes swayed in the wind and tall weeds struck a pose against wooden and stone tombstones. The beating sun, fog, and salt air were expediting the decay of favorite chew toys and stuffed animals leaned haphazardly against their owners’ grave. Plastic red and yellow roses were stuck straight up in the ground like miniature street lights.

Grieving pet owners went to varying levels of trouble to send their felines off into the Great Sandbox or their canines into the Great Dog Run in the Sky. Some of the gravesites are carefully surrounded by tiny 6” high wooden fences, while others appear a little more slap-dash in style. Many of the grave markers are obviously painstakingly hand-written by a child, while other pets are honored with granite grave markers by full grown adults with too much money on their hands (as in the case of this photo above, where this dog must have been something else because she only lived four years to make her mark on the world)

I puzzled over a few grave markers that spoke of animals being loved by certain “captains” or “majors” until I remembered that I was on an army post, and more specifically, the designated place where military men and women buried their favored pets.

My quiet meandering was interrupted by an open air double-decker tour bus pausing in front of the cemetery. I looked over to find dozens of Chinese tourists quietly staring at me. The guide said something into his microphone making everyone burst into laughter. I imagine he said something like “And if you look over here to your left you will see a crazy American woman, grieving the recent death of her favorite chowchilla.”

"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." ~Will Rogers

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Five Senses of San Francisco’s Presidio

I’ve always found the Presidio to be quite daunting with its maze of roads, trails, and cream-colored military buildings—it’s inevitable to get lost there. But with a long 4th of July weekend upon me, I desired to explore a place that most tourists and San Francisco locals wouldn’t bother with. So I parked at the top of the Presidio, secured a map of an outdoor installation called “Presidio Habitats” and wandered solo around the mountain while throngs of people strolled the waterfront below me.

I was wrong to avoid the Presidio for so long. It is a City treasure with tranquil woodlands, well-kept trails, sweeping vistas, indigenous wild flowers, unusual glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge peeping over at you, military and San Francisco history, and delightful secret community gardens. If I owned a car, I wouldn’t mind living in one of the houses in the Presidio. The reclaimed officer’s quarters are surrounded by manicured lawns, tall palm trees, and living there appears to amount to peaceful, natural living in the middle of a metropolis.

While exploring the Presidio...

I SAW: clusters of Cypress trees illuminated on one side by the sun; eight foot high yarrow flowers; Chinese porcelain vases secured high in a tree for screech owls to nest in; bright red Indian Paintbrush flowers; remnants of abandoned concrete bunkers; the crisp, clean, deceptively shiny leaves of poison oak; a hummingbird flitting about a community garden like it was a two dollar Vegas buffet.

I SMELLED: wispy stalks of wild fennel; the energizing aroma of a grove of Eucalyptus trees; the salt air wafting off the water at the Golden Gate.

I TASTED: smooth sweet leaves of Miner’s lettuce; the first sun-warmed blackberries of the summer season.

I HEARD: birds flitting about in the dried grasses of a bird sanctuary; the long horn blasts of tugboats and container ships communicating their next moves; massive treetops straining and creaking in the breeze; wind chimes hung by tomato plants in an attempt to keep birds away.

I TOUCHED: the long stringy bark of a Eucalyptus tree; the smooth, red, hard trunk of a Madrone; the flaking, gray bark of a Cypress tree; soft airy “snowballs” floating from long thin stems; the fuzzy “pea pods” of a purple flowered bush; pine tree branches laden with dozens of heavy pine cones.