Past and Future

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How can we ever belong to this place? Here, lands were stolen and degraded, peoples were killed and sent away. Here, the future is threatened by rising waters, beetle-withered pine forests, dry winters; by emptiness, and loss.

What’s already happened, and what is to come–they are two stone walls on either side of us. At either end there is some sort of light, but it is milky and subdued, like the sun submerged in water.

Either way you run, the walls get longer. They stretch back to the time before humans, and forward to the time when you and I will be gone.

And what if you sit, down in this crevice, and feel the cold spread over your arm-skin, the shadow of the sun, the sun that is holy and sacred but is not your god and cannot be because it was already stolen from someone else?

And the soil, here, that is bled of life, by, not you, but your ancestors? The dark, moon-like soil that was once rich with thousands of lives? That is not yours either. You are not of it. You are not of anywhere. Not time, not place. That is the dilemma. That is how we got here.

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City Life

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This is not enough.

Grass, and horse chestnuts,

purple-leaved plums

and the maples whose names I do not know.

They are lovely, their leaves shaken off by last night’s wind,

but behind their nakedness is the lined gray pavement,

the dense, impermeable skin,

where my footsteps are visitors.

At night I look for the stars, but instead I find a blotched sheet of paper,

a chalkboard,

something that has been erased and left dusty with residue.

The wind here

smells of roadside oil,

of cigarettes and decaying apples,

and the smoke of a neighbor’s fire.

The leaves fall.

I believe they are the one true thing.

Underneath them is the soil.

 

 

Coyote Gulch

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Down low, in the golden grass, I sit and watch the scrub oak, bled of sun, and the cottonwood, who stands below us in the canyon, his leaves immovable in the warm silence, the bright walls, the dying sun, the painted light, the circular, dry plumes of wind, the crickets and the stream, the long stripes of black against the cliffs, and I, down low in the grass, I can feel the Earth, I can smell the sand and the leaf-decay in the water, hear the slosh of my boots against mud and stone. Above us, the sky drapes itself across the cliffs, an heirloom blanket, a dying world, the sky of ancient Mars, red rock smoothed into circles and fans and waves, the imprints of an aboriginal sea, the light of stars that have since died, the dying, the long shadows, humped, human-like, as they pour into holes in the stone, the windows, the eyes, the place where the stone watches us, the place where I lay in the grass, the place where the sun turns to stone.

Desert Hill At Night

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Behind their voices I hear the sky. It moves patiently but briskly, the way a deep river flows but is glass. I feel the depth of the soil; I feel its color waiting in the darkness. I follow it to the hill, weaving between the gray-night grasses, the rabbitbrush, the sage. At the top, the clouds have moved over the stars. The wind carries something empty. It is a good emptiness; the emptiness of oceans and redwood trees, of wide, old, ancient places where silence still exists. I can imagine myself alone here, standing among the sagebrush, their roundness, their whispered company. I can imagine the sky bending around me, the heat of fear and stillness in my chest.

Cathartes aura

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I wait at the bus stop, in the grass, as the cars scuff by. There is a hint of sunset behind the road, behind the skyscrapers, and the houses feel empty as dawn. In this moment I look up. Three turkey vultures circle each other; they dance like kites, smooth, their shadows lengthening, their features charcoal-dark, existing only in silhouette.

Lupine

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Lupine smell like nothing at all. Their hooded flowers feel like paper and like rain.

Tiny ants climb their stems, up and down on the small hairs. A bee lands on a purple bud, makes its way in, and then leaves to find the lupine’s brethren.

In their roots, lupine fix nitrogen, and I imagine the bacterial lives being lived there, just beneath my feet. Lupine are technically a kind of legume, a member of the fabaceae family, and so they have been given the gift of taking nitrogen from the air and bringing it to the soil.

Their name is wolflike, from the same root as Canis lupus. But they, themselves, are delicate, and pastel, the color-makers of many meadows. They are far from elusive–how could one mistake their round whirl of leaves, and their plump bunches of pale pea-flowers? How could anyone overlook the beauty of the lupine?

The Summer Sky

I wander away from the lights. I look for the darkened air, where the bats are felt but not seen. Wildfire smoke smudges the horizon. I crunch over the grass and the gravel until, finally, I am far from the cabin. I look up. Past the smoke, in the clear zenith, vega hangs emptily, spaciously, blue-and-white, on the shoulders of cygnus, the swan. There is bootes and corona borealis. Then there is hercules and ursa major, cassiopeia and aquila. These are the marks of summer.

The wind blows through my flannel shirt. Something screeches–a great-horned owl, perched in a Douglas fir, high up there, on the edge of things. I stare through the gray fields ahead of me. I can sense the openness. It’s like standing in front of the ocean. You can feel it, the movement of air and the bending of grass. You feel that you should speak to it; ask for its forgiveness and its advice. You feel that your ancestors once crept through tall grass and followed the stars like seafarers. Coyotes sing, somewhere out there. A flash of lightning illuminates half the sky. It is silver, and cold, and it makes no sound. Is this why the coyotes are singing? The wind blows faster. Clouds sail in thin tufts across the zenith. I spin around and say good-night to them all, the summer constellations, before they are gone, before I am gone, before I turn the light on again.

My Plastic Free July Journey

This month I decided to participate in Plastic Free July, a worldwide initiative to encourage the reduction of everyday plastic usage.

Aside from being made from fossil-fuels, plastic takes millennia to biodegrade, polluting our rivers and oceans–and their animal inhabitants–in the meantime. Many plastic products are designed to only be used once, which makes their long life-span even more ridiculous. Plastic also wastes our money; though its particles last basically forever, plastic is designed to lose its usefulness quickly. Plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic razers, and plastic food containers soon become crumpled and ripped, and can also leach toxins into your home. They’re not designed for longevity; they’re designed to keep you coming back for more.

Thankfully, there are many re-usable, durable replacements for throw-away plastic (and paper!) items:

🐳 Swap cloth towels and napkins for paper.

🐳 Use a glass or stainless steel water bottle.

🐳 Pack your lunch in glass, cloth, or stainless steel containers.

🐳 Bring your own cloth bags to the grocery store (including produce bags!).

🐳 Buy loose produce instead of the pre-chopped packaged kind (this will save you money, too). A great place for this is your local farmers market.

🐳 Get what you can from bulk bins and fill your own jars/cloth bags with nuts, seeds, beans, dried fruit, grains, etc.

🐳 Stop using a straw, or keep a re-usable one in your bag.

🐳 Likewise, keep a wooden or metal fork/spoon/knife kit in your bag for restaurants with plastic silverware.

These things were easy and money-saving, and I had already been doing most of them. That being said, there were still some areas where I struggled:

🐳 Ziploc bags while traveling:

What should I put my toiletries in? I use sweet almond oil as a body moisturizer and it always leaks, so I’d be afraid to pack it in a reusable bag in case it were to bleed through and stain my clothes. And I use a new one each time because re-using an oily Ziploc is pretty messy. Also, I still put my shoes and dirty clothes in plastic bags because, again, I don’t want my clothes to get dirty.

🐳 Shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, detergents, etc.:

I’ve yet to find a good homemade haircare recipe so I’m still buying natural, albeit plastic-entombed, hair stuff. Same goes for dish and laundry detergent, and other random beauty products like witch hazel or aloe vera.

🐳 Plastic bags for meat:

Sometimes the butcher doesn’t have the cut I want and I need to buy some pre-packaged (or frozen) chicken thighs or ground beef. Meats can be sticky and prone to leakage, so, unfortunately, I put them in horrible thin plastic produce bags.

🐳 Snacks:

Sometimes I want store-bought kale chips, or just one slice of gluten-free dairy-free cake, or some other snack wrapped in plastic, and it’s easier to buy things like this than to make them from scratch.

It’s okay to not be perfect; a snack now and again or a few Ziplock bags a year for traveling won’t do too much damage in the long run.

Plastic Free July has been a good exercise in mindfulness. I’m way more aware now of what I’m doing right and what needs improvement. I’ve decided I’m going to turn Plastic Free July into a Plastic Free Journey, and continue to reduce my plastic usage long after this month had ended.

River

We walk in the time before sunset. “River,” we ask. “River,” we call. The air smells of sagebrush, that fresh after-rain perfume. We don’t see the rain but the wind speaks of it– the warmth it holds, the velvet-soil fragrance, the red paintbrush and wild peas. “River,” we sing above the wind-flow and the slow-moving clouds. Look, river stones, smoothly tumbled, the same red-pink andΒ green-blue of the horizon. The water runs fast. It is the color of dandelion pith. If we stand still enough we begin to drift. The river untangles into a placid stream, slowing, slowing, until it is the stillest place on Earth. It is us–we are moving, faster than the curve of the Earth, faster than the sky. “River,” we say, but he can’t hear us anymore.

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Still Life of a Bedroom

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A jar full of shells.
A beeswax candle.
A jellyfish captured in glass.
A paper lantern from Seattle;
its cranes, yellow, splashed by the sea.
Dried lavender in a vase,
the flowers still purple,
the stems both brittle and damp.
A carved wooden owl.
A Himalayan salt lamp.
A carton of pencils made to look like branches.
A coconut purse from Hawaii,
unused, made only for the shelf.
Two rows of snow-globes,
all from a different country or states,
a collection begun in elementary school.
This room,
blue and bone-yellow and worn-away pink;
shake it, and you can hear the ocean.