Treasure in the Dark
The dark cellar of painful memory is
Musty with cobwebs, dank, dirty and damp.
Don’t be afraid.
As you creep down the stairs, flip the switch.
Look with new eyes in the bare bulb’s light
And you may find
High in the corner tucked on a dusty shelf
A jar of peach preserves waiting to be opened
And spread on a wedge of warm toast.
As you savor the sweetness the pain melts away
A reminder there is treasure in the dark.
What a great morning chatting with blog radio talk show host Nancy Lombardo! A replay of the interview can be found here at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/comedy-concepts/2013/03/11/kathleen-odwyer-author-of-breath-of-blue
Tonight I will be at Anasazi Bookstore in West Phoenix for a book signing. Come on out! Hope to see you there http://www.anasazibookstore.com/events.html
It started around one in the morning, this rain, and continued for close to twelve hours. Steady and strong, the rain gauge already reads over an inch and a quarter with no sign of stopping. Water flows across the gravel drive, a mini-torrent pushing pebbles and twigs down to the wash. The mountain fog languished heavily for most of the morning but has now dissipated to mist allowing me to catch a glimpse of silver waterfalls. I treasure this rain. It is more than the much needed moisture; it is a day of self-restoration and full sensations. The storm arrived without fanfare: no smell of ozone in the air, no bursts of lightening or thunder, no slashing wind to cut the night. So I fling the windows open the better to hear the cadence of raindrops. The diversity of its music catches me by surprise: a heavy rhythm on the concrete, tin music on the cars and softer splashes on the leaves. Tom pulls on heavy boots and a poncho and I listen to him stomp through the water to retrieve his Wall Street Journal. The dogs run in bringing in the damp on their glistening fur, shaking and sending an arc of water across the tiles already wet with their prints. A rainbow appears on the floor, a trail of towels and rags to soak up the wet, and I decide to leave it there in anticipation of future doggy excursions. The air is so fresh and cold, I inhale deeply and welcome the opportunity to stop and wrap myself in a blanket and lay kindling in the fireplace to ward off the afternoon gloom. The warmth of a cup of hot tea soothes my hands; its amber liquid calms my heart. A day to go nowhere but into myself, a place I have not been for awhile. And then I received the news.
Sally transitioned after battling cancer for fourteen months. I learned this on Facebook, of all places. Her family posted the message on her account, a good thing I suppose, for otherwise I would not have known. We were not close friends but we were kindred spirits, or at least she saw the potential in me, the desire for more, or simply that I was a lost soul searching for something. Pulling out my blue binder of certificates, I looked up the date: the course on Quantum Touch completed in February 2008. Eager to explore the world of energy work, I drove six hours on a rainy weekend from Chicago to The Christine Center in northern Wisconsin. A dozen or so people attended the weekend course, folks ranging from massage therapists (like me) to a dentist, some nurses and one or two seekers looking for a magic healing bullet. At dinner that night, I filled my plate and pulled out a chair at a solitary table. Others seemed to have come in pairs or threes, sharing the drive and the expense of lodging. As I bent to taste my bowl of vegetarian soup, a voice with a light Irish lilt sang out, may I join you? I looked up into a face soft with wrinkles, hair like spun sugar and blue eyes filled with kindness. With that, our friendship began.
There are people who cross your path for only a short time, yet it could be a lifetime, the impact is that great. For some time I had moused around the edges of energy work, quietly exploring, curious but reluctant, believing but uncertain. Sally brought Reiki and energy work firmly into my life. She was thirty years my senior, older than my mother, yet when we sat and talked over dinner that night it was like dining with family or, better yet, that dearest friend who knows everything about you and loves you anyway. With her encouragement, I pursued my interest in Reiki and kept her abreast of my progress. My first encounter with the Akashic Records was with Sally and, as she walked through my previous lives to help me understand the current one, I remember her words, you can do this, too, you know. Her confidence fueled me forward.
A few months before I left Chicago, I went to Sally’s home for lunch. Her two story white farmhouse was set back from the road, a leftover of rural times in a suburban setting. Flowers spilled over the walkway and widely bordered the house leaving precious little room for a lawn. A giant oak shaded the yard. Inside, Sally’s personality filled every corner. Quilts and needlework graced the walls, antique furniture smelled like lemon, and lilacs in a vase graced the table. Pointing up she told me the story of how she and her husband planned to install a new drop ceiling until they discovered the secret hidden above the old. Her husband was long gone and she was a widow now, but the fine oak beams that they refinished together still gleamed. The center island in the kitchen held jars and jars of herbs and oils, the old fashioned porcelain sink that stood on iron legs had a checkered blue and white skirt, and wonderful smells emanated from the old gas stove in the corner. We shared a simple meal of brown rice and caramelized onions topped with black beans that afternoon. Comfort food shared with a comfortable friend. At the end of our afternoon, we promised to get together again in the next few months. We promised to do a better job of keeping in touch. It never happened, though, for I soon found myself on the way to Arizona and Facebook became the only thread connecting us.
As I sit here at my laptop and write these words, I know she is laughing at me. Grief is not her style and I can hear her say “I’m still here!” Even as I know she is right and that I can call on her when I wish, I still miss her. Much like today’s rain, I treasure the time Sally and I spent together.
“What do you think Spirit is saying to us through Hurricane Sandy?” A New York friend asked me a few days ago. The question rolled around in my mind over the past few days and honestly, I have come to the conclusion that this is simply a question impossible for me or anyone else to answer in broad terms. The concept of Spirit is infinitely diverse: what Spirit means to me is specific to me and different from what Spirit means to my mother or next door neighbor. And that is as it should be for we are all moving on different paths with different challenges and lessons along the way.
So I speak for myself when I say Spirit is within us and connects us to all that is. It is important to understand the definition of us in that statement. When I use that term I refer to ALL things: the Earth, Sky, Clouds, Plants, Animals, Rocks, Mountains, Insects, Reptiles, Birds, Planets, Moon, and Sun…need I go on? In this context the word “us” encompasses everything within and without my realm of experience. “Did I think Spirit sent the hurricane to remind us of what is important?” If I say yes to that, then I am returning to my Catholic roots of a terrible and merciless God; one who smites those who stray. Roots of guilt I pulled up long ago as I forged my spiritual path. If I say yes to that, then I am removing Spirit from within and installing it back on the crumbling pedestal of my youth. This I cannot do.
This morning when I walked the desert, the question of Hurricane Sandy kept gurgling up through my thoughts followed by the words “quid pro quo”. The Great Law of the Iroquois holds appropriate the responsibility to think seven generations ahead when making decisions today. This Law recognizes Mother Earth as a living entity; one that supports life in all ways. She gives us resources to build our homes, fuel our cars, and nourish our bodies. Mankind even uses those resources to build great ships to explore space and tiny chips that operate our smart phones. I thank her for the resources that built the laptop I write on so quickly and efficiently. Yet how does mankind thank her? We deplete her resources, often without thought, and it seems we are never sated. Yet, we forget that as mankind continues to grow and evolve so too does Mother Earth. More and more the Earthly changes are the result of mankind’s disregard for Earthly blessings. Is the cataclysmic impact of Hurricane Sandy on mankind any greater than the impact of man’s depletion of our environmental resources? Quid pro quo.
Yet, as terrible as these natural disasters are, Spirit moves me to hold to a different perspective, to see this as an opportunity for heroes to emerge. Not only the leaders of the nation who are offering comfort and aid, but the father who scooped his child up and held her tight through the storm; the grandmother who brought hot cups of coffee to the rescue workers; the utility repairmen working feverishly for days on end to restore power. This is Spirit: the people who dig deep within to find Spirit and honor it through their words and actions, however small they might seem. Those everyday people who recognize the connections between us all and choose to use challenge as a opportunity to strengthen the bonds rather than sever them. Did I think Spirit was trying to tell us what is important? If we listen, Spirit tells us this every day, but sometimes in the haste of life, it falls on deaf ears. Ultimately crisis returns us to a state of appreciation and humility, and it is those things that are the foundation of Spirit, the foundation of self. Did Spirit send the hurricane? I don’t know the answer. But I do know I see Spirit in the eyes and actions of all who are reaching out to assist those in need yesterday, today and beyond.
What is happiness? When this question was posed to me I had to think for a bit, especially as to the definition of happiness. Ask ten people and I suspect you will get ten different answers, not surprising, as each person has her own personal filter that is used to view life’s experiences. It is important to keep in mind that happiness is an emotion and like any other emotion, it moves. Life moves like the ocean waves. Sometimes the tide of life is full, rich and frothy and the next moment it ebbs leaving wet sand and debris. Yet, there is always an undercurrent. Think about it. The euphoria you experienced at the birth of your child is a distant memory when that same child finger paints the wall. Yet, even as you are scrubbing the wall in frustration, dig deep and you will find there is still that undercurrent of happiness you experienced at your child’s birth. So be realistic and understand that while your situation may change, you can still be happy.
1. Understand why you are here. We are all healers, by that I mean everyone has the ability to help others in their own special way, to help others get from point A to point B. The doctor in the emergency room may use special skills to save your life but those skills are useless to you if the taxi driver didn’t get you there in time. Figure out what you can do in your current situation to help others, no matter how small it may seem, and then do it. Give of yourself without expecting anything in return.
2. Know yourself. What are your qualities and traits? What is the good, bad and the ugly about you? Be honest with yourself and own your failings. Owning up to your failings is the first step to changing them. Keep in mind that without the dark side there would be no light. Look in the mirror each day and say, today I will be the light then use that light to work on those dark tendencies. The more you do this, the lighter you become.
3. Take care of yourself. You know the litany: eat right, exercise, get plenty of rest, and be mindful. Even more important, take care of yourself emotionally. Say yes when you need to say yes, but don’t be afraid to say no when you need to say no. This may feel counterintuitive to the idea of helping others, but you have to put yourself first sometimes to maintain balance. Doing so puts you in a stronger state of well being and gives you greater energy to help others. The flight attendants have it right: “put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.”
4. Embrace your current situation and take charge of it. It may not be the stuff of your dreams but it could be! You can improve on anything if you make it truly your own. A friend of mine became unemployed after years of service with the same financial company. He sent out resume after resume, with no response. While he continued his job search, he did something very important for his well being. He volunteered his financial expertise to a non-profit organization. This work kept him from losing faith. He felt productive and valued and it looked good on his resume. After a year of volunteer service, the non-profit offered him a job that he enjoys.
5. Step out of your comfort zone. We all have limitations but most of them are self-imposed. If a new opportunity comes your way, one that excites you challenges you and feels right, then go for it. Be smart, do your homework then be fearless! What is the worst that can happen? You might find it was a mistake which only means you have learned that it isn’t for you. Knowing what is not for you is a good thing to know.
6. Retreat into nature. Mother Earth is a source of calm and peace. Sit or walk outside every day, even for just five minutes, and use all your senses to take in everything around you. Get quiet. Hear the bird song, feel the breeze blow, smell the pine, see the sky. Connecting with nature is the gateway to exploring yourself and clearing yourself. Let it teach you. Let it remind you of who you are, where you came from, how you got here and what you can be.
7. Trust yourself. The old adage “Father knows best” is only true for so long. Respect the advice of your elders, for their words and values instilled a knowing in you. You know what to do. You know what to say. Trust yourself to do the right thing.
8. Accept others as they are. Loving relationships are the bedrock of happiness. You cannot have a loving relationship with anyone, be it lover, family or friends, if you do not accept people as they are. You can change yourself but never try to change someone else. The beauty of this is, when someone you love feels completely, unconditionally accepted by you, they will love you for it and try to be better for you.
9. Acknowledge a higher source. I don’t care what you call it: God, Spirit, Life Force, Energy, or Higher Source. Remember that whatever it is, it is within everything around you and that includes you! You may choose to follow the teachings of a spiritual leader, join a religious institution or, like me, you may follow your own path. Knowing that you have that guidance within you brings a sense of calm and peace. Good thoughts and words are prayers, say them every day.
10. Gratitude. Singer/songwriter Ray Wiley Hubbard wrote something along the lines of “start every day with great gratitude and low expectations.” The surprising thing is that when you are grateful for what you have, when you recognize that you truly are awash in abundance, more good things come your way. Be grateful for the love in your life, your home, your friends, your family, for everything. Give thanks every day.
There will always be trying times in our lives but if you do these things, happiness will run through you and keep you strong.
Miss Kitty had me worried lately. In the pre-dawn hours I’d wake to the sound of her thumping and bumping around in the bathtub. Normally this would be an indication of a critter chase but since we moved to Gold Canyon there’s been no call for her mousing skills, a fact I am sure she bemoans or be-meows as the case may be. Certainly there is no shortage of outdoor critters she could chase. Our home functions as the base of operations for the landscape business and the dumpster full of trimmings at the back of the property attract all manner of critter making it an exotic destination spot for her forays whenever she is lucky enough to escape outside. What she hasn’t grasped is that when she is out there she is transformed from predator to prey; her black and white coloring makes her an easy target for the passing coyote or hawk. So I do my best to keep her inside and, as expected, she grows bored. Bored bordering on crazy, I feared, based on her bathtub activity. I even picked up a book at a garage sale a few weeks ago titled Cat Watching: Why cats purr and everything else you wanted to know, but it had nothing about cats in the bathtub. Instead it explained that while cats do a good job of cleaning themselves, they really don’t care for water which made Kitty’s behavior all the more bizarre.
Kitty has always liked the bathtub. It’s a deep, oversize tub set in a platform of Saltillo tiles and positioned next to a large window that overlooks the garden. Deep enough you can submerge up to your chin; so deep you have to step into it to clean it. When we first moved here, Kitty made the rounds of the house and, upon discovering the bathtub and its window, declared it her spot for bird watching. Whenever one of us takes a long, hot soak Kitty walks around and around the platform with great interest until she is splashed, something that never fails to infuriate her while drawing a laugh from the bather. While her love of the tub was no surprise to us, we were a tad concerned when she boldly jumped and thumped inside it for no apparent reason day after day.
Miss Kitty is resourceful. In fact, if she could read, (and sometimes I wonder, especially given her penchant for flopping on top of the Wall Street Journal) I wouldn’t put it past her to have skimmed Who Moved My Cheese? in an effort to get a better handle on the habits of mice. While it wouldn’t have given her pointers on rodent behavior, it might have given her the idea to look elsewhere for predatory entertainment. Today, after returning from my morning walk, I entered the bedroom once again to the sound of tub-thumping. Running into the bathroom I caught Kitty in mid-bump; my entrance causing her to pull up short while at the same time I spied a cricket leap for his life. Unfortunately he couldn’t jump too far, for hanging from Kitty’s lower jaw were his two tiny black legs. She stared me down for a few seconds, as if to say, excuse me, I’m busy here, then reached out a front paw in her dainty way before slamming it down hard on top of the cricket. Miss Kitty, one; Cricket, zero. Zero as in dead.
Really, I can’t complain. I never realized we had a cricket issue thanks to Miss Kitty. She has found a new job and, once again, is throwing herself into it with wild abandon. Of course you might want to warn the crickets to be afraid; be very afraid.
When the rock jumped so did I, but neither of us jumped very far, in fact I leaned in closer to see. It was no rock but a Sonoran Desert Toad hunched beneath a bower of vinca and petunias nestled alongside a large boulder. I know the Toads live here in the garden but usually I only see them at night and even then they are difficult to see, their black-green skins a perfect camouflage for nocturnal hunts.
His back was to me. Toad’s tough skin had the sheen of a seal fresh from an ocean swim. If I stretched out my hand I might have stroked his back though I doubted he would appreciate it and, to be honest, my desire to touch him was a bit shaky. So I simply nodded, picked up my trowel and continued planting summer annuals, daisies of purple, yellow and gold. As I plunged the trowel into the moist earth Toad made a quick hop, flipping his body 180 degrees the better to focus the round pools of his eyes upon me. The efficiency of his movement impressed me for he seemed so large and ponderous. We each took our measure of the other, then slowly, so as not to frighten him, I slipped the trowel into the soil again. He watched. Only inches away yet we both felt comfortable with our proximity to each other, companionable in fact, and to my delight he watched me dig and place plants around his daytime home. Sitting back on my heels I surveyed my handiwork and looked to him for approval. He didn’t blink, didn’t twitch a muscle, but his fearlessness in my presence conveyed his acknowledgement that these flowers would do a fine job of attracting the most delicious insects for his nightly meal.
All through the week as I made the rounds with my watering can I looked for him but he hid himself well from the sun’s eye. His companionship that day, however, stayed with me and I was not sure why. This was not a fairy tale, no princess eager to kiss a frog or a toad. As a friend he is much too quiet, even for someone as quiet as me. Perhaps that is the thread between us, the ability to sit together in silence and share the beauty of the flowers. How does he sense? His eyes are large round orbs to take in the night but I spotted no ears to hear my approach. His skin appears leathery yet is it delicate enough to sense the wings of the approaching fly? His reflexes are quick, I have seen how fast he can spin and jump. I longed to see him again to get to know him better.
Deciding to take advantage of the relatively cool morning air the other day, I knelt beside the flower bed to pull weeds and found Toad. He didn’t jump this time, simply turned those liquid eyes on me once again and watched my every move. It was then I realized he was as curious about me as I was about him. Since that day I see him often around the garden, mostly in the evening or cool morning. I nod my head to him, he watches me. Perfect gardening companions.
Ohhhhh! Momma Quail had been so clever at hiding tiny clutch of eggs they almost escaped my eye. Here at Smiling Dog Ranch we have two greenhouses, a plant “hospital” and a cactus nursery that need tending. The cactus nursery contains row after row of five gallon and larger pots with every sort of cactus, yucca, agave and palm. Weeds find their way into the pots so I’ve made it my job to pick my way through the golden barrels, prickly pears, and opuntia, cleaning the pots and making them customer ready. It is tedious work avoiding the stickers and thorns except for the row of totem poles, tall mild green cactus that are smooth to the touch. The largest totem pole is a beautiful plant with an arm growing out of its side very near to the soil. Nestled in the crook of that arm were the eggs, an even dozen. Later in the day I peeked in to find Momma Quail tending to her duties, eyeing me over her shoulder. With a wave and a whispered “I’ll leave you alone” I walked away.
At least once a day I wandered over to check on Momma. Most times she was there and although wary, she seemed to understand I wouldn’t hurt her or her nest. One day I managed to recount the eggs….sixteen in all! Such a small space for so many babies had me worried. Worried she would have too many mouths to feed; worried the dogs might find her and the chicks. The next day Momma was in place keeping her eggs warm. I’ve heard that Quail Moms and Pops take turns sitting on the nest but the female was the only adult bird I saw. Perhaps Papa had the night shift.
A week later the dogs woke us in the middle of the night with restless barking and whining. This happens anytime they hear coyotes yip or sense javelinas on the prowl. When we let them out to investigate they run at full tilt barking ferociously, something we are sure the neighbors do not appreciate, so instead we shushed them until they resettled for the night. The next morning Tom went out with the dogs to make the morning rounds.
“The javelinas were partying last night. I found a big waller in the nursery.”
Those words were a knife to my heart! I rushed out to the cactus nursery only to find pots of cactus upturned including the one with the nest. Momma Quail and her eggs were nowhere to be found, not even a feather or an egg shell. Perhaps Momma escaped but I imagined her eggs were swallowed whole by the pigs.
It’s tough sometimes to live in harmony with nature. Should I have cordoned off the cactus to ward off attack? An attack I didn’t see coming? Or should I let nature take its course? I like eggs for breakfast sometimes; I even eat my share of chicken. Shouldn’t the javelinas be afforded the same consideration?
The other evening we sat outside on the front patio watching the sunset illuminate the mountains. A Momma Quail appeared on top of the rock wall, looked around then peeped out marching orders before flying gracefully to the ground. As we watched, one by one, tiny quail chicks popped up on the wall then hopped down to scurry across the drive, tiny legs skittering as fast as hummingbird wings. Papa brought up the rear. I knew these were not the babies I had peeked at daily but I decided it wouldn’t hurt to pretend. I started counting them. Sixteen in all.
The origami crane, although he is only made of brown paper, showed me some spirit. As I nudged him on the table he seemed to crook his fingerlike beak at me as if to say your turn. How surprising, this invitation to dance, to sink into a rhythm of give and take, to allow this piece of brown paper to draw me out and provoke my mind. I feel my body bow in response, reaching out with a forefinger to spin him around a bit to better take his measure from all sides. He is sharp and pointed. I am soft and round and it stuns me to know that it is my preference to be soft. It is my comfort to be round, to remember the days as a young mother when I would bend low to scoop my child into my arms and feel a sleepy head nestle warmly into the fold of my shoulder, as if our bodies knew instinctively the origami of love.
I study this crane before me, this small bit of paper creased so precisely to be transformed into something more beautiful than the original brown square. But is that true? Is the finished product more wondrous than the original raw material? I want to unfold the crane, to rub my finger and flatten each crease and feel the place from whence he came, to see the raw beauty of him, to see the possibilities, to know his path of growth. What a delight it would be to look over the artist’s shoulder as she carefully folded each fold, sharpened each crease, to watch the formation of a wing or a beak, the intake of breath when a bird finally stood tall. How intimate that would be to perceive each step of his creation,
It is more than the crane. My second marriage has prompted these musings, the wish I could know the beginnings of Tom, to uncover the history of this man who is now my husband. Unlike the crane I can’t unfold him, I can’t know the imprints of each experience he has had; the childhood romps, the young father’s joy and pain, the cowboy riding free, the struggles of business and a former marriage. There is no artist’s shoulder I can peek over. I feel the lack of what happened before me. Does he feel that too? I spin him around in my mind, listening to his songs, enjoying his smile and feeling the whimsy of his laugh. I admire his leadership and passion for the land. When he hugs me I feel the thread of a thousand embraces.
Spinning the crane again I understand that if I unfold this piece of art it will be changed and I still won’t know it as I would like. It can’t ever go back to its smooth, untouched origin and if I try to refold it, no matter how carefully, there will be the tiniest of nuances in each new crease, a trace of a difference. It won’t be quite the same. With a sigh I let go the desire to know what is past. Perhaps that is the most intimate thing to do, to move forward with what I know and love.
In an attempt to pretty up the place in anticipation for our upcoming wedding I hauled a five gallon container of Bells of Fire to replace the dead annuals in the pot on the corner of the patio. While a wedding at home may be cost saving, the preparations consume an inordinate amount of time. Refinishing doors, steam cleaning rugs, washing window after window, it was now down to the wire and I worked tediously in the gardens deadheading, pulling weeds and replacing spent plant life. The brilliant orange blooms of the Bells of Fire were destined for the stone pot and would contrast nicely against the sweet smelling white jasmine and gardenias and the pinks of the vinca.
After parking the wheelbarrow next to the stone container I began to dig out the dead plants and soil. Frustrated and impatient to get the job done, I tossed the small trowel aside and plunged my hands into the wet earth. It was a minute or two before I noticed the steady stream of ants circling the rim of the container and spilling over its side. Tiny things, less than an eighth of an inch, individually they were easy to miss, but this was an army! A battalion of Solenopsis Xyloni (AKA the dreaded Arizona Fire Ants) was on high alert primed for battle. I jumped back quickly but not quick enough. Ants scampered over and around my mud caked hands, stinging and biting ferociously and sending me whooping and hollering. Their strategy is simple: they swarm over the enemy and once in position they bite in unison! Slapping and shaking myself like a Jim Carey character I managed to knock them off but not before the damage was done. Burning red welts rose on my fingers and the backs of my hands.
Now why are these little buggers so mean? Granted I disrupted their home, but I didn’t mean to do that. It wasn’t intentional. Surely they must know from centuries of dealing with us lumbering humans that we pay little attention to where we step. Couldn’t they devise a better plan for dealing with us? Even a rattlesnake does us the courtesy of rattling a warning. Granted we probably wouldn’t hear ants with tiny rattles but couldn’t they designate an emissary? Why not send one ant up waving a white flag? Or better yet a marching band, they could have scurried around the rim of the pot to spell out the word STOP! That would have captured my attention. We could have sat down and discussed the situation over a cup of tea. We could have come up with a solution that pleased us both. I’m a decent person willing to compromise but I suppose when you are less than an eighth of an inch tall it must seem like the best defense is a good offense. A mighty band of little Napoleons those little ants immediately went on a rampage and attacked.
The sad part in all this is that once the battle lines were drawn I was forced to employ my own version of “shock and awe” bombing them with ant killer. They didn’t stand a chance. But the Bells of Fire look nice.