I missed the pomegranates. For weeks I watched the fruit on the tree, watching it grow, seeing it ripen, and drooling over its promise. I even picked one early, putting it in a brown paper bag with an apple in the hopes it would ripen. But pomegranates only ripen on the tree. So I sat and waited and watched. This morning when I looked at the tree my heart sank. The spots of red were gone. The coatimundis were better watchers than I. Overnight they took every pomegrante and left me with none.
Something ate my squash. I picked some rather large squash, a basket full and a blue Rubbermaid tub full of squash. They exploded overnight in the garden to gigantic proportions and honestly I was unsure what to do with them they were so big. I like my squash small and tender but they hide under the leaves and easily escape my sight. By the time I saw these they were huge.
I put the squash on the deck outside the front door. I had been warned not to leave food outside but for some reason I didn’t think squash would attract critters. I was wrong. Big chunks were gone. Or maybe they were little chunks that put together made it look like one big chunk. Either way a lot of squash was eaten during the night. And none of us knew a thing. The dog didn’t bark, the cat didn’t meow and I never heard a thing.
I wish I knew how to do forensics, take a cast of the teeth marks and match them up. Was it a squirrel? A javelina? Or maybe a skunk? Perhaps a deer? I found deer scat on the lane today. I feel certain Cody the coatimundi went for the pomegranates but does he also have a taste for squash? I’d like to know the size of the critter that was two feet from my front door. Whatever it was it had to climb up onto the deck so I want to think it was something small and unterrifying. The alternative makes me a tad uncomfortable.
It makes me wonder. Are these critters planning an attack on the garden? It is fully enclosed with chicken wire, a double layer sunk a good two feet into the ground and fully covered on top. The lizards get in, but they are only after insects so that doesn’t bother me. In fact I am happy to have them go after the bugs. I like to watch the lizards zipping along the ground so lightening fast I can’t even see their feet. They remind me of the hovercraft that Luke Sklywalker flew around in Star Wars, skimming inches above the ground faster than fast. With an effortless leap the lizards go right through the holes in the chicken wire without a moment’s thought. It shocks me! If they miss the hole and hit the wire they would be guillotined in an instant! How do they do it? Their eyes are on the sides of their heads rather than straight on which I think would be a hindrance when it comes to zipping through chicken wire. I would think their eyes would need to coordinate somehow to target the hole rather than operate independently each one looking out for the wire on its side. Those lizards seem to fly right through that chickenwire and they do it every time without a scratch.
I’ve gone out to the garden in the middle of the night twice now both times when I woke in the middle of the night with the realization that I forgot to turn off the hose. Each time I tried to convince my dog Oro to go out there in the dark with me. She looked out the door, at the dark, then looked at me as if to say “you’re crazy if you think I’m going out there.” Now I could have left the hose on but I knew the garden and the lane and who knows what else would be flooded by morning. So I gather my courage and my flashlight and do the right thing. Walking out in the dark in my oversize t-shirt and flip flops I expect to see critters hanging on the fence plotting ways to get in and devour my produce. They’ve never been there although I imagine they aren’t far off plotting to ambush me from behind, blind me by pulling my t-shirt up over my head and gain access to the garden. I imagine all I need to do is point my flashlight around the woods and I would see their eyes shine. But I am more worried about snakes beneath my feet so I keep the light trained on the ground and start talking very loudly.
“Critters! Keep your distance! Or I’ll throw a shoe at you!”
They knew I was kidding. I am too worried about snakes to heave a flip flop and go barefoot. I managed to successfully turn the hose off each time and make it back to the safety of my bed.
And now this, a half eaten squash. I took it and heaved it into the woods. A peace offering of sorts that I hope will keep the critters happy for now. I hope they don’t develop a taste for it though and decide to storm the fence.
I read an interesting concept today, that your life purpose can be summed up in one word. It is a different word for each individual and no one can tell you your word, you must discover it for yourself, but that one word defines your calling, defines what your purpose in life is. And it is a simple thing, the lesson you are meant to learn in this life. And to find your word, all you need to do is look at your failures. What you are weak at is the thing you are here to achieve in this life, your purpose.
This concept is so beautiful in its simplicity, so basic in its premise that my gut told me it was true. And how provocative is this concept, to delve into one’s failures to uncover one’s word. We search and search for the meaning of life, chasing our passions, reaching to grab the brass ring, certain there is one great thing we are destined to do. But what is great? Great for you may not be so great for me because our words are different. And that word for each of us has been there all the time, at each stumble and fall. It took little effort for me to figure out my word. My earliest failure at the age of five ignited a pattern that has plagued me all my life. My word is speak.
There was no such thing as preschool in the late 1950’s; instead our parents registered us early for kindergarten. Age requirements were loose back then, as long as you turned five years old before the end of the school year, you were in. As a March birthday, I entered kindergarten the September of my fourth year. I was smart though. I mastered my numbers, could add and subtract, nailed the alphabet and began to read. I did so well that near the end of the year, at the tender age of five, I found myself transferred to a first grade class for reading. Kindergarten was colorful crayons and glue, comfy mats on the floor for napping, a playhouse with toys and tiny chairs pulled up to tiny tables that felt like home. First grade was an overcrowded room with metal desks bolted to the floor in rigid rows, dusty green chalkboards, and not a toy in sight. That first class a teacher I had never seen before called my name. I stood up. Then she told me to read, to read out loud in front of this packed room of children I didn’t know, bigger kids kicking their desks, sniggering behind their fists, sticking out their tongues. I stood. I picked up the primer. I was hooked on phonics, I knew these words. I opened my mouth to speak. My mouth opened but it was full of cotton. My tongue was dry and glued to the roof of my mouth. Nothing came out. The teacher’s voice rose unkindly. My chin quivered. My eyes watered. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak.
A lifetime of not speaking followed. Mom used to prod me “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” and in the next breath “children should be seen and not heard.” “Don’t speak unless spoken to.” When visiting another family’s home we were told we could accept food or drink if it was offered to us but under no circumstances were we to ask for anything. Like my father I became stoic. It was applauded. Adults complimented me on my good behavior. At all the critical points of my life, speech escaped me until after the event when I would silently rant to myself about all the things I should have said. I was good at coming up with snappy things to say but it was always after the fact. I suffered in silence through a difficult marriage and divorce. My emotions never had a chance to come out. I was viewed as the quiet one. People described me as reserved.
About a year ago I attended a one day workshop on integrative breath, a form of meditation. Twenty of us sat on the floor in a circle, going through the exercises, talking about the power of this process. In the afternoon we had the obligatory “go around the room” whereby each person had a turn to be the center of attention while the others spoke one or two words sharing their impression of that person. When it was my turn on the hot seat, the usual words were used: quiet, reserved, kind, nurturing, searching, capable, and strong. And then one small bright young woman looked at me. And with a sly smile she said “hidden fire”. I heard the woman next to me suck in her breath in surprise. And I knew why. The shock of those words was like a glass of cold water thrown in my face. Those words threw me off balance. I was a book she had picked up and instead of reading the back cover, she went right to the core to get the gist of my story. Hidden fire. At the end of the workshop this tiny woman sought me out, gave me a hug and told me “let that fire blaze!”
I never saw her again, can’t remember her name and hadn’t even thought about her until today but that doesn’t matter. Whatever her word is, I’m sure she mastered it. For me, in the space of that one day workshop and from across the room, she saw the heart of me more clearly than anyone ever had before. She saw the embers smoldering. She poked them with a stick and blew on them to make them flare. She encouraged me to keep the fire going. Rest assured I’ll remember her from now on. Every time I speak.
Sitting on the deck, book in my lap; I heard a tapping beyond the trees. It seemed too loud to be a woodpecker, more like a ball peen hammer striking a piece of wood, short, small and swift. But I am alone out here, except for the trees, the mountain and the wildlife. So this sound surprised me. The noise didn’t disturb the birds in the least, they continued singing. It stopped then began again. Stopped then began again. I had to find out what it was.
I walked down the lane and onto the trail to the slot canyon. I stopped to listen. There it was again. It seemed to come from directly in front of me which seemed odd. In front of me is a jagged rock cliff from which sprouted ocotillo, barrel cactus, prickly pear and palo verde. I suppose a woodpecker tapping on any of those might make that sound but I didn’t think so. I walked forward and down into the canyon. The noise stopped. I stood in the shade of an old mesquite waiting for it to start again but no luck.
I glanced at the mesquite. The top was lush and green, the bottom branches dead and drooping. It has been my habit to trim those dead branches from the mesquite on the property but today I looked twice and saw those branches with new eyes for the first time. Black and brittle they swept down on the ground supporting the upper green branches giving them a foundation to grow. The light and the dark, I resolved not to trim anymore mesquite for cosmetic purposes. I found how beautifully balanced the tree actually was.
I followed my nose to the scent of ragweed. An ugly name for a raggedy plant that makes my eyes water and my nose sneeze yet I adore the scent of it like fresh laundered linen, clean and crisp as a just picked pear. Hiding beneath the ragweed were tiny purple flowers no bigger than a quarter. Their faces turned toward the sun and I stepped aside so as not to shade them.
Here at the base of the rock cliff the creek is forced to turn and carve a new path. No musical trickle here, it slams into the cliff and crashes around the bend reminding me of the elevated trains I left behind in Chicago. I walked down to the creek and realized the recent rains had changed the landscape. Stones and pebbles had washed down to bolster the sand bank which had become soft and smooth from the rains. Good rocks, I thought but I would leave them there as they looked at home. A cracked cottonwood had fallen over the willow saplings crushing them. Should I remove this too or leave it as is like the dead branches of the mesquite? No matter what I would choose to do the landscape was forever changed.
Last weekend I drove in towards Phoenix to have dinner with a friend. I left the ranch late in the afternoon planning to arrive before dark. The mountain roads turned to valley highways to freeways to expressways. I exited into the southwestern version of suburbia, cloned homes stretched as far as I could see with the occasional saguaro sprouting up instead of trees. Every corner had a strip mall lined with fast food and gas stations. And I remember thinking to myself that the first few times I visited Arizona it had been to a place like this, a repetitive brown beige that left me feeling lethargic. It took several visits to various spots for me to discover the energy and beauty of the desert, the places not yet covered by concrete.
I used to live in the heart of Chicago in a box of a condo. I was a city girl, accustomed to gritty traffic, nights lit by street lights, asphalt and gloom. I moved as one of the herds of people pouring into the Chicago Loop every day, learned to quickly dance my way through the throngs of Michigan Avenue. I moved to a rhythm dictated by to do lists, fulfilling obligations to everything and everyone but myself. This trip to suburbia brought it all back, the landscape of my former life. As I pulled into the driveway of my friend’s home, I wished dinner was already over. I couldn’t wait to leave.
I never discovered what that sound was that prompted me to get off the deck today. When it realized I was listening, it stopped. I walked back up towards the singlewide, taking my time, breathing the blue sky, the morning sun growing hot on my head, the dust coating my sandals. How my landscape has changed. Not only externally but deep inside me it has changed. I can’t go back to live in a box anymore. I’ve thrown away my lists. I dance for no other reason than the joy of movement. I crave this fresh air and the surprise of purple flowers. And I prefer the dust to concrete because I can wash the dust off my feet in the creek. My internal landscape has changed. My heart feels at home.