Home on the Range

I’m home alone here half way up the Twisp River Road. There’s a grace to this solitude, a deeper quality to the quiet. Much as I love my people who are usually here in one configuration or another, I love this aloneness, too. They’re yin and yang; they define and contain each other.

After work, I turned on the irrigation for a while and let out the chickens. The sight of the sprinklers spraying water into the late afternoon sky is magical. Truly. The water starts up in the mountains somewhere and makes its way down into the Valley as snow melt, and through engineering it runs along the bottom of our land, and then via pump runs up hill into the yard. I took a walk down to the ditch to make sure the filter screens weren’t clogged with algae that could cause the pump to burn out, then I walked back up and stood for a while just below where two streams of spray intersect, in a dry triangle of brown earth. The smell of moisture is nourishing. It must be hard wired into our limbic brains, the scent of life.

I prepared a simple dinner from salad greens and bok choy with a dressing I made yesterday. I sat in the open window reading some poems of Linda Hogan, whose work I strongly recommend. Here’s a snippet from “The Hidden,” in Rounding the Human Corners “I don’t care what you call it,/the human other portion, trust, belief./What if you looked at it all asalant?/Then you would never have arrived/in the good red land, the heat,/suddenly finding the spring/and the wild horses.//Paradise has always been just out of sight.”

After I turned off the water and opened the root cellar doors to let in the cool night air, I sat in the hot tub to watch the sun set. It torched the aspens that are still going from green to gold along the ditch, turning their leaves to flames. Bands of pink the color of smoked salmon spread out above the mountains to the West. Gray wisps of mare’s tales like bands of smoke. Summer’s fires are finished. The hint of burning in the air is stoves. The conflagration of clouds is only gas and light and particulates of matter that lend color to the sky.

I thought to look into each of the three directions visible from there, and faced north to see two large black steers well up into the hills. Slowly, they merged into one shifting black cloud of hoof, hide and bone. Grazing their way along the ridge.

South holds the trees, mostly pine and spruce that spread out in their own jacquard pattern like points of brocade following the river. An embroidery of trees.

It’s dark now. A little after seven. I can still hear the river, even as it dwindles toward winter. Out in the night landscape, everything is alive, hiding, hunting, feeding. Sometimes, in the morning as I drive down toward the road and town, I see signs of what has come. Recently a large pyramid of bear scat, purple with berries. What a thrill to know that this land with its houses and cars and Internet still holds enough wildness to feed bears. A month ago at dusk I saw a cougar cross the road. And well after dawn earlier this week heard coyotes in the east.

Here’s Linda Hogan again in her poem “Fox.”

I have to love and hate it
because its body is my cat,
my neighbor’s cat,
and even though I hurt
I know that this was not a gunshot,
not an accident on the road,
not a long illness.
This is god swallowing what it must.

My God continue to feed and feed on wherever you live.

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Equipoise

Today has felt something like a miracle.

After a day of uncertainty, a lack of concrete information and speculation, we learned in the early evening that the town of Twisp had been elevated to a level 2 fire warning. This level means that you should be ready to leave “at a moment’s notice.”

As dusk fell shrouded in red tinged smoke and flurries of ash, the fires that have consumed over 200,000 acres but have been largely invisible from here became more real.

We donned our head lamps and spent the next two hours winnowing out our most prized or irreplaceable possessions and loading them into the car.

We had two invitations, one to camp in our friends’ yard in Mazama, north of the fires and another to stay in the vacant home of friends down river in a moist, heavily irrigated riparian zone. It was closer, so we opted to move closer to town–and the fires’ edge–for the safety of numbers and a wide green zone.

Once we parked and got out of our card, we saw them. Garish neon ref flames hovering over town like the flames in gas fired stoves. It was frankly a bit terrifying.

We fell asleep to the repeating sounds of sprinklers beating out their irregular tattoo against the shrubbery and windows. My very anxious dog woke me at dawn, only about five hours after I went to sleep. I took her outside into the breezy overcast day and then went back to sleep for another hour.

By 7:30, there was a small group of friends talking over the news in the driveway. After breakfast we drove to town to check out the generators that had come in at the pipe supply store. We ran to Hank’s for ice, but the case was empty. The parking lot was packed and a number of fire trucks and men in bright yellow jackets rested around the perimeter.

The cooler weather seems to have changed the fire. We came home in the early afternoon to see how it felt here and to clean up from our somewhat panicked escape. It felt great to be home. The sky was high and bright with a feeling like fall. It felt safe and right.

We’ll spend another night tonight sleeping down the road, just to be with our extended family and be closer to town and access to news. To rely on the safety of green grass and wet land.

We’re leaning into trusting that we’re safe here. That tomorrow we can sleep in our own beds. With the cars packed and ready to go if the fire shifts direction, we’re prepared for whatever comes.

What a blessing to have so many options.

Wild Grace

This will be short. The fires burning to the south of us have taken out our power. I’m writing on my phone which, thanks to Volkswagen ingenuity, I can charge even when the car isn’t running.

Even without power, our biggest worry right now is how fast we can eat everything that’s thawing in the freezer. For rawtarians, that’s not a huge issue. But we are the lucky ones. Somehow, our slice of the Valley though surrounded by literal wild fires so far is safe.

We heard from a friend today that the fire is moving 50 miles per hour due to high winds that have come in with the new weather system that brought cooler slightly moister air this morning. That same sweet change has turbo charged the fire. The town of Pateros to our south has been completely evacuated and suffered heavy losses to property. On the fire map provided online, the town of Brewster appears engulfed. And the pale blue arrows showing the wind direction are the culprit.

We’re in a state of alert. All that can be done is to monitor the fire and try to protect “structures:” homes, barns, shops. There’s a chance that by Sunday, conditions will be such that response teams will be able to begin containment. There’s also a chance that the wind will shift and bring the flames to Twisp.

It’s a glaring example of the impersonality of nature. Last night at the meeting at the lovely old Twisp Community Center, the gym was packed to hear a thorough status report. Mingling garrulously in the crowd after the meeting was a man who was in a kind of ecstatic shock, like a drunk man at a church gathering. As he bounced from group to small group, he was met with such love and compassion. Embraced by men and women, young and old.

Later, when he checked out ahead of us at Hank’s, the local grocery store, the checker told us that he had lost his home. As had Hank, the store owner and his children. And yet, there we were buying beer and chips thanks to the enormous generators that keep Hank’s open for ice and water, food and gas.

This morning I had a dream about the fires. I was eating at some sort of gathering place when a crowd gathered around someone who had fainted. When the placed her on my table to revive her, it was my beloved Guru, Amma. I looked down at Her and thought “I should put my hand on Her brow.” And at that moment, She opened Her eyes and gazed at me, that familiar glance, both brief and deep, before turning away to look at the people on Her other side.

What does it mean? I don’t know. Something about the nature of Grace, there in the midst of chaos, and our tenderness toward each other.

Pray for our Valley if you’re the praying sort. Or do some kindness the next chance you get. Life is burning fast.

News from Nerdville: Or the Process of Absolute Happiness

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It’s a big day here in Twisp.  The couple of miles of Route 20 that comprises “town,” is clogged with foot and vehicular traffic.  The weekly market ran two extra hours from 8 to 1 instead of 9 to 12. The parking lot at Hanks, the local supermarket, is packed, and gas prices seemed to have inched up a bit since mid week. Wonderful. Twisp is an idyllically scenic town that thrives on tourism, and Memorial Day weekend, as in many such places, is the real start of the season.  It’s great to see our local community benefiting from summer tourism.

It’s a big day here, inside me as well.  Yesterday, a long time dream came to fruition with the offer of a job that makes it possible for me to finally join my beloved here on a full time basis and more or less support myself.  I’ve been praying for this daily for the last year: please provide the means.  A number of doors in the maze of job seeking opened and led to dead ends.  Each one was a short lived thrill of expectation and then an equally short lived disappointment. As I wrote in an earlier post “Has God been Co-opted?” patience is trusting in God’s timing, trusting in Being.  Each of those potential positions was showing me something about myself, how far I was willing and able to stretch, to lean out from my safe and reliable perch as a tenured college professor and pick the higher hanging fruit of change.  The job that I’ve been so lucky and happy to get is just such a plum.  I haven’t signed the contract yet, so I’ll keep things a little vague for the moment.  But suffice it to say that it’s a job in private sector elementary education in a school that is well established as a provider of what I’ll call “whole being” education: inter-disciplinary, collaborative and life based with lots of space for exploring the vast and ever changing outdoors in each season.

When I applied for this job, I had a completely incorrect expectation, which I know is a redundancy.  I made the usual projection my own ideas and sentiments into and onto the unknown reality of the job.  I applied for it as one more opportunity to get here permanently, and even though I got a response from the Board a couple of times before I left Pennsylvania, I had no real “expectation” that I would get an interview let alone get the job. And yet, here I am.  It’s as if the job was waiting for me.  The school, the board, the children were waiting for me.  At the first interview with two board members, I fell head over heels in love with the reality of the position, with its numerous challenges and uncertainties and with its radiant possibilities.  Love at first sight even at a little less than half my previous salary.  No problem!

The reason I’m home here today on this spread of land that backs up to countless conservancy acres in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains is that my partner is away in Seattle at a two day retreat with our beloved Guru and teacher Mata Amritanandamayi Devi known as Amma, “the hugging saint.”  Even though Amma’s organization does what it can to keep down the cost of attending the retreat, which is not for profit, it nevertheless still costs money to produce, and it was money that I thought it better not to spend. It’s not that I don’t have the money; I do.  It’s in my savings account biding its time until I need to buy a ticket to fly east in June to see my family and get my car and winter clothes and then drive the 2300 miles back home.  It’s waiting for the final course in my Waking Down mentor/teacher training, Advanced Mutuality Skills in August.  Its waiting for need to arise, which is different from desire.

Daniel Odier says quite a bit about this in his commentary in the Yoga Spandarika.  He says that the Tantric masters asked about the “whole of human passions . . . How to make it so that all is used, nothing is denied, nothing is rejected . . . so that we will not find ourselves one day face to face with our own demons, who always come back in hordes to destroy the quest?”   He says that for the Tantric, there is “no place for sublimation.  There is simply the act of looking deeply at what is there and of allowing whatever has remained buried to come up out of the ground and open like a budding flower.”

So not going to the Amma retreat is not a renunciation and does not feel like a sacrifice.  It’s an opportunity for me to look at an old pattern, one that says, “oh, what the heck!  I’ll just spend the money and go,” and  let it breathe freely and find expression in the comfort of staying home.  He says “One day, confidence begins to bloom, then flowers.  We then lose the idea of separation, and we get a taste of totality, space . . . a process that never stops evolving over the course of a life . . . process that is this absolute happiness.”

This process is deeply alive in me these days.  Today in particular I feel a simultaneity of excited joy, spaciousness and expansiveness. I have no needs.  I hung a closet rod and put my shirts on hangers.  I moved my altar from one side of the room to the other. I made and drank a smoothie.  The birds are singing.  It’s otherwise absolutely quiet, and the hills are at work being hills.  There’s a way in which they anchor me, drop me more deeply into my body.  Slow me down.

One more quote from Odier:  “When we talk about awakening, it is nothing other than . . . to discover , in a more or less permanent manner, [the] comprehensiveness of the universe, which is wholly contained in our consciousness . . . infinite fluctuation . . . never a beginning, nor an end.”  This is the process of absolute happiness. Be still and know that you are God.

 

Blue Star Bucks

You can tell a lot about a town by its coffee culture. Where I have lived and worked on the east coast, it’s easy to find whatever you like from corporate coffee to privately owned shops with well made, hand crafted drinks. I was partial to Green Bean in Gladwyne where their beans are roasted at the Chestnut Hill coffee roasters. Their coffee has a caramelized flavor and nutty aroma. Of course there’s also a Starbucks pretty much ten minutes drive in any direction, and like many sub/urbanites, I have their app on my phone, and a stop at Starbucks if it was convenient was part of my routine.

But every latte I drank in every coffee shop over the last few years that I’ve been a bi-coastal dweller dividing my time between points east and Twisp Washington has been a search for the kind of perfection pulled and poured into every shot at Blue Star Coffee Roasters.

Blue Star, named for state highway 20 where their local store is located, roasts their own beans on the premises and date stamps each bag. At $3.50 for a large latte–no extra charge for soy milk–it’s not only the “Best espresso in America” according to a 2012 taste off in Seattle; it’s the cheapest hand pulled shot money can buy. Their coffee cards are stored on a Rolodex on the counter and hand stamped by the barista, who also hand picks his or her own wardrobe instead of the uniforms worn by his or her corporate counterpart. Yesterday, I asked if I was able to put money on my card, and the barista rang it on the register and hand wrote the amount on the back. Ironically, the total with a large soy latte and an equally large molasses cookie from the Okanagon Bakery was $25.25.

If you’re as old as me, then you might remember the darkly futuristic ditty by the same name (minus the dollar sign and decimal point) recorded in 1969 by Zager and Evans. It seemed fitting to me as I savored the fruits of Blue Star’s old style, human scale operation.

It’s all well and good to want to make millions of dollars and to create jobs and contribute to the fair trade coffee growers of the world. But world dominion comes at a price. There’s no substitute for the local, human, hand crafted. It is a small world, after all.

Mundane

Water glitters.

Last night, the full moon
lit the sky like God’s eye.

It’s May, the river
is high and brown
with white caps
where it hits
now buried rocks.

It boils along its S turns
to meet its lover
the Methow
five miles down
where they couple
loudly all day long.

The cottonwoods shine,
wet paint, metallic
thread in the brocade
of pines that jacquard
the hill.  And to the West
the Sawtooths lose a layer
of snow every day.  Cavities
of brown pock the white.

I’m trying to tell you
there’s nothing
to write.