Power lines

power lines across a post-storm sky

February 28, 2015

Our long drive southbound on California Highway 101 from Humboldt County to Santa Rosa got under way under a sky spring-cleaned by a two-day rainstorm. On Humboldt Bay’s mirrorlike water, ducks glided drawing fine wakes and egrets checked their snowy plumage. Millions of droplets caught in the needles of roadside redwoods made the tall trees glint. The first new leaves dotted branches of deciduous trees.

I took a break from soaking up the sparkling landscape to text my brother to be updated on the latest Lego drama: the evening before, my five-year-old nephew had crashed his prized police station while moving it and the catastrophe had plunged him into an abyss of desperation. The message popping up on my iPhone told me that an emergency rebuilding of the station had cleared the sky in the boy’s life. I smiled at the image of a twinkle slowly unfolding the creases on my nephew’s crying face. Superimposed on it, the older image of one of my brother’s theatrical tantrums when he was his son’s age appeared. I don’t know if and what he remembers, as we rarely talk about the first 20 years of our lives, when we inhabited the same apartment, but different emotional worlds.

After four hours of solid blue, thunderstorm clouds materialized in front of us, intermittently fractured by lightning, a rare occurrence in the Bay Area. We headed straight towards the churning gray chaos, while behind us, calm blue reigned unfazed. We stepped inside Gaia’s Garden in Santa Rosa where I read a selection of my writings.

Afterwards, Auriela McCarthy shared an excerpt from her book The Power of the Possible. She read how trying to change another person is “a hopeless and pointless task.” An energy field of resistance builds up “with each wishful thought and each hopeful feeling” and against it the person will bounce. The line of communication severed, there is no connection between the two sides, though their voices’ volume may reach a dangerous level of decibels.

Auriela’s words were a serendipitous commentary to the stories I had just read. In “Through the Green Glass,” my mother wanted me to be different. I wished the same of her. On that premise, we doomed ourselves to mutual isolation. On the other hand, in “Nasturtium Triumphant” I did not try to change the expansionism of the garden nasturtium that holds court around our house. Rather, I delighted in observing its blazing yellow and orange flowers, its shield-shaped leaves on which dew- and raindrops collect into glittering globes, and its indomitable spirit. And I explored with appreciation the plant’s culinary uses.

The reading event over, we turned the car around and headed north again. The sky was a fast-moving kaleidoscope of blue, white and many shades of gray. The thunderstorm’s threat never quite materialized, but the billows of clouds lingered on — marbled, as if black ink had been squirted into white paint and an expert hand was swirling a spatula in it. The warm light of sunset painted pink and purple brushstrokes in Monet-like frenzy.

My photographer’s eyes darted around framing the view from various angles, looking to capture the magical convergence of the gods of light, perspective and landscape elements.

“Stop here, please!” I pleaded with my husband.

I sprang out, iPhone at the ready and started framing this way and that feverishly, because each elapsing instant was bringing a subtle shift of light and clouds that meant the difference between a textured image and a flat one. After a 360 degree pirouette assessment, I stopped towards the south-east at a magnificent combination of sky, clouds and silhouette of hills and trees. But telephone cables and power lines cut across my sweeping field of view.

“Darn!” I raged, but then thought: “You can’t change them, so embrace them.” The black lines strung between poles speeding across at an angle became part of the image, no longer noise, but a line of visual melody.

“I love it!” I beamed as I got back into the car.

When we let go of wishing that the other person be different, a space of possibilities opens up. Death has shut down that space forever for my parents, but I can still explore it with my brother. I can make sure that the line of communication between us is also a line of connection.


Auriela McCarthy’s website
Redwood Writers’ Open Mic


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

Joy in every step

Odessa Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park (the joy of hiking)
August 11, 2015 — Rocky Mountain National Park

We emerged from the Fern Lake trail in the bright mid-morning sun, after hiking four and a half miles from Odessa Lake, on whose shore we had spent the night. The trail down from the lake started rocky and exposed, then turned into packed dirt in the breezy shadow of stately firs and quivering aspens.

Along the way, we met several fishermen, a park rangers’ rescue team in training, and other hikers—some couples and a few families with children in tow. Adults usually nodded, or said: “Hi.” Some smiled and, taking their cue from our backpacks, asked: “Where did you sleep?” The children rarely said anything or even made eye contact with us, maybe out of shyness, but most probably because as adults, we were by definition uninteresting, backpacks notwithstanding. Most of them looked bored, a few irritated, the rest slightly interested in the surrounding forest.

I remembered being worse than them. To treat my flat feet, as a child I had to wear custom-made boots that felt and looked like a prison. The orthopedist had recommended walks on rough terrain. When I was made to hike by my parents, I felt punished. I hated it and my permanent scowl made my feelings abundantly clear to anyone who dared look at me.

A stretch of unpaved road linked the Fern Lake Trailhead to our destination: the parking lot where the visitor shuttle stopped. I started on it savoring the bittersweetness infusing the end of an adventure. In the spotlight of the sun approaching its zenith, I saw a trio coming slowly towards us. A woman and a man held by the hands a boy walking unsteadily yet determinedly on thin, bow legs. His grin was as luminous as the sun above—a grin of unlimited happiness.

I focused on him only an instant. “He doesn’t want to be looked at,” I thought. But in that instant our eyes met across the road. I smiled at him. He surprised me with a silvery “Hello!” ringing like a mindfulness bell.

“Oh, hello!” I answered, widening my smile to match his grin.

His short dark hair stuck out at its end, pagoda-like. Four years old, I guessed. But there was no guessing about his glee: every inch of his frail frame screamed his joy of walking outdoors.

My gaze let him go, but I held on to the desire of declaring the same joy in each of my steps.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

On the bluff, in the wind

Indian paintbrush blooming on the bluff (Mendocino Headlands) At the edge of the bluff, the gaze glides down towards the ocean shimmering deep blue under a bright summer sky. It stops at the tuft of Indian paintbrush blooming brilliant red half-way down, a small fire, burning heatless on the steep sandy slope.

The Indian paintbrush is not the only plant surviving in the harsh environment,
scorched by the mid-day sun that has burned off the nightly fog,
shaken by the wind that accompanies the fog daily mass migration to and from the coast,
splashed by the salt spray the ocean showers when it pounds the shore.

But among the gravity-defying bluff flora, the Indian paintbrush is the plant that most assertively heeds its urge to bloom, bursting into flames of flowers. It doesn’t wait for something to change its surroundings, doesn’t try to move elsewhere. It sings its colorful song today on this rocky stretch of California coast.

The place or the time not being right for the blooming burning inside me is an excuse easy to make. The Indian paintbrush turns that excuse into sand. Where my feet are now and when I breathe this breath are as right a place and time as there will ever be. I look at the blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean marbled with streaks of white foam.

I breathe in the cool coastal air carrying the taste of salt and seaweeds. Like the Indian paintbrush, I cannot imagine a better place or a better time.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

Pruning shears

My pink rose bush

Last year, at the end of the blooming season, I pruned the two rose bushes that grow on the western wall of our house.

Every evening for over a week,
after the day’s work was done,
in the suspended moment between day and night,
I pruned.

The air was still,
the Pacific Ocean, though constantly chattering, seemed to slow down and settle for the night.
Birds were silent,
bunny rabbits were safely tucked deep in the bushes,
raccoons were preparing for their nightly raids,
and I pruned.

Brandishing shears in my gloved hands, I snipped and snipped and pulled long thorny branches tangled with others. I was unravelling a mystery.

I wished the bushes understood my destruction’s purpose was to make them better. But I doubted myself and them. What if I bungled the whole thing and the bushes died as a result of my inexperienced snipping?

The light thump of each branch coming to rest on the growing pile of siblings sounded final, like a chapter-ending period. I left only healthy-looking branches off the main stem. The bushes looked kind of naked, exposed. The while walls behind them glared at me, exposed too.

I carried the last mound of severed branches to the discard pile and went inside without looking back. A sense of having survived a necessary painful process prevailed, liniment on the raw wound. For months, I didn’t go close to the bushes for fear I would see signs of deteriorating health.

In early spring,
a small red rose bloomed shyly
in the still cool air.

Then,
the pale pink bush exploded
into a firework of delicate blooms.

I tried to remember how sparse the bushes had been after my surgical intervention, but it was hard to match my six-month-old memory with the lush growth in front of me:
a lavish
ravishing
rose world,
a world lighted by pink and red petals.

On a recent morning, demoralized about sustained creative efforts not bearing the expected fruit, I went outside and looked at my roses:
bejeweled by dewdrops,
compliments of the nightly coastal fog,
they smiled at the pale morning sun and at me.

And I understood.
I must cut away what saps my energy,
what served a purpose, but whose role has come to an end.

To bloom, I must prune — mercilessly.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

Hate is easier

snail on nasturtium leaf (some people hate snails)

“I hate snails!”

I have heard those words uttered in assorted shades of matter-of-factness, disgust, anger, as if snails’ only reason for existence is to destroy the speaker’s garden.

I love snails.

I lose myself in observing them explore their sliver of the world. I marvel at their agility.

To bridge the gap between where it is and where it wants to go, the snail stretches the front of its body as if it were a thick rubber band and reaches the destination, adhering firmly to it and testing that it can hold when the heavy rear becomes airborne. The stretching continues until I expect the snail to pop completely out of its shell. There is a suspended moment in which most of the snail is on the destination leaf, while the shell is still on the origin and a thin middle ensures the two halves are still one creature.

Then, as if at the end of a NASA-style countdown, the snail’s elastic body snaps back bringing the shell to the destination leaf. Reunited with its heavy-duty home, the snail rests for a bit and catches its breath, then resumes its exploration.

Every morning I get an opportunity to study snails’ prowess. They are fond of parsley, of the white chard growing in the middle of the garlic patch, and of kale. I may see a large leaf in the evening and decide to let it replenish its moisture during the night to harvest a plumper version the next morning. When the appointed time comes, I find a lace of leaf veins held by the stem where once there was an expanse of dark green leaf tissue.

I am not overly upset at the discovery that a kale leaf has been reduced to a skeleton by voracious snails. Snails teach me to be persistent, to divide the road ahead into small steps and take one at a time, prepare for it, execute it, then move on to the next one.

I don’t kill snails. I make sure my edible plants remain edible in sufficient amount and my seedlings get a chance to develop by drawing a thick circle of crushed egg shells around them. When I catch a snail in the act, or asleep with a full stomach, I relocate it together with the leaf on which I found it, so that it won’t be completely disoriented in its new environment — usually the compost pile — and will have something to eat until it can find a new source of nourishment.

My snail control strategy may seem silly and pointless. But when I feel in my bloodstream the hatred flowing freely around the world and flooding every corner of it, I must do something. Showing consideration for the life of a snail is my toothpick-size contribution to the beaver dam of love that every day hinders hate’s flow.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

Picking blackberries

blackberries
hunting high but also low

August 2013

Blackberry picking is like living. The plumpest, most ostentatiously ripe blackberry is the one an inch away from my grasping hand stretched at the end of my stretched body on tiptoes at the edge of a mass of brambles on which I don’t want to fall.

As a child, during my summer blackberry-picking expeditions, I was reminded of my diminutive size every time the object of desire seemed within reach to my greedy eyes, but escaped my greedy hands.

I have sometimes accepted my inability to reach that object. I have landed back on my full feet, lowered the stretched arm, and continued filling my basket with less plump, but perfectly ripe blackberries that my hand could pick with minor discomfort — maybe a scratch here and there to show off later as evidence of the battle fought.

Sometimes, however, I have refused to accept the situation, and made my way to the hard-to-get blackberry and picked it and verified that it was all I expected it to be — and more. (There were also a few disappointments, but how would I have known, had I not been able to taste the blackberry?)

Yet other times, when on the surface I had to accept defeat, a third way opened up. Instead of hunting high, I have looked for treasures low, where adults and taller kids did not stoop to look. And I have found precious berries there.

This does not mean I don’t strive to reach new heights, only that sometimes it pays to pay attention to what is closer to me, within reach. A small treasure may be waiting under the leaf that’s scratching my elbow.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini