Tag Archives: arizona

time to garden

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I’m better at growing cats than veggies

I feel the vibrations in the air, the low hum: spring is here.

(no, really, it is- this is the Southern Arizona desert, after all)

I’ve got these bright, happy looking flowers planted in colorful pots beside the driveway, but it’s not enough. I want to plunge my hands into the dirt. I want to cut away the dead and coax forth the new. I want to smell and dig and brush my hair out of my eyes and squint and frown and sigh with pleasure at the return of the perennials. I want to water. And water. And water.

I want a real garden.

I’ve always lacked the discipline to be a true gardener, especially in a challenging desert environment, although I could pretend like I was one when my ex was around; he would breathe on scorched earth and an Eden would miraculously burst forth at his feet. I’m lazy and my material abilities are often not enough to realize or sustain all that I get interested in, so a lot of efforts to garden through the years have never really come to fruition. But I’ve always had this passion for living things, for life. I love to surround myself with growing things. And  I want my daughter to share in it, to relish the simple joy of watching a seedling sprout overnight, of savoring summer’s first tomato.

In recent years I was too much the gypsy for a proper garden to make sense; low-demand plants on the back patio of a rental had to suffice. Now that I have a house and I’m there pretty much all the time, it doesn’t feel like mine without abundant planters, without garden beds in tidy rows, full of new green tendrils popping through the soil, seeking the sun and air.

As things stand now, the back yard looks more like Syria than Better Homes and Gardens. There is much work to do, but it is time.

finger rock

Finger Rock is a lean, delicate spire, daintily extending out of the craggy Santa Catalina mountain skyline as though it were a little girl’s pinky finger counterbalancing an invisible porcelain tea-cup. This feature can capture the eye from almost anywhere in Tucson, including my driveway. Many novice day hikers have tasted the bitter tang of regret when they realize that the popular Finger Rock trail they have been huffing up for the past 2 hours doesn’t actually bring them to Finger Rock, which after getting closer, closer, slinks out of view like a beautiful stranger at a cocktail party. But for the intrepid, she is reachable; for those that wish to ascend her, 100 feet of easy technical climbing is the reward after hours hiking up the steep, loose approach. And once you make it to the top, standing on a shifty summit flake, you can regard magnificent views of the shimmering Tucson valley below, or the limitless bowl of azure sky above.

But here’s the disclaimer: I’ve never climbed Finger Rock. I’ve never breathed hard on the challenging ascent, skin burning where the ubiquitous shin daggers drew blood. My eager, calloused fingertips have yet to explore her contours, her secret holds.  I have yet to balance on that unstable summit flake, sweat and satisfaction dripping off me in equal volumes. I’ve dreamed of this adventure through. You see, I’m an untalented if enthusiastic rock climber; I am the kind of hiker that’s happiest if the journey takes all day. In short, it would be the perfect adventure for a person like me.

Or, to be more accurate: would have been a perfect adventure for someone like I was.

I shrug away the longing as I unload groceries from my Subaru, my newborn daughter snoozing in the backseat. A year ago, Finger Rock seemed like an ambitious-but-feasible Saturday plan; now it sounds as remote as visiting the moon. I can hardly manage a trip to the rock climbing gym for a few hours, certainly not an all-day excursion up a mountain. Overweight, overwrought and over-tired, my muscles have atrophied, my ambitions to climb mountains transformed into the goal of just trying to get to the goddamn grocery store. I am soft where I used to be hard. I am stretched where I used to be comfortable. I am winded where I used to be strong.

My daughter frowns, half-awake and smacking her lips. I slide her out of her car seat. She is all warmth and softness; we exhale in the sweet relief it is to be holding, to be held by. Her eyes, twin glacial pools, have started to focus on the world around her and she takes a moment to regard the mesquite tree in our yard. I bring her to my breast after I take a seat on the red Adirondack chair jauntily positioned on the front porch, Finger Rock still squarely in my line of sight. She latches on and I breathe in. She is exquisite. I feel the full, ridiculous weight of the love which flash flooded my life the moment I gave birth a few months ago and somehow keeps rushing and rushing from an invisible, inexhaustible spring.

Even in this sublime moment, my eyes flicker north, to Finger Rock. I am content, yet somewhere inside of me a wild cat paces in a secret jungle, silent, patiently insistent. She can wait, she will wait, but she claims the right to remind me of a different path, the wilder world beyond caregiving. No matter how sweet the gifts of mothering a newborn may be, her shadow makes me tingle, a specter from my old life of physicality, of independence, of wildness. She reminds me of dreams I’m not sure even make sense anymore. Afterall, I’m still figuring out this new landscape since my entire life blew open with the birth of my daughter. In many ways I feel like a stranger to myself, my new world a drawn-out zen koan. Opposites find symbiosis; contradictions are the norm. I have never felt weaker, and I have never felt stronger. I am contentedly consumed by caring for this precious and demanding newborn, yet I miss my old life, with all its adventures and micro freedoms. I fantasize about rocks I haven’t climbed, may never climb, and perhaps these flights are sustaining a part of me through this time of early parenting. Or maybe I’m engaged in a reflex fantasy, simply playing out old thought patterns, scratching old itches. Maybe that life is over.

But I don’t think so.The ground under a mother’s foot is never solid, after all. I feel myself sinking as soggy sand beneath me is sucked into the tide. I wobble and catch my balance as I stand on the shoreline of mystery, waves lapping around my ankles. What is true today ceases to exist tomorrow. My daughter is growing, the days are getting shorter, and everything changes, but there is so much more possibility balled into each and every moment than most of us dare to realize. The same miraculous force that pulled me off the mountain to nurse a baby on an Adirondack chair may one day push me back up into the wilderness. And these dreams are the red thread tying together then and now, proof that something original remains after the cracking, the flooding, knitting together a changed woman, a brave new mother in a soggy, strange world.

 

***

 

This post took me ages to write- another casualty of new parenthood, I suppose. My baby is one year old now. I still haven’t climbed Finger Rock. But I haven’t stopped gazing at her and dreaming of the day.

tadpoles

The annual reprieve is here- monsoon season. We desert dwellers look to the sky, to the dark clouds which form in the afternoon hours with hopeWe need this, the nourishing rains, the plummeting temperature which follows in its wake. In an instant lightning rips across the sky, big fat drops kiss our face and we clap our hands in gratitude. Yes. 

The desert hangs on to nothing, and water rushes and rushes, trying to return to the sea. It flows down alley ways and pooling only when contained. In a flood zone at the end of my street, the dusty embankement has given way to lush Johnson grass stands and puddles. But even in monsoon the water is not always enough.

I noticed the wriggling tadpoles after the season’s first big storm. The desert toad laid those fertilized eggs remains unknown to me; I’ve never heard their mating song at dusk, or seen one hopping around in the grass. But there they were, thousands of tadpoles in the seasonal water stand. Undulating and undulating, some of them clumping together, some perpetually pushing forward, on and on. Countless miracles, nearly in my own backyard.

But then things dried up. The puddles shrank, retreated. The tadpoles become a writhing mass in the small amount of remaining water.  I prayed to the God of Rain to bless us thoroughly and quickly, thousands of tadpoles depended on this. I prayed to the God of Frogs that they may develop preternaturally quickly. My prayers went unanswered; yesterday they had evaporated along with the puddle, leaving behind only a greyish film in the center of a mud ring.

It made me hate the kind of world were thousands of beautiful creatures live and die in a breath. The waste, the injustice.

But then today the rain returned. Again the streets flowed, water pooled, and there are tadpoles once more. Well developed, survivors transplanted from other puddles perhaps. I watch them undulate with a renewed sense of gratitude. With a renewed sense of hope.

we are all made of stars

I am hungry.  I am hungry.  This is what propels me to the mountains, to the meadows, to the desert and to riparian forests that murmur secrets among the babbling stream. I plunge into the wilderness which burned only 3 years ago in a blazing inferno that gobbled up thousands of acres in Southern Arizona. I stumble along the rugged trail and catch myself on a charred stump; I wipe my brow, blackened with the remains of ancient trees, woodland creatures, delicate leaves.  Such magnificence, reduced to nothing but a carbon smudge. This fate awaits me too, but for now I’m housed in a body, layered with flesh, coursing with hot red blood. I pant and groan and laugh and piss and shit and contract and expand. I crush lovely mushrooms with careless steps and I trip over the roots of ancient trees and come tumbling down, awkward and so very human. So very much alive.

The sun sets beyond canyon walls and I lie underneath the night sky, my flesh pressed against ancient boulders.  The hardness beneath gives a gentle reminder that I am different, something more transient, like the Perseid meteors that streak brilliantly across the darkness above me. But yet I’m also timeless, my carbon originating from the very stars that glitter above me.

I am nothing.

I am everything.

*  *  *

I have been pretty quiet on the blogging front lately, but was recently featured as a guest blogger at inspired2ignite .  Denise is a fantastic writer who explores themes surrounding recovery, gratitude, and living a full and meaningful life.  I would be honored if you would visit her blog and read my post there– and all the other ones too!

the encounter with the bighorn

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They grazed near a crystalline stream, in the prolific fields of wild grape which covered the reddish deser rock in thick layers of green, snaking tendrils. A group of six female Desert Bighorn Sheep, accompanied by a rambunctious lamb, thrilled with bouncing off his elders’ rumps and frolicking through the leafy vines. With their appearance the canyon went quiet- as though the hikers and the birds and the insects knew we were in the presence of holy beasts, animal sages here with a message, or a blessing, or maybe for a delicious sunset meal. We caught the words, the buzzing, the song in our throats and quietly watched in suspended awe. I crouched on the cool sand, unobtrusive as I could be, and snapped photos. The sheep appraised me with yellow eyes and a cool stare but kept chewing on grape leaves, bottom jaws rotating in an exaggerated swing.
 

 
 
I had longed for an encounter with these rare creatures, and my day finally arrived. I gazed, transfixed, while my eyes welled inexplicably with tears. Maybe from appreciation for their gentle reminder to enjoy the tenderest leaves of life.  Maybe from the overwhelming joy at being in a beautiful place, in the presence of beautiful creatures. Or more likely, I cried from the gratitude that, even in the soup of heartbreak, dreams can still come true. They may not be the dreams I had before, the dreams that built the walls of my former life. But new beginnings give birth to new dreams, and they are coming to fruition
 
 
 

mother’s day without you

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the ring I gave you for Mother’s Day- 2007?

It is hard to be without you today, every day. My soul still seeks you, a message in every throb of my aching heart:

I miss you.
Thank you. 
You were wonderful.

On this day, I would buy you flowers, or a piece of jewelry.  Some small, stupid item that could never say enough the good you did the world, how tremendously kind and loving you were to everyone and everything you touched.  Mothering is more than giving life- although you did that for me too. I was your only child by birth, yet you were a mother to many. You nurtured, you encouraged, you eased, you pushed and you believed. And we miss you here, in this life, in this world.

The Mother’s Day gifts of the past were inadequate, but it felt good to do something, to make even a lame attempt at showing gratitude. I miss the simple joy of sliding a necklace around your warm neck, or watching you close your eyes as you inhale the aroma of roses. These days, I have no such recourse for showing thanks. Maybe your spirit is at such great heights, a little fleck of firmament, too distant to hear murmured prayers of thanks. Or perhaps you have absorbed into my skin, or disseminated into the air I breathe, and you are so very small, so omnipresent, so close there is really no you anymore. In either case, I cannot reach you. You are too close.  You are too far away.

So, I could do nothing else with today but surround myself with beauty, to ease the aching loss of you. I went to Sabino Canyon with my dear friend. The one I believe you sent for in the last hours of your life, so she could be there for me at the moment of your departure. You loved her, I love her, and we remembered you today, as we gazed upon the wonder of it all.

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where I lived

I used to live in a track home outside of town, on land freshly poached from the desert. Like a number of choices made at age 24, it isn’t a decision I would repeat; this was life in the country without the benefits of country life. There were the long commutes, the automotive expenses, the 15 miles to the grocery store. My bedroom window stared into my neighbors’.  I had a tiny yard that was mostly composed of a pile of rocks.  In a desperate move to beautify I tried to grow succulents on the rock pile, but the succulents would inevitably die off, exposing the truth that, no, there’s no rock garden here, only an eyesore.

I moved to that house having only lived in a very urban environment.  At first it seemed strange, but I grew to love both the silence and the sounds. The coyotes would sing at night over the howling wind. I would run in the darkness of the early morning with the milky way shining down upon me and hear owls flapping their wings as they hunted their prey. Hoo, hoo.  

I now live in a central part of the city, and the constant, bustling noise grates on my nerves.  I run on asphalt with no owls in sight, only pigeons. I appreciate being able to bike to work, to walk to a grocery store, but I seek out quiet corners of the city in which to recharge. I miss the roadrunners, the quail, the hawks soaring ahead.  I miss the forests of ocotillo, reaching towards looming mountains above. My happiest moments are when I’m outside of the city limits, on a hill overlooking the twinkling lights, or camping in a forest somewhere.

Turns out I’m a bit of a country girl, afterall.