Christin's Words from Sunshine Hill

If it is to be music
you must be present to it, must offer to it
a profound self-remembering.
-from Altar Music

Thursday, March 31, 2011


There's sunshine on Sunshine Hill, and look what's growing in our -- "garden?" During the winter I made some vegetable soup into which, among other goodies, I put red cabbage. About a third of the head hid out for months in the bottom of the fridge. In the meantime John read Masanobu Fukuoka's THE ONE-STRAW REVOLUTION about a style of gardening that reminded me of jungles. All sorts of plants tangled together and grew in untilled ground. I liked the chaos of the idea. We weren't sure it would work here on this mountain-rock-hill, but weeds grow, so why not? 

We started hanging out at seed stores, looking at packets of herbs and veggies. This we realized was pure play. We bought four fruit trees and started a little orchard of pears, apples, plums, and apricots. Fukuoka says spread compost over the area, so John raided my many years worth of mowed grass piles. There's a circle of poorly kept lawn in the center of the circle drive in front of the house. Down went the compost. 

"Let's cut up those potatoes that sprouted and plant them," he suggested in late February. A few days later we opened a packet of pea seeds, sowed them along the south edge of the compost, and dropped several radish seeds here and there in exposed soil. Before we left for California I cleaned the fridge and was about to throw out the rather dry cabbage when I noticed that it was raised up a little in the center, so I took it out to John who was -- where else? -- in the Fukuoka garden.

"Do you think this would grow?" I held it out to him. No harm in trying.

I don't know if we'll actually get a red cabbage, but we have some pretty leaves. AND we finally also have some potato plants!

The peas are coming up also -- and John got the creative idea of providing old manzanita branches for their climbing.

A friend who has a "real" garden suggested he bring his rototiller to break up the soil for us, but would Fukuoka have done that? Never! Besides, we want to see what we hope will be a marvel of many colored leaves and vegetables growing alongside thistles, and maybe some marigolds. I just got that idea this minute. Maybe the deer will eat the whole thing, but that's OK too. Though I'd really like to gather some peas to eat straight out of the shell.

It comes to me that Fukuoka's garden is a lot like a writer's brain; its activity reflects the creative process. I almost always begin in chaos, a mess of thoughts and images mingled, with little focus. Some stillness must settle in, a spiritual, emotional winter. I wander the house, the yard, the woods--picking up this and that, staring at the bits of life poking out through brittle leaves, breathing in the air on any particular day and catching the scent of the season. Sometimes rain falls on my face. Sometimes dawn floods the sky with color impossible to describe. I plant these things. Or maybe I don't plant them at all, but they get planted by the very nature of Being Itself. I have a hard time saying it is God, but the secret I harbor is that this is exactly what is going on. And then one day a word springs up from the brain's tangle and the heart's loam. It's a word I can't stop hearing. I can't stop listening for it to repeat itself, to expand into many words, to contain some nourishment, some beauty and a whole lot of wonder.

I had a singing teacher in California whose yard was a Fukuoka garden of flowers. It sang. Really, it did! Driving by you'd think it was an empty lot because of the overgrowth, but then you saw that all of it was flowers. Every color and variety of flower that will grow in California--and that is multitudinous! Her whole yard was a mess of color in the grass. She couldn't cut the grass, of course, without disturbing the flowers, and so the grass thrived green among the yellow and rose and purple and blue and white and red. Oh MY! I'd catch my breath walking on her drive under the tree that grew white roses. How could such a tree exist? Real roses such as one might find at a florist's shop, but on a tree whose branches spread as wide as an ancient apple tree. I'd hear the singing from the house, her student who preceded me each week. How could I not believe that flower and song flourished together? Oh how I wanted a lawn like hers.

What all of this means, I'm not sure I know. This I do know: Something beautiful is growing again that will nourish the body and the soul. Buds have appeared on the pear tree.

And in the back yard the Shooting Star wildflowers have started to appear.

Come then, my beloved,
my lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.

Flowers are appearing on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come.

Song of Songs

Sunday, March 27, 2011


The road started to get a little iffy just south of Dunsmuir on the way towards Mt. Shasta. We had the plastic bag of chains, never yet opened, from the Les Schwab dealer who (I remember this distinctly) said they were a no-brainer to put on. But the Ford 500 is an all-wheel drive, so we were still OK. Probably we'd make it all the way to the mountain and the other side would be clear. It's the way fiction writers think.

OK, so the flakes ARE as big as silver dollars. For a born and bred woman from Minnesota and man from Ohio, this should not be a problem. We should have kept going. Just look, we are nearly at the head of the line. But then, after this picture, the snow got worse. The traffic really did narrow to one lane. Was it ten thousand semi-trucks that lined the Interstate? All of them parked, all of the drivers out in the snow fixing chains to their tires? Where were those guys who come out on days like this and collect fifteen dollars a tire for putting chains on the cars of septuagenarians? (not to mention, again, arty types who've spent their lives in their imaginations.)

The blinking yellow sign announced CHAINS REQUIRED FROM THIS POINT. We ought NOT to have stopped! There are those moments in life when such directions need to be ignored. We stopped. Out came the Les Schwab chains. Good man! He put a laminated sheet of directions inside next to the chains. John laid it on top of the car and began to read--good academics that we are! Unhook the chains. But where's the hook? It wasn't an actual hook. This can fool a person. Why didn't Les think of that? Pass the yellow of the yellow and blue plastic covered ring behind the wheel and hook it. Now the laminated directions are full of the dollar sized flakes. John brushes it off. A giant flake lands on my glasses. I can't see. This snow is wet--not nice freezing dry Minnesota snow. My gloves are wet all the way through. My jeans are sopping. My jacket is already wet clear through. It's a Land's End Squall Jacket! Wouldn't you think one of those would keep out the water? I'm pulling at the chain. It's supposed to fit around the tire, isn't it? There's no chain on the bottom of the wheel, but then you aren't supposed to have to move the car to complete the process. Pass the black hook through both of the red rings and hook to the chain. But the black hook doesn't reach through both red rings. The chain slips. John's on the driver's side having similar problems with the other wheel. A semi throws up slush and stones under his jacket. He's wearing sweat pants. They are now ready to be wrung out.

I announce that this is insane and that we should unhook the chains and take our chances. If the CHP is out in the storm and stops us, let them put the chains on. We tried. I pull the chains off my wheel. John's are stuck. He backs up the car a tad. I pull at the chains. Oh NO! They've wrapped around the axle or something back there. I tug. I'm splashed by another semi. They come loose. I throw them into the trunk.

Just as I'm getting into the car so we can pull out and get into the line of other cars and trucks, two semi's pin us in--one beside us, the other angled across the front of us. I visualize spending the night there. I wring the water out of my gloves onto the floor of the car. I squish the extra water from the denim covering the tops of my legs and my knees. Oh well. There's trail mix in the back seat and a blanket in the trunk. John now comments, "My unders are full of slush." He's good at assonance.

Then we sit for two hours before we start moving again. About four miles ahead we see the cause of the gridlock. The Department of Transportation had reduced the roadway from three lanes to one, just to accommodate three men in lime green vests jawing idly beside their sign offering to remove chains.

The next day I told capable Ken the story of the chains. He laughed: "You're supposed to practice in your driveway before you leave."

By the time we reached Black Butte the road was clear.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


One day, years ago, I confessed to a friend that California freeway driving made my hands sweat. Cars weaving in and out. Speeds that boggled the mind. And since this was before you could buy a Garmin GPS, I experienced the almost constant fear that I wouldn’t be able to find my way home. “But you ARE home,” she said. Maybe I looked askance because she continued with “When you’re on the freeway and the traffic slows you down, focus on your heart and say to yourself—I Am my Home.

Probably people exist for whom the notions of being lost or being a stranger have never been problematic, and who feel at home wherever they happen to be. There are others of us who needed to learn this coveted form of comfort. A different friend with something of a wandering spirit was off on her own to Portugal one summer, but flying across the ocean she consulted a book of oracles—the I Ching, I think, and concluded from the readings that she would meet a guru in Paris. So she skipped her connection from Paris to Portugal and stood in the middle of the airport terminal bemused over “what might happen next.” It took a few days of waiting, but a guru did finally come along, and she staying six weeks in his ashram. Now there’s a woman with no anxiety over where her home might be. She carries it with her.

I’m happy to report that I’m much better than I was in the past. My hands no longer sweat, and I’m not concerned about getting lost. Even being a stranger has turned into a satisfying experience. But three days in the Paris Airport with no clarity on what would happen next…I don’t think so.

These thoughts visit my mind now because John and I have been traveling. We visited our sons in California (one in the south, one by San Francisco). Each of them took us to the top of the world. In the south with John's son, Bjorn, we hiked almost to the top of Tehachapi mountain in the snow.

We went two/thirds of the way before the snowfall became too heavy to continue. We might have made it up the increasingly steep terrain, but probably not down again without becoming tumbling snowballs.

In the East Bay we climbed with Jeff to the summit of Brione's wildlife preserve. I climbed there often when I lived in Martinez, but never all the way to the summit. This time I stood on the very top and took a video of the horizon all around the 360 degrees. In contrast to the snow, we saw green wherever we looked.

And a blue heron, really one of our spirit birds, welcomed us both on the way to and from the summit.
Home all along the way. Home in the snow that crunched under my shoes and brought back memories of childhood Minnesota winters. Home in the scent of the pine. Home in the offer of John's hand to pull me up a steep incline. Home in the smiles of strangers. Home in the wind that chilled my face. Home in the good ache my chest gave off as my heartbeat increased and my feet continued to climb. Home in stopping for a few minutes, eating a piece of dark chocolate. Home in the sunlight and clouds above the Bay. Home looking down, following the trajectory to where I once lived. Home in the cry of the hawk. Home with the old eucalyptus tree that still grows by the side of Brione's road. Home where the miner's lettuce grows on the hills. Home in a vision so wide. Home in the hugs and smiles and affection of our two sons. Home in my heart. A forever home where nothing is lost and nothing is strange.
Finally, at Jeff's and Karen's home, a double rainbow!