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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Troubled Waters, Many Worlds

Seven-forty five. Mo licks my face; he's found a sunspot sliding in through the half opened doorway from the office. Late already, I think, with sunlight that clear. My purple, green and aqua blue caftan hangs on the mirror. Now over my head, falling, covering--easy way to dress. I fling the lavender shawl across my shoulders, gather my hair into a clip, and descend the stairs with Mo who is already dancing on his four tiny feet. Sandals. Leash. Mo's into percussion, his front paws playing a cadence on the sliding door. Morning air. Ah…
               He runs first to the right, looking for his West Highland Terrier friends, Buster and Shannon, at the house next door to the cottage. Not home? Sleeping? He stands with head cocked for a moment, then turns to take me for my morning walk. Sandals crunch on the gravel. Ducks call to each other, splashing in Beaver Pond. Mo catches the scent of all who've passed by since he last was out. Blackberries have ripened in the thicket along the field, and I pick a few for breakfast. A breeze ruffles the Pacific Cedar.
               A nightmare had awakened me during the night. A terrible thing of which I dare not speak in public, it was so violent. But the day to which I later awoke is like a different world. This leads me to think again of all the worlds each of us inhabits, and how they whisper to one another, sometimes in our dreams, sometimes simply as we reach out for a ripe blackberry in a thicket, hoping not to get snagged by a thorn. Did you realize THIS? the whisper says. Do you dare to look at everything you are? There's a quotation from Milarepa, a Tibetan ascetic, which John quoted to me this morning after he told me he already knew about the nightmare because I'd cried out in the night:

"See demons as demons: that is the danger.
Know that they are powerless: that is the way.
Understand them for what they are: that is deliverance.
Recognize them as your father and mother: that is their end.
Realize that they are creations of the mind: they become its glory.
When you know these truths, all is liberation."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Pilgrim Teacher

If you're on the road and stop at a rest area just about anywhere you might see a wandering woman. She won't be sitting by the water fountain holding a sign announcing that her car broke down, or that she needs money for gas or food. She doesn't have a car. If it isn't raining, or only sprinkling, she'll be sitting at one of the tables. On it she will have placed her backpack and an open book. She'll be waiting for you. Well, not specifically "you," but for the one who stops. Her name is Jean Davis.
               I saw her just outside Bellingham as I came out of the women's restroom and began to walk back to the car. John was sitting across from her engaged in conversation. This is not uncommon. He's a regular Studs Turkel. I walked up to the table and saw the open book, hard cover, older, the kind often found in antique stores and collected by people like my cousin Shirley because of the atmosphere such artifacts provide when stacked on a coffee table. I bent to read the open pages, curious about what this woman had been reading.
               "What are you doing?" She queried, turning from John to me.
               Her eyes a bright blue. Her face leathery from the sun. Her gray hair pulled back neatly in a knot. Her clothes layered, selected to last. She knew how to Thrift Store shop. Great walking shoes. Good sturdy jeans--no holes. Eddie Bauer jacket. She smiled--almost no teeth. I'd say she's probably my age, this or that side of seventy.
               "I was curious about the book you're reading," I told her.
               "Lots of people pretend I'm not here. Most who see me don't stop. Those who stop ignore the book and just want to know how I fell on bad luck. Once they realize that it's not bad luck but is my choice, that scares them. The police are scared, too. I don't fit the profile.
               She calls herself a traveling educator. Once a teacher in the school system, she developed a sense of injustice over what she was required to teach. History seems to have been her forte, and so much was left out. What had been included in the curriculum gave young students a twisted sort of truth. So she dropped out. She traveled the country to discover its real history. She walks the country. Once in a town she finds the library and reads the original documents of the region that survive. She's incensed when told that such documents have been destroyed in the interests of providing room for newer books.
               She is sometimes invited by people at rest areas to spend time at their homes, to teach their children, to enlighten their friends. "Read Dan Cushman," she suggests. "Read Elaine Dewar, George Grinnell, Jim Schultz, Dickleson Doubleford, Theadora Kreeber." She scribbled their names on a too small scrap of paper. (I've no idea who those writers are! but I saved the paper scrap and have copied their names here as well as possible considering the flourishes in her penmanship.)
               Jean Davis is on a pilgrimage to find the open mind and the listening ear. She's a woman of the roads. Somehow she manages to stay healthy and to increase her knowledge day by day. Somehow she is passing it on. She spends most nights on public land beside the road. She seems to prefer the country and small towns.
               When we left her, after an hour of good conversation, Jean Davis waved us goodbye, and sat down to continue reading her book.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Breaking Through

Today was a writing day. John worked the entire day on his new novel, and I began the day by uploading my often revised novel, GYPSY BONES, onto Kindle. "YAY!" I shouted into the next room. "It's DONE!" Had I learned nothing from my reflections, just yesterday, on planning? No sooner had I shouted "YAY" than I checked my email to find one from my dear friend and poet, Kath. Some weeks ago I'd sent my manuscript to her for review, and she had done just that. She sent an attachment of her marked-up copy and we spent way over an hour on the phone discussing her keen observations.

I remember the first time an editor made a suggestion about my writing. As I recall it was one of those key rules: to show not tell. "Don't say that Elise loved God, show us Elise loving." Well, "Elise loved God and it was shameful." was the first sentence of the book. I was quite attached to it. (Authors do get attached to little phrases they hear in the middle of the night--phrases that seem to hold the secret of the entire book. I've been known to grab a pen and jot them down in an idea-journal by the side of the bed. They look really scribbled and odd in the morning.) Anyway, I turned cold on that editor. I argued with her. I lost her. She said I had to learn a thing or two, and she was right. There have been lots of editors since that shameful exhibition of mine, but I still miss her and am sorry.

Public confession finished. Today I felt eager to hear what Kath had to say, and afterwards I could barely wait to unpublish GYPSY BONES. I might not even put it on Kindle. It might not even be titled GYPSY BONES. I'm excited. I'm almost ecstatic (which isn't good because my writing is overly dramatic anyway.)

I guess one needs to take that step that completes a plan. The breakthrough follows the act I've believed finishes the task. Is it ever finished? Or is the end of something an opening to something beyond what could have been envisioned by the former plan?

Yesterday evening John and took a long walk by the bay, hoping to see Mt. Baker floating in the sky. She had flanked herself with clouds. I took a photo anyway. The walk relaxed me. The work I'd done during the day had made the book ready for Kindle publication. I knew I'd do it in the morning. THIS morning. Then we saw the two eagles, just waiting. What a picture they would be. Now I look at it and smile. There is a part of life that moves and another part that is still. Creativity is like that. A circle of waiting, of beginning, of crafting,of finishing, of breaking through, of envisioning the new, of waiting, of beginning, of crafting, of finishing, of breaking through ...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Turning right from Casa Cuervo, Mo and I walk up the road to Beaver Pond. It's quiet. Not one neighbor is outside. The throaty cry of a crow--alright--but it is distant. A red dragonfly tipping the rushes. Cool breeze from the Bay. I'm thinking how plans change. Sometimes all the planning seems to have been a waste of time.
John and I planned to put the cottage on the market, sell furniture of mine and of his, rent a U-Haul, and combine all that remained of our "stuff" at Sunshine Hill. In fact, I'd already begun clearing space. I liked it. The house was less cluttered. But even with the space, we wondered how long it would take us to sort our things out once we unloaded the moving van. We'd keep them in the garage and do it bit by bit. "I'm excited about this," I grinned.
The first day here I put a bunch of John's things on Craig's list. Late that afternoon I remembered the feel of being here last winter, the stark little upstairs room where I could write, the simplicity of upkeep in a smaller house. We went for a walk along the bay where Mt. Baker seemed to float in the sky over the blue water. "We could keep it," I ventured. "We could use it as a writing retreat…say, two weeks every two or three months we could make the trip."
Back at the cottage I checked my email. Already we had four inquiries about our ads. We deleted our postings.
Beaver Pond shimmers in the late afternoon light. Calm waters reflect the trees and grasses along the bank. Mo and I sit on a stone bench while I attempt to connect my own reflections with the realities they represent. All of this has something to do with plans we create and the amazing transformations that come about when we act to make those plans real.