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

Friday, February 18, 2011


Skies are blue at Casa Cuervo. A blue heron followed by his mate lift off the beaver pond across from the cottage and glide towards the bay where the tide is out. We are walking—John, Mo and me—back from an early afternoon trek to the water. Mt. Baker rises shining white in the sunlight, flanked by its craggy sisters on one side and the Canadian Cascades on the other. Oh my, I wish I had my camera! I want to show you this. A neighbor’s puppy is off the leash at the bayside park inviting Mo to a game of “you chase me; I’ll chase you,” so we let the teeny guy off his leash to run in switch-back circles with Chipper. It would be nice, John comments, to come down here in the summer with our little computers to sit on the park benches and write. It would be – more than nice.

I’m stunned by life, its suddenness, its switchbacks as it plays with us. Will I ever get over how different all this is from what I expected? It’s making me spin, making me laugh, making me dizzy, making me fall and rise and spin again. Am I seventy or seventeen? Maybe only the body ages while the soul travels just so far before the switchback, and we get older and younger at the same time. Youth is at the core of us. Innocence is there. “Let the children come to Me; of such is the Kingdom of God.” Can I believe that I am loved beyond tears, beyond loss, beyond weakness, beyond knowing, beyond every resistance? Can I allow myself to live that love from this moment on?

And does it even matter if I can or if I can’t? The love is. Each of us, each mote of dust, each collection of atoms, each galaxy of each and every universe is immersed in the endless space of tender and immeasurable Love.

Mo and Chipper run in figure eights, the icon for eternity--switchbacks, weaving, winding in and out, here and there, barking, barely missing one another as they cross. We people, watching, find delight in them. “There is nothing I like better than to watch dogs play,” says Chipper’s owner, a white haired woman in a hand-knit claret cap.

Maybe we can’t help it—delighting in the way love crosses and comes back again in dizzying switchbacks that surprise us no matter how often they occur.

Daring this dizzy existence is--maybe this is true--the only way to fully be alive.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Winds off the strait toss the tresses of weeping willow beside the drive while the crows gather again in the yard for their morning conversation here at Casa Cuervo. Wind arrives in waves not unlike the ocean, but with wind we live inside the waves, we breathe them. Waves of wind lift my hair tangling it like seaweed.

I want to write “I’m hoary with its chill,” feeling myself a flake of white, my hair tipped with frost. But I’m afraid the word is ruined by urban slang, and Wikipedia says it surely is. But the image will not leave my mind. A wintry woman, no longer willowy, traces a bony finger across the window glass.

If I hadn’t lost my camera I would capture that weeping willow’s dance. You’ll need to imagine it. Even in the oldest willow something new is dancing, bending, flowing in wind’s waves. Impromptu living. Beginner’s mind. This is how it is at Seventy. What do we know anymore? The wind makes it clear that we have not lived our lives to reach a fullness of knowing, but rather to reach the end of knowing’s possibilities. Then there is nothing but beginning. All life is impromptu.

Goals, when they exist, become short term and easy to revise. When at 92 Aunt Gertie ordered three mops so they would last at least ten years, we all smiled behind our hands. She almost got to her one-hundredth birthday, though, so her laughter probably rang all the way into eternity. What I’m trying to say, not all that well, is that life is very short. It moves along like wind. It’s beautiful and frightening and eerie and basically a mystery. The choices I’ve made to form it into something I could know, something contained enough to fit my brain, expanded into realities I could never have predicted. Every moment is the beginning of an unknown.

Here I am at the Cottage, Casa Cuervo, on the northwestern edge of the continent, with a man whom last May I did not know. Not for a moment did I plan this beginning at seventy. My goal was to live alone, continue writing, find ever closer connections with God, enjoy my friends when they felt happy and weep with them when they felt sorrow. A good goal. So why is it changing? Was it not challenging enough? Was it too challenging so that I would have found myself unable to live it alone? (Already I have signs I might have failed). Was “alone” simply a preparation for this next moment? Is this new moment that holds within itself this new person the beginning of a new and deeper unknowing?

The winds of age are blowing. The jeweler who was making our rings commented that they would last forever, and John laughed, saying that for us forever isn’t all that far away. We go for a walk down to the water. It’s already afternoon and even with the bursts of sunlight through clouds we feel the chill. Four Canada geese fly over. Last night we saw a Bald Eagle surveying the water from the top of a huge rock framed by a rainbow. My hair escapes both my cap and my jacket hood and whips against my eyes. I think of youth when I took it for granted that all my plans would work out, not knowing that we walk blind, at each moment beginning our journey into whatever future.

I turn and look at John. I take his hand.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Outside Casa Cuervo the crows have gathered. Their sleek black feathers and raucous voices remind me of those images of Inquisition judges in thirteenth century paintings. I suspect, though, that this rather odious reputation didn’t enter John’s head when he named the cottage. He tends to have more the mind and heart of a St. Francis when it comes to ‘all creatures great and small.’ So I take another look. The crows waddle along the roadside cleaning things up. One of them sits on the bird bath under the cedars and gets himself a drink of rainwater from the storm we had yesterday and last night. About six gather and croak at each other like the fellows down at the coffee shop in town. Maybe they are nature’s editors.

I sit upstairs in the writing room on the left. John’s on the right in the room with all his research books lined up on shelves. The Writer’s Guide to Medieval Life, and historical references to St. Francis, to towns and cities in the Middle Ages, to ancient maps of Italy which I imagine have felt his fingers tracing the old roads from Assisi to Perugia. I pause for a moment to call out, “How do you spell Perugia,” and he asks if I’m writing about a pilgrimage we plan to make in October. Not right now, I call back, and then draft the sentence you just read.

A few blocks from the cottage is Birch Bay off the Strait of Georgia on the Washington coast. It’s a good walk down to the water. John is helps me that way—intent on exercise—and I’d go today except for the rain and my lingering winter cold. It must be gorgeous in the summer with the Canadian Cascades and Mt. Baker cutting jags into the sky.

The cottage itself is probably a good place for a writing retreat. It’s small, very little work to keep up. For a while we’d thought of selling it, but now that we are here again it feels complementary with Sunshine Hill—a place to go where life is even simpler. A place where the call of the crow inspires us to strip away all that is not essential, to get to the bones of reality, the essence of truth.