Monthly Archives: October 2019


The angel money has started appearing in my tiny house.  Random coins here and there — a penny on the floor of the writing loft, where it shouldn’t be and wasn’t yesterday; a coin on the counter.  This happened to me from time to time in Kansas City, most intensely after the death of my favorite curmudgeon.  Quarters would shimmer from the edge of the shelf in front of his picture.  Once I found a smattering of Russian money across the threshold.  That could have been my ex-husband making a foray for forgotten belongings, but he swore it wasn’t.

I saw three hawks on the way home from work today.  They hover on the power poles, hunched slightly, watching steadily.  The hum of the engine unnerves them.  They lift their wings and soar across the field, landing on a wire just ahead of me.  They turn and stare at my car as it passes.  A shudder runs through me every time.

The smoke from the distant fires hung low in the sky, obscuring the sunset as I drove the levee road.  I turned into the park in the gathering dusk, thinking about the mail that I haven’t claimed for a week in my post office box in town.  I don’t get any good news there; just Bar brochures, tax letters, and the occasional forwarded parcel of junk mail from the lawyer in whose suite I squatted last year on my trips to Kansas City.  I reckon it will still be there next week.

I waved to one of my neighbors as I turned the corner, straining to ignore the grim political news on the radio and the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I can’t seem to shake.  I’m going to the coast tomorrow.  I originally had a reason to head west again so soon, but that got re-arranged.  I’ve decided to go anyway.  I need another sojourn near the sea.  I have a long expanse of empty days ahead of me.  They will be easier to bear with the memory of my beloved Pacific more keenly in mind.

It’s the thirty-first day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Sea Longing, by Sara Teasdale

A thousand miles beyond this sun-steeped wall
Somewhere the waves creep cool along the sand,
The ebbing tide forsakes the listless land
With the old murmur, long and musical;
The windy waves mount up and curve and fall,
And round the rocks the foam blows up like snow,–
Tho’ I am inland far, I hear and know,
For I was born the sea’s eternal thrall.
I would that I were there and over me
The cold insistence of the tide would roll,
Quenching this burning thing men call the soul,–
Then with the ebbing I should drift and be
Less than the smallest shell along the shoal,
Less than the sea-gulls calling to the sea.




Still life with rocks

Rocks fascinate me.  I dragged a brass tin of them around to each of my college apartments.  I stowed them in my suitcase in 1976 when I fled to Boston.  I lugged them with me when I slunk back to St. Louis.   As I packed for law school three years later, I considered whether to bring a twine-tied box of old letters or those rocks.  I burned the letters and never looked back.

I can’t say when those rocks parted from me.  Over the next three decades, my priorities shifted.  But I gathered another lot of them somehow.  Crystals, coral, small nuggets of ironstone.  For a decade, they shifted and glittered in a pottery bowl on the dining room table in Kansas City.  Now they live in my son’s Chicago kitchen.

The autumn wanes.  Cold air hovers near the door of a morning.  Tonight I watched a little clutch of Sandhill cranes cut across the glow of the setting sun.  I let myself into the house with an armful of stuff from the car — a package from my old friend Katrina; an extra sweater; a bag of groceries.  The pile fell onto the table as I lowered myself into the chair.  Quiet gathered around me.  Something close to sorrow lingered in the spaces between my bruised ribs.

My co-workers brought me rocks back from their respective vacations.  Now they sit in an enamel bowl which came from my mother, beside an overgrown basil plant, and a back-up lantern.  Meager noises interrupt the silence:  the high whine of tinnitus that never dies and the distant grind of a truck’s engine on the levee road.  I sit.  An owl hoots.  I turn my eyes to stare into the darkness beyond my window.

It’s the thirtieth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

(To Eleonora Duse)

We are anhungered after solitude,
Deep stillness pure of any speech or sound,
Soft quiet hovering over pools profound,
The silences that on the desert brood,
Above a windless hush of empty seas,
The broad unfurling banners of the dawn,
A faery forest where there sleeps a Faun;
Our souls are fain of solitudes like these.
O woman who divined our weariness,
And set the crown of silence on your art,
>From what undreamed-of depth within your heart
Have you sent forth the hush that makes us free
To hear an instant, high above earth’s stress,
The silent music of infinity?

Sara Teasdale

Once again into the calm

Every time I come to Pigeon Point I make a new friend.  This weekend’s jewel is a woman named Joyce who has come here to write.  She spoke of her wife, Jane, for whom she now provides care.   She shared photographs of Jane, standing next to Judy Collins; sitting with a cat in her lap in their San Francisco living room; leaning into the light as she makes art.  I studied the curve of Jane’s mouth, and the lingering, piercing gleam of personality which the dementia has not yet claimed.  I could not help remembering my mother-in-law Joanna in that same state and later, just before her final days.

 Yesterday Joyce and I walked down to the bench where I had put the heart for Xander on my last visit.  The wind had claimed the little sticker. Joyce touched the empty spot on the bench.  We fell silent for a moment, then sat and let the voice of the mother sea join with our own.  I told her about my last meal with Joanna in the dining room of the facility where she spent those months of her decline.  I had asked Joanna if she wanted food.  She lowered her eyes to the spoon which I held out to her.  For just a brief moment, she seemed to consider what I offered.  Then she shifted in her chair and lifted her gaze to the garden beyond the glass windows.  She did not even bother to shake her head.

I asked her, Can I do anything for you?  She turned and looked at me.  She replied, Not any more.

Joyce and I walked along the cliff amid the ice plants.  We photographed the tide pools.  We spoke with other visitors, equally stunned by the magnificence of the place.  A certain understanding of our collective fortune dissolves any barriers that might otherwise inhibit the easy exchange of confidence between strangers.  People tell their stories, and the stories of their broken children; loves lost and found, roads not taken and paths upon which their feet have stumbled to the glorious ending.

In the kitchen of the hostel, a small group gathered to share the food which Joyce prepared.  We all contributed something — pasta, onions, zucchini, good San Francisco sourdough and rich olive oil scented with basil.  At precisely 8:00 p.m., just as we had been forewarned, the power went off as the power company strained to battle the fires north of us.  The gentle dark outside the circle of the lantern’s glow caressed us.  Nothing about the failing of the grid caused anything near the dismay which I had feared.  

One by one, we told some bit of our stories.  A young man named Steven talked about his impending move from Orange County, about looking for an apartment in the Bay area, about finding a job.  I told  him that I admired his fortitude.  He raised an eyebrow, shrugged a little, and said, We’ll see.  Joyce mentioned Petaluma, and I said that I had found it once by accident, getting lost looking for Windsor.  Steven said, I want to hang out with you sometime, getting lost, finding cities.  

The hostel manager invited us out to look at Jupiter and Saturn’s moons through an enormous telescope.  One by one, we squinted into the little eyepiece.  When I had my turn, I gasped at the luminous orbs.  How small we seem, in the scheme of life.  I walked away and went back into Dolphin house, and by and by, drifted to sleep under a thick wool blanket, soothed by the lullaby of the sea.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

At Peace

I’ve come again to sit within the voice of the mother sea.  Her song, her sight, her smell flood my senses.  In this comfortable place, with its communal kitchen and its dormitory bunk beds, my mind calms.

The sprawl of the city fell away as I headed south on the Great Highway.  Surfers raised their hands in greeting.  Bicycles kept pace for a stretch and then fell behind as I mounted the roadway at San Francisco’s southern edge.  I eased through Pacifica, then Montara.  Traffic slowed in Half Moon Bay but then the road bent to my demand.  I made Pigeon Point in time to cook and eat before the sun set.

Now I sit on one side of a small table.  Across from me a woman also writes.  She’s here on respite from giving care to her ailing wife.  She tells me that this weekend fits in her small allotment of self-care.  I understand.

In a little while, I shall sleep on sheets that yet another stranger has smoothed across the mattress for me, without comment, without asking for gratitude, without even mentioning that she did so.  The curtain might flutter. The luscious smell of salt and sand should drift across me.  Occasionally a restless seabird will call to its mate. I will drift to sleep waiting for the answering cry.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Sunset: St. Louis
by Sara Teasdale

Hushed in the smoky haze of summer sunset,
When I came home again from far-off places,
How many times I saw my western city
Dream by her river.
Then for an hour the water wore a mantle
Of tawny gold and mauve and misted turquoise
Under the tall and darkened arches bearing
Gray, high-flung bridges.
Against the sunset, water-towers and steeples
Flickered with fire up the slope to westward,
And old warehouses poured their purple shadows
Across the levee.
High over them the black train swept with thunder,
Cleaving the city, leaving far beneath it
Wharf-boats moored beside the old side-wheelers
Resting in twilight.

Sara Teasdale (1884 – 1933) was a Missouri-born poet afflicted with poor health from birth. She loved one man but married another, divorced, lost her best friend to suicide, and eventually committed suicide herself. Ironically, a majority of her poems are about love and beauty, and she won the first Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1918. There are some similarities to be drawn between Sara and Emily Dickinson; both were reclusive, both wrote intensely personal poetry that frequently focused on nature, both knew unrequited love.

I’ll tell you how the sun rose

I awakened long before the alarm rang and slipped from the house as noiselessly as possible.  The neighbor’s dogs did not raise a ruckus.  I started my car and coasted around the quarter-mile road until the uphill climb required acceleration but even then, I bade my car assume the quietest possible stance.

Taking the road to the left, I rounded the curve in time to spy a ripple of crimson on the far horizon.  Leaning on the car window, I strained to frame the dock, the boat, the weeds on the roadside.  A swarm of gnats protested my intrusion but I persisted.  Then I drove another mile, until the river flanked me on the right and I could see a growing shimmer on the water.

When the sun had risen, bold, dependable, radiant, I got myself back into the car and continued on my way, into town.  I had a solid breakfast and lingered over coffee.  Whatever troubles plagued me lay forgotten, on the porch, outside my house, abandoned in the dazzle of the autumn daylight.

It’s the twentieth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“I’ll Tell You How The Sun Rose”

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, –
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile.
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Another Beautiful Day In Paradise

My day started with a deep rich mug of coffee and a long conversation with my neighbor Noah.  After he helped me carry my ridiculous collection of boots into Angel’s Haven, I spent a pleasant hour puttering among my possessions. I moved some blankets to make a space for the boots. I re-folded the blankets into a little crevice on the far side of the cedar chest.  A load of towels went into the washer unit.  

As the day progressed, and the sun arced above the park, I found myself drawn outside.  A hawk balanced at the top of the tree behind my neighbor’s home to the west.  I slipped inside to get my camera but he vanished in the interim.  I snapped a few frames anyway, just because the trees have never looked so noble nor the blue of the sky more breathtakingly majestic.

Then I went out walking.  I visited with Robin, the newest member of our community, who rewarded me with a heavenly slice of pumpkin souffle.  I stayed long enough for her pups to accept me.  Afterwards, I finished straightening my house, then drowsed in my tiny easy chair with a book at hand.

I like having Fridays off from my ‘day job’.  A gift, this day in between the work-week and the weekend.  It’s another beautiful day in paradise; how could I not be joyful?

It’s the eighteenth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

That Kind of Person

I’ve always been the kind of person whom you can take at face value.

If I were going to be duplicitous, I’d get a better line.  I’d present myself with more appeal.  I’d polish my smile, put a lilt in my voice, and learn a few more gaudy adjectives.  

That I speak my mind cannot be denied.  I’ll compliment you, call you out, lift you to the heavens, and drag myself down with the coldest assessment of my worth you’ve ever heard.  I don’t mince words.  That comes to disaster at times.  A woman once asked me how I liked her curls.  I meant to ask if she had gotten a permanent.  Instead, my true sentiments twisted my tongue and I blurted out, “Did you do that on purpose?”  

I’m the kind of woman who gathers the leftover flapjacks at the community dinner to freeze.  Popped in the toaster, spread with sunflower seed butter, adorned with cut peaches alongside strong, dark coffee, they make a wonderful breakfast.   But I can’t bend to retrieve coins which slip from my spastic hands.  So I invented the concept of Angel money. I leave the scattered pennies for the guardians who have protected me through every challenge.  

I’m not the kind to shrink from my mistakes.  I tend to overplay them.  I rewrite every dialogue until I hit upon the better way of phrasing something — less abrasive, more kind.  Then I watch for a chance to apologize and rephrase.  I’ll listen when others do the same.  I like do-overs.  I’m not sure it’s forgiveness, exactly.  I recognize, after six decades, that we’re all just stumbling through the weeds, looking for a path to paradise.

The other day someone confessed to being uncomfortable with my disability.  I used to get that line a lot.  I don’t know if people accept differences more these days or whether they no longer readily admit their disgust.   I thought we’d gotten more tolerant but maybe bigotry has just gone underground.

I accepted the person’s pronouncement.   Later, I mentioned the exchange at my community dinner.  One of my neighbors said, Would you want to be friends with somebody who rejects you like that?  A fair point.  But what I really want is to step out onto a level playing field, where the color of one’s skin, the size of one’s bank account, or the gait which propels one across the street play no part in anyone’s judgment of your worth.

I’m that kind of person.

It’s the seventeenth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Speak to Me of Joy and Sorrow

On Joy and Sorrow
The Prophet
by Khalil Gibran

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the reassure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Note:  At times, I strain to find words which will not betray my mission.  On such occasions, I turn to those more articulate and less bumbling than I. 

It is the eleventh day of the seventieth month of My [Endless] Year [Learning to Live] Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 Tyler Island, Saturday, 11 October 2019.


The tule fog returns to the Delta.  It drifts around the river bend and settles on the fallow fields.  Rising early, I spy little wisps of it in the treetops of the meadow behind my house.

Soon the Sandhill cranes, the snow geese, and the trumpet swans will descend on the flooded fields.  We will wake to their cries and huddle on the side of the road, taking picture after picture of the graceful arc of their morning flight.  In the evening, wide swathes of them will settle on our island; and the smaller birds will cling to the bare branches of the ancient trees.

In a few weeks, I will celebrate the second anniversary of the delivery of my house.  I walked around the little lot on which it sits today, thinking of the exhilaration in my heart as I waited that November morning.  In the weeks which followed, I had packing to do, and my house to sell, and cases to finish before I could follow along.  By the time I arrived here a month later, what passes for winter had taken hold of Northern California.

I feel the nip of winter now, but it has not yet made its presence truly known.  The hornets still swarm around the corrugated metal roof in the afternoon warmth. One of them bit me today, a sharp sting like electricity, sudden and brief but fierce.  My finger swelled.  I grabbed my phone and called a neighbor.  He came and did a little triage, assuring me that I didn’t need medical care.  Embarrassed, I thanked him, and waved as he continued on his way to work.  I went inside and collapsed into my chair, tears falling unchecked down my face.  

Today I burned the better part of four hours editing some of my old Musings.  I hope to make a book of them.  The need to leave something tangible presses heavy on my heart.  I haven’t much to show for six decades on Earth.  A few satisfied customers.  Some distant friends.  A handful of memories.  Walls laden with pictures, fading now, in broken frames.

Night has fallen.  I don’t know what to make of this sensation that time has gotten the best of me.  I’m suddenly overwhelmed with sorrow and something so very close to regret.  I started this journey to joy on 31 December 2013, three months after my mother-in-law laid down her uncomplaining head and died.  That same day, I took my very last prescription narcotic after forty-five years.  I forged clear-headed into 2014.  

The contours of that new year and each one since stood sharp and cold against the pages of the calendar as they drifted to the ground.  Today I clutched those crumpled pages, and the pages of the half-dozen happy years which preceded them.  I ought to burn the lot, but there are some lovely moments recorded there.  I smooth them out, one by one, and sit amidst the memories, in the silence of my little house.  I wonder, for the thousandth time, where it all went wrong and whether any glimmer of hope remains.

It’s the eleventh day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Taken 10 Feb 2019. I will be watching for their return.  They flock to the same fields year after year.

Life’s measure

A little pile of rings sits on the place mat.  I slip them from my fingers whenever I wash dishes.  The stones might loosen and wash down with the suds; I might damage the settings.

I sit and study them after I’ve cleared away the debris of my late lunch.  Here is the sapphire that belonged to my mother-in-law.  My favorite curmudgeon told his daughter to ‘pick a good piece of your mother’s jewelry for Corinne.’  All the finest stuff had already been sorted and shifted.  She divided a matching set between my then step-daughter and me — I got the ring, Cara got the earrings.  When I found out, I offered to return the ring so her set would be complete.  She declined.  I’ve worn it ever since.

Here is the Thai piece that my brother’s daughter gave me when I came to help her last year.  She drew her emaciated body from the bed to rummage through her jewelry box.  ‘I want you to have this, Auntie,’ she whispered.  ‘It’s one of my favorites.  Take it. . . think of me when you wear it.’  She died a year later.  I wear her gift nearly every day.  At times, my fingers swell and I can’t find one on which it is comfortable; but it usually fits, and I truly do think of Angie when I see it.

The sterling silver spoon ring, I got more than fifty years ago.  I sent in a fistful of Minute Maid Orange Juice pull-tabs and the cost of shipping.  My mother didn’t expect the prize to be so grand.  We marveled over the thought of a company sending genuine silver through the mail for the pittance that we must have spent.  We’d normally buy the generic brand, since money had to be carefully budgeted.  But I had seen the advertisement and begged.  This ring, too, adorns my hand most every day.  It reminds me of my mother and the smile that illuminated her tired face when I opened the package.

I lift the final ring from the table.  In truth, I don’t often wear this one.  I have about twenty rings, all sterling or karat gold.  I bought this amethyst to give someone, but the person went from my life before I could.  It doesn’t fit me, really; but it’s a fine ring from Vulcan’s Forge, my friend Russ’s jewelry store in Kansas City.  My ownership of it makes me a little sad, though.

I lift the lid of my jewelry box.  So many lovely pieces — earrings, rings, necklaces.   I study the lot, wondering if my son will ever want any of it.  I try not to think of my collection as cold comfort.  It’s just jewelry.  Stones and metal and bits of crystal.  None of it measures my worth.  I close the box and turn towards the stove, where the kettle furiously whistles and the Chinese tea waits.

It’s the tenth day of the seventieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.