Category Archives: Uncategorized

Noise / Sound

I navigate my days to a soundtrack of rising, surging noise.  I close my eyes and sway to the swell, bumping people on sidewalks and drawing their glowering protest.   Unseen carpenters create the framework for country barns, the whine of their saws echoing as I do my own chores.  I vaguely understand the origins of my constant companion, the noise which my senses validate but which no one else hears.  Your brain doesn’t work right, said one doctor, as I stared at her in confusion.  Even so, but the noise? You mean, other people can’t hear this?  I didn’t know whether to envy or pity those other souls with their silent heads.

This morning, as I made my breakfast, I hummed to the chorus inside me.  Today I  heard a different noise, more rhythmic, concerted, almost organized. I stopped.  My eyes darted around my space.  I fixed my gaze on the door, adorned with hanging jackets, blue, with a doll quilt covering the window.  My hand rose.  I turned the lock.  As that door came towards me, the noise sharpened and swelled .  I stepped onto on the porch and saw what until then, I only heard as another phantom chorus of my jangled nerves.

The noise became sound, the sound of a thousand crows soaring above my tiny house, heralding the dawn, swooping across the sky to land on the swaying branches of the California oaks.  I reveled in their joy until the cold crept into my bones, and then, I stood a little longer, so I would not forget the morning song of the migrating crows.

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

Later today, I will link a one-minute video of the crows.  Watch for it. 

Have a lovely Saturday, my friends!

Winter

The wind has come to the Delta, fierce, unrelenting, and cold.  It coils itself around my house and shakes until the trailer rattles.  Inside, the power holds but I have my phone on its charger and a flashlight at hand.

I pick my way across the stretch of mud between my car and the pavers after work.  All the while, the air dances and the rain keeps time.  Winter unfolds.  I feel it in my bones.   Though snow does not venture here, news of blizzards in the nearby Sierras reminds me of the season’s baser self.

After dinner at a neighbor’s house last evening, I came back to Angel’s Haven in the pitch black of the island in sleep.  The house seemed warm, but by morning the butter had grown cold  in its dish on the counter.  I moved around with the clumsy grace of a land-dweller in the timid perch of my tiny house on wheels.  But I notice that each day my feet grow more sure, and my pace more steady.  I do not lament the arrival of this chilly month — none of it, not the long rise of the Delta winds nor the steady beat of the storm on my roof.

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

 

Emmylou Harris, “Before Believing”

QUIET

I turned onto Jackson Slough with trucks streaming past in the drizzle and the dark of winter in the Delta.  News blared from the radio.  My reluctant right eye flickered.   My shoulders slumped.  Though the day has held promise, my empty house waited with its trash can full of splinters and its rain-spattered windows.  The lights do not shine.  No welcoming warmth flows from the heater.  My key will scrape cold in the lock.

Suddenly a voice filled the car, the round sure tones of a woman who is not me but who nonetheless knows me.  As the story of this woman unfolded, tears began to stream down my face.  I rounded each corner, raising and lowering my high beams, working the wipers, gripping the steering wheel, and crying.   Her pain reached through the continuum of space, time, and place to touch my pain.  Where our two anguished souls met, a glorious leap towards redemption could not be forestalled.

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

NPR interview with MILCK

“I Can’t Keep Quiet” at the Women’s March on Washington 2017

“Quiet”
MILCK

put on your face
know your place
shut up and smile
don’t spread your legs
I could do that
But no one knows me no one ever will
if I don’t say something, if I just lie still
Would I be that monster, scare them all away
If I let them hear what I have to say
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet
For anyone
Anymore
Cuz no one knows me no one ever will
if I don’t say something, take that dry blue pill
they may see that monster, they may run away
But I have to do this, do it anyway
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

 

Crying over spilled milk

I can’t quite identify what got me weepy today.  It might have been someone’s accidental mention of a particularly bittersweet holiday, or the rising number of tasks for which I need to ask help.  Perhaps the sticking “f” key on my laptop annoyed me once too often.

But when I pulled out the loft ladder and crashed a stack of china onto the floor, I lost control.

I collapsed into a chair, sobbing, shaking.   I  didn’t particularly need as many dishes as I kept when I moved.  But the sight of jagged shards scattered across the kitchen unnerved me.  I liked those plates.  I bought them at thrift stores in that clumsy year between separation and my last divorce.  Jenny Rosen dragged me out of the house to search for them so I wouldn’t have to use my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s first wife’s dead mother’s dishes any more.  Now they’ve been heaped into a plastic bag and tossed in the trash, and I’m eating cold pasta salted with my falling tears.

I’m not complaining.  My heart cringes though, the sad twist of a soul with clumsy stitches over unhealed rends.  I search for consolation:  The ten-dollar cabinet; a successful community meeting; glorious blue skies for three days’ running while back home piles of snow stopped traffic and downed power lines.  I don’t feel much better.  I struggle to grasp the momentum, wrapping the spastic fingers of my lily-white hands around the fleeting wisp of joyfulness with which I started this day, twelve hours and a life-time ago.

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

John Denver, “Some Days Are Diamonds”

Breakfast on the Loop

I left Angel’s Haven at ten, bound for Lodi.  After a year of living tiny on the California Delta Loop, I’ve found my groove, smooth and strong.  Adjustments can always be made, but the clear sense of direction for which I’ve constantly yearned finally steers me.

As I slowed for Korth’s Pirates Lair, a gnawing emptiness cramped my belly. I pulled into a parking space near the dock and crossed to the restaurant.  The young men behind the counter nodded, the gentle and universal bob of every country server everywhere.  I walked through the dining room, thinking to take a two-top by the wall.

Good morning, isn’t it? came a voice from near the window.  I paused.  An old man lifted his coffee cup, another unmistakable gesture.  I took a step in his direction and agreed with his assessment.  A few exchanges later, the server at my elbow, I lowered myself into the empty chair beside the man and ordered coffee, eggs, and toast.

I offered my name, and he mentioned his.  He took my hand in a firm grasp, drawing my eyes to his face.  My eggs arrived as I listened to his tale of moving to the Loop twenty years ago; of his friendship with the owner of this cafe; of his two cats and his little trailer, and the comfort which he feels  in the slow easy embrace of Delta life.

About twenty minutes into breakfast, I realized that he had told me the same story several times.  I squinted, focusing, and saw the unmistakable struggle for words; the little wince; the sideways glance.  I understood:  Time had been kind to him in many ways, but not in the steady march towards a fog which the brightest, warmest Delta dawn cannot disperse.

But his charm  remained.  He spoke of his daughter, whom he struggled to name, who lives nearby with her boyfriend and works in a factory by the tunnel.  I know which tunnel — the Caldecott, over two bridges and almost to Oakland.  As he talked about his life before the Loop, I noticed a small notebook and a pen sitting near his plate.  Every once in a while, he scribbled a word — my name, the notation “tiny house”, the state from which I come, the identification of which evoked a vivid response:  “The Show-Me State!”  He wrote that too.   I could not have  been more humbled.

I rose to pay the bill, wondering if I should offer to get his breakfast.  He said, Perhaps I will see you again? I printed my phone number on a fresh page.  He removed the sheet, and handed me the notepad.

That’s yours, I said, as softly as possible.

Oh, yes, he replied, and carefully slipped the torn page back between its covers.  I shook his hand again, and he earnestly asked, Do you live on the Loop?

I told him, yes, I do, and identified the park in which I live, as though I hadn’t already done so several times.

Maybe I’ll see you here again, he suggested; and I smiled.  I’m sure you will, I promised.  He pointed to the cat outside the window, which we had already discussed, and which I knew had followed him down the road.

That’s my cat,  did you see him?

He’s a lovely cat, I assured him, just as sincerely as I had done the first two times.  He seemed pleased.  As I left the restaurant, I watched him through the window.  He bent his head low as he carefully recorded some essential detail in his little book.  I thought about waving, but in the end, turned, got into my car, and continued the journey into town.

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

 

Celebrate

My neighbor Jessie and I sat at my table chatting, watching out the window for the third member of our Lodi lunch adventure.  When I saw her head peeking from the other side of the parked cars, a cream scarf above the black frames of her glasses,  I darted out of the house.  Then she arrived:  my friend Suanne, who has kicked the ass of George, the tumor which grew inside of her a few short months ago.

The restaurant where we intended to go turned out to be closed.  We reconvened at a pizza place with nearly identical orders.  The constant conversation flowed around the table.  Common interests emerged:  the environment, healthy lifestyles, responsible parenting, animals.  An hour later, we made our way to a couple  of shelters.  I’m thinking of getting a small dog.  At the second place, a gaggle of little bodies sniffed our feet.  All the while, Suanne beamed.  I can’t say why she looked so cheerful, but I imagine it had something to do with still being alive.

Back at Angel’s Haven, we embraced and said goodbye.  She strolled down our gravel road to the parking  lot.  I watched her sturdy form, marveling at her resilience.  Once inside my house, I remembered the small package which she had handed me on arriving. When I saw what it contained, I did not feel the least bit surprised.  I studied her gift for a long time, until the sunlight faded outside my window and evening settled on the room around me.

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

 

 

Crow

In late May of 2008, I found myself living alone for the first time since 1991.  My then-husband had decamped.  My son accepted a position in a summer exchange program.  I faced an unexpected question:  Could I survive with only myself for company?

I began posting a weekly essay to the Small Firm Internet Group of the Missouri Bar, (SFIG), in its infancy as a rollicking e-mail listserve of solo and small firm attorneys throughout Missouri.  My first few posts consisted of poems from a little book of verses written by soldiers in World War I.  The favorable reception invigorated the writer whom I had suppressed within the depths of my fractured soul.  The Missouri Mugwump emerged from a thirty-eight year cocoon and stretched her wings.

Every so often, my own words do not fit the mood or occasion in which I wish to make an offering.  Such a time arises tonight.  After an evening with members of the community in which I live, I find myself unable to articulate anything more than timid gratitude.  So, let me offer words of a writer greater than I ever considered it possible for me to become.  Take what meaning you might; or simply luxuriate in the perfection of these tender syllables.

Dust of Snow
BY Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

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

Crow in a southern-facing tree on the San Joaquin; Andrus Island, the California Delta Loop.

Among the Reeds

Driving along Jackson Slough this morning, I watched the long line of geese who leave the security of the flooded field for the skies.  They will spend their day touring the loop, showing their fine form to the humans gawking from below the tender grey of the winter sky.  They seem oblivious to our stares, wafting on the air, gliding along the fog which rolls beneath them.  Their mates linger among the reeds, content to scrounge for food below the surface of the water.

Time and time again life teaches me through the patience of these wondrous creatures.  They take their nourishment from the offerings around them.  They lean into the cold clear flow of the river.  Then they soar high, on the softness of the rain.  They will land near sunset, back to the spot that I see as I drive to and from work each day.  They know their place; they do not lose their path.

The lesson of my own day ripples across my shoulders, whispering, you cannot trust the winning smile and the glittering eye.  The one who claims to meet the needs of those in pain usually preys on the most vulnerable.  I place my confidence in anyone who pretends to sympathize.  When I discover their mediocrity or, worse, their treachery, another knife sticks in my gut.  Over and over, I stagger away with a sunken heart.

Tonight I drove home as the sun set and paused to watch  egrets along the shore.  I yearned for their steadfast confidence.  They know that the San Joaquin will not betray them.

Then my neighbor sent an invitation to dinner.  We shared a glass of wine over the flickering light of a remembrance candle.  We drank to her brother who has just passed.  We talked of healing light and positive energy.  We acknowledged the shared communal spirit which we have found here.  I released the pain of disappointment in yet another person whom I trusted to help me, and who bristled when I questioned actions which seemed inconsistent with my trust.

Walking home, I reminded myself that the universe rewards kindness.  I remembered the advantages of staying true to my values.  I closed my eyes and luxuriated in the sweetness of the night.  I gave my worries to the wind.

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

 

The View From Here

A half dozen years ago, I reminded myself during a bitter moment  that I had life infinitely better than 90% of the world.  I didn’t realize that I had spoken out loud until my companion snapped, “It doesn’t work that way. You’re supposed to have a good life; it’s not about comparisons.”

I shook my head.  “All I meant was — “.  Then  I stopped.  All I meant was, I don’t want to complain when so many people go to bed hungry, I thought.  But I saw no use in explaining.  You get it or you don’t.  You appreciate your opportunities or you lament whatever degree of short-changing you perceive the universe as forcing you to endure.

The wind shakes my tiny house.  Rain hammers against the windows.  But the view from here seems cozy, with the warm expanse of wood and the flicker of the fan’s shadow.  The storm settled over the valley late last night.  On the way home from the grocery store today, I watched a half dozen cranes sweep across a field flooded for their use.   From the side of the road, I tried to photograph an egret’s flight.  The wind drove rain into my face.  I lifted my eyes to follow the bird’s easy rise until I could no longer discern its shape against the clouds.

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

 

Home

My son Patrick and my sister Joyce understand me to the very fiber of my DNA.  Their understanding shines in the gifts which each chose for me this holiday season.  Patrick ordered a lens kit for my cell phone’s camera to help with my role as social media hant for the park where I live.  But he also gave me two books, a hard copy of Chris White’s The Life List of Adrian Mandrick, which I had previously read in digital orm; and The California Deltaa slim volume which I had coveted.  For her part, Joyce sent a vintage tin box; a little pillow like the one which our niece who just passed kept on her bed; and ribbon candy.

As I rummage through my day, doing laundry and writing post-holiday notes, the pleasant stamp of being cherished floats around me.  Wind snaps through the park, with a fierce roar and a somber chill.  I huddle in a sweater over which I zip a jacket, warm socks, hot tea.  Winter falls hard upon us now, with her voice in the trees and her kiss on the river.  Across the meadow, I see the lovely home of one of the tiny-housers, with its quaint white siding and crisp black trim.  Heavy covers swathe the furniture on the grand  drop-down iron porch.  The dog-walkers hurry by, no longer lingering in the meadow.

The last time I went back to Kansas City, I tried to describe life here to a friend.  Leaving aside my job, I talked about the park, my neighbors, the freedom of downsizing, the notion of home.  Her silence weighed on my words.  I knew what she envisioned when she thought of Northern California:  the beaches of Monterey; the mountains above Santa Rosa; the  bluffs overlooking the sea’s expanse; the exhilarating drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, I shook my head.  Those places have their own stunning beauty, but they have little in common with the Sacramento Valley and the Delta where I live.  It might be Brigadoon. The  notion of constancy comforts me: the ebb and flow of the seasons; the  lushness of spring; the unspoken promise of winter; the rise of the owl at dusk; the cheeky  crows; the patient weave of the wind through the barren willows.

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