Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: california

Losing Touch With Our Symbols

I have a new skill. I can hear the difference between a male and female Great Horned Owl in the dark, and not have to hear them right next to each other. Listening to a female call to her mate in the dark this morning, I wondered about the symbols of Fall. Why do we put owls in our Halloween decorations along with ravens and crows, harvest symbols like corn stalks and pumpkins, and cool nights and big orange moons low on the horizon?

I grew up in the city, only going into rural areas on special occasions; camping weekends with my family or hiking with friends. We slept with our windows closed-up tight, the doors locked, and the air conditioning on. I woke up to an alarm clock inside a curtained room, rushed to get breakfast and my things to get to school and then work on time. I spent very few quiet days and nights.

Moving to the rural high desert of Southern California changed my life immediately in many ways, the first of which was an immediate slowing and quieting down. My city nerves, always twanging, never resting, continued to fire off even in the quiet desert atmosphere. Like…when you leave a concert or a bar after a long evening of dancing and drinking, you lay in bed, ears still ringing from the clamor of music and laughing. Or like when you finally get the cast taken off a broken limb and your skin, grown used to the constant touch and rubbing of the material, crawls for days with the cool air against it. Those neurons in my head were so used to hearing noise, seeing light, and reacting to stimulation, it took a long time for them to relax and quiet into my new surroundings.

A couple years into living here, I began to notice the changes in seasons. The feel of the air from one season to the next, the plants that changed, the animals that came and went. People say that Southern California has no seasons, but they’re wrong. They may not be garish and obvious, but they’re here. You simply have to be quiet and look closely.

In a house with large windows filling up almost every wall, you notice the light day and night. The sun coming up a little more and more to the north or south, and then back again. The moon changing each and every evening, sometimes you think a neighbor has a new unshaded porch light, so bright that you have to close your curtains to sleep. The stars change with the seasons! I didn’t know that until I lived here.

But the owls are what I love most. Summer gets hot here, as you probably know. By August, the swamp cooler runs all night and into the morning. The big fan sits on the roof pulling air from outside, through wet pads and into the house to cool us as we sleep comfortably. It feels marvelous but it is loud and monotonous. I know Fall is coming because the swamp cooler has been able to cool the house enough to shut off in the night, leaving the house quiet and still when I get up in the morning.

Fall has officially arrived when I can turn the swamp cooler off when I go to bed and open all the windows to let the cool, dry night air flow through the house as we go to sleep. Lying in bed, it’s quiet, so quiet that I can hear animals walking by outside my window, coyotes on the hunt. It’s an amazing feeling, but not half as amazing as what I hear in the morning.

I usually get up around 4am. Walking through my office, I pick up my journal, my book, my glasses (stupid aging eyes), and my phone. I stop by the kitchen for a glass of water and a cup of coffee and then on to my livingroom couch to settle in and read until the sun starts to lighten the sky.

Surrounded by my open windows, without the fans running, I can hear all the little things in the dark, including the owls. They seem to be most active at this time of day. Maybe they are just like us, it’s the end of their day, the kids are fed, Dad is home from work, Mom wants to talk about what went on and how she’s dealing with the neighborhood. The sun will be up soon, so they’re gathering the family together and settling down?

All I know is the noise that occasionally goes well into daylight hours and finally settles down as the sun begins to peek over the horizon. I hear the higher pitched female calls first and wonder what she’s saying. Then I hear the male return her call with his low WHO WHO from across the yard. As Fall moves on, I’ll hear strange screeching noises and more who-ing…it’s mating season and they’re calling each other to bed.

I could talk about owls all day, but I’ll leave you with this…what I originally was thinking when I started writing to you about owls. Why are owls a symbol of Fall? Because when we didn’t live in cities, when we were out on our farms and ranches, making our way in the world, when we sat in the dark making up stories about what was happening around us instead of watching them on Netflix, we heard the owls being sexy out there as Fall approached and associated them with the cooler nights and the shortened days. The spooky mating calls of a large night predator became a symbol of the coming winter and we incorporated them into our own stories and lives.

My culture perpetuated the symbol, but I had lost the meaning. Moving to the desert brought that richness back into my life. Nature, human and otherwise, remains constant. We may cover some parts up and lose track of the meanings for a while, but it’s still running underneath the surface, waiting to come up and reveal itself from time to time. We just need to keep our eyes open and look for it.

A Grocery Clerk Can Change Your Outlook

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Photo by Arren Mills on Unsplash

“You have an interesting accent. Where are you from?” A conversation begins, enthusiastic exchanges, small family history tidbits, a flash of red hair and she’s gone.

Jogging up to an elderly man in a mobility cart, “Can I help you out with that, sir?” He looks at her abruptly, as if he needs the help, but softens, and smiles, “Sure, honey.” “You drive out and I’ll drive her back!” she chirps as she follows him out to the parking lot.

By the time it’s my turn at the register, she has returned. Grabbing groceries and putting them into reusable bags, she comments “Oh, I love these! So good!” I smile and laugh.

Does this woman have anything negative to say, ever? With all that energy, all those smiles, you’d think she were nineteen years old, the world before her, but she’s not. She looks to be about thirty, young but not a baby anymore, old enough to be worn down a bit like many of my neighbors. I wonder if she goes home from her shift at the grocery store happy and humming along, or does she collapse onto her couch in exhaustion. Is this her natural state, or is she putting on a show? All I know is that it is impossible to be sad or grumpy around her. I’ve seen a few people try and fail.

As she finishes up and runs to the next check stand to bag more groceries, I make a comment completely outside my own comfort zone. I feel compelled by her enthusiasm to speak up. “I just can’t help but smile and leave here in a better mood than the one I came in with when she’s here.”

The checker agrees, “Who? Joi? She’s amazing. We can’t help but be happy around her either. Feels like we’ll let her down if we do. You should tell our manager that! Oh, wait. He’s right here.” We stand and chat for a few seconds. It seems everyone that meets her, loves her. It must be nice.

As I’m heading out the door, she comes walking back in the store. I hear, “Hot out there?” It’s over 100 degrees in the desert parking lot. “It is!” she smiles, “but the wind is blowing nicely so it isn’t bad at all!”

I smile thinking about her as I start putting my groceries in the truck. And there she is again, chatting with an older woman, pushing her cart to her car.

Groceries loaded carefully in the back seat so that they don’t go sliding off the minute I turn a corner, I hope, cart returned to the corral, I climb in the front seat and start the truck. As it idles and the air-conditioning starts to cool off the interior, I take a deep breath and relax for just a moment, thinking about Joi and the joy she apparently carries.

It’s been a difficult day, not for any reason other than a bad mood, a dark cloud I just can’t seem to get out from under. It isn’t like anything is wrong, no crisis looms, it’s just…sadness. Watching her interact with the people around her, I feel chastised. Why can’t I be more like her? In a lot of ways, I am. I don’t usually tend toward the negative. I am generally good natured. But there is one thing very different, she’s not afraid to talk to people.

Several times, on this grocery trip and others, I’ve seen her notice and compliment people. She compliments the things people are wearing, shares her love of the things they buy, or asks where people are from. I notice those things, but I rarely engage people. Why? Because I’m afraid. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they don’t want to talk to me? I smile politely and nod to people, keeping even my positive comments and compliments, my joy, to myself.

Remembering the checker and the store manager’s reaction to Joi’s enthusiasm and openness, I straighten up in the front seat and resolve to be more like her from this moment on. Her honest love of people is infectious.

Shifting into gear, I remember…crud…I have a package to pick up at the post office. Should I get the groceries home before the milk spoils and then come back into town for the mail? Nah, I’m sure it will only add a minute to the drive home and I’ll save the gas of the extra drive.

I pull into the post office parking lot and run inside. Perfect. Next in line. While I wait a woman walks in behind me. The first thing I notice is the beautiful scarf over her head and around her neck. It reminds me of an Arabian princess, a flowing silk thing to keep the sun off her head. Now’s my chance to say something kind. On second glance, she is small and frail, her head is shaved close, and I hesitate. What if she doesn’t want that kind of attention? What if she thinks I’m weird for making such a comment about a stranger? I stay silent, get my package and leave.

 

Book Run Adventures!

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Books are one of my very favorite things in this world. I’m obsessed with having them, reading them, making notes in them, and writing about them. I wish I did more of the writing about them, but I’m working on that. You can’t just wish for something to happen; you have to make it happen! So here I am, writing about…something.

Since I’m still reading “Revenge of Analog” and he was talking about book stores, I got a bug about going to Barnes & Noble yesterday. That is no small feat since it’s 60 miles away and in the direction of the city. For those that don’t know Southern California, that means traffic. But…books!!

Our small town has three, good sized used book stores. They are nice to browse through from time to time, but they are old and crowded and not very organized. I wish we had a new book store that was closer, but alas, that’s another cost of living rurally.

The truth is, there is just nothing better for finding new fiction than browsing the aisles of a real bookstore! Amazon is great for finding a specific book I go looking for, like when I see one recommended by an article or a friend, but not much good for browsing. So, got in the truck and headed down the highway.

First obstacle. It usually takes me about an hour and half to get there, but as soon as I hit the main freeway the traffic stopped dead. Wondering what in the world could be going on, it dawned on me that I saw a sign the day before to expect delays due to Coachella Fest weekend. Oh man…this could take forever!

I sat there wondering for a moment if I should abandon the mission, but then traffic started to move again. Maybe it was over? It stopped again. It moved again. It wasn’t permanently stopped and, besides, I’d change freeways in a couple miles. It wouldn’t be so bad after that. I kept driving.

Getting closer to the change in freeways, I see another sign. “Road construction. One lane only.” Are you kidding me? I consider aborting the mission again. Nah, it’ll be fine after that. It’s only a couple more miles.

Nearly three hours later, I arrive at the bookstore. I’m stubborn and I had my heart set on book shopping. If I turned around, all the time would have been wasted!

After a breather and a bathroom break, I consider whether I should get a cup of the sweet-smelling coffee they are selling at the front of the store or not. A cup of coffee will need a sweet snack to go with it.

No! Must not deviate from healthy diet! I’ve already spent most of the day sitting on my butt. I can’t add several hundred calories to that. I head to the fiction aisles.

Going through the books on the shelf, I try to focus and start to read. No one is waiting for me. I have all the time in the world, but I don’t have that much money. I’m going to have to narrow down my choices. I can’t just throw books into the pile all willy nilly!

So many great books. How can one possibly choose? By cover, of course! One had praise from Stephen King on it. That’s good enough for me! One said “student” and “history” on the cover. Nice. One was called “Tell me no lies.” Romance. Like that!

I picked up “Wicked” and walked around with it for a while. My mom read it and loved it, so have a lot of my friends, but I know the story too well and although I’m sure I’d love it, I can’t buy them all so I decided to put it back.

I got “Bird Box” because the TV show looks awesome, but my family isn’t a fan of scary TV shows. I’ll read it and give myself nightmares. I passed by a table and saw “Rebecca.” Like the movie my husband loves so much? Yes please! And then, just as I was about to walk away, I saw “bookstore” and “Paris.” I picked it up and read the back.

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“literary apothecary”

“prescribes novels for the hardships of life”

“mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal is himself”

I’ve always dreamed about opening a bookstore of my own. One of those, if I were rich, kind of dreams. I imagine a warm meeting place where people can hang out and talk books and music, meet people, drink coffee. Maybe some used books could be shared. Children come there to find new magic. It’s a beautiful image. This book was for me. I think he must have come right out of the book and handed it to me. If this were a movie, it might have fallen off the shelf at my feet all by itself, so I’d be sure to find it.

Six books. As I made my way to the front of the store to buy them, a woman asked if I needed a basket. “No thanks! When the arms are full, it’s time to go!” She laughed. Book people know the struggle. Man, I wish I could WORK at a bookstore.

At the front of the store, I found a line about six people deep with one cashier. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to stand here and read this little darling while I wait, like eating the chips while you wait at the checkout because you didn’t eat lunch before you left for the grocery store.

I read twenty pages while I waited. I fell in love instantly. It’s just that beautiful.

Leaving the store, I realized I was hungry for more than words and that I was right across the street from one of my favorite places, Panera. I put my books in the back seat and drove over.

Ok…Southern California…it took me ten minutes to drive across the street. Really. What are all these people doing here? Whenever this happens, I’m reminded why we moved to the desert. Yes, I may not have a bookstore to hang out in, but at least it doesn’t take me ten minutes to drive less than a mile.

Once I parked and got my lunch, I went back to the truck, moved the seat back, got myself all situated with the new love of my life and started to read. It was a beautiful hour. I can’t wait to read the rest of it, but I’ll have to wait a little. I’m about 200 pages from the end of The Brothers Karamazov and about three quarters into “Revenge of Analog.”

Before I headed home, I checked to see if there was a good podcast to listen to. Tim Ferriss interviewing Neil Gaiman! Can this day get any better?

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