on tbt – on strapping in for hazard pay

I’ve been lax in my Throwback Thursdays this year, thinking #tbt, even enjoying #tbt photos from friends, but not regularly participating myself each week, so here’s one for the road: strapping into the helo that was shuttling me and Sam, my search dog, to our assignment on a search in rugged terrain. Bright yellow nomex shirt (theory? so we could be seen from the air), tough boots and a pack full of overnight gear that had to last us however long it took. (And did. In spades.)

being shuttled to assignment on a search, 1980s

being shuttled to assignment on a search, 1980s

Although we trained for free, when we got called out to work a search or rescue or fire, we got paid. And if we set foot in a helicopter? That was counted as hazard pay, due to the general tendencies of helos to, well, exit the sky in unplanned ways, even if we had a cracker-jack pilot (which we usually did). I can’t remember how much it was, something like 37 cents per hour or so? Not enough to die for, no, but then again: you don’t sign up for this kind of work if your own death is your biggest worry. Good work, good co-workers, many a good result and no misses in all that time: glad I did it then, happy not to do it now, and truly delighted it’s part of my story for TBTs!

~

on home

On and on we live, some of us, rootless and dispossessed for so long that ‘home’ starts to feel like a quaint, bookish notion, a concept not meant to apply to us, a place so unplaced that we never near it except as mirage. A wide shimmering sea on the desert, ever retreating, ever grinning at our needs and pointing out that heading seaward ain’t really the hot ticket it seems: staying put with a small patch of shade, a tall glass of cool water, a slight wily breeze, and enough good sense to pursue indolence in the middle of the day? Is.

And then we get lucky and find not one home, but more, in the circling returns that some of us must go through to get across our decades. This has happened to me. The Mojave Desert is always home (esp. its lightly inhabited corners). Mississippi, the land of my birth and coming of age, is always home, too, but only because I’m stubborn and insist upon it, for the land there keens and I, knowing too much of the waters that have gone beneath our bridges, keen right along with it, to the very bone, and thus feel out of step more often than not. The Kalahari and Namib and Tanami Deserts or Paris (France) could so easily be home, too, but I do not belong to them in any ready way. But there’s a tiny midwestern village that reached out and called me neighbor a long time ago and, perhaps more than anyplace I have ever been, has taught me that this concept of ‘home’ has depths that shimmer and do not retreat.

Home is a place where you get to participate, contribute, inhabit your flaws, and wear your faded old work clothes to town. Home is a place where somebody knows your name and lights up when you show up and is sad when you go. Home is a place where you’re missed when you’re gone and hugged when you return. Home is a place where we take care of one another whether we deserve it or not and where we all try to pitch in to make something everybody can be proud of and enjoy. Home is a place where people find the time to be kind, to gossip (a little), to give (a lot), to dream and to work and to be. Home, it turns out, is a place, not a concept at all. Home is a place in our hearts.

IMG_9560

~

 

on summer’s solstice

Summer solstice, early morning swim in the fog. The first hour, as always, is devoted to serving as a mobile life preserver for dozens of small moths and june bugs who mistook the blue sheen of the water for lights on land. Some struggle and are easy to see from yards away: they welcome the human hand that suddenly appears beneath them, rising from the deep, and seem to appreciate the short trip to shore, where leaf litter can provide shelter from roving robins and finches until their wings dry out. Some surrender and float and only well after they are fished from the water do they move gingerly about. Some try to stay on my hand; others flop nine ways to Sunday to get off, water or no.

Some make it to land and fight to get back in the liquid, determinedly walking past (or over, if necessary) the hand that brought them out, raising difficult questions for the human: what if blue water is an honorable death in the kingdom of moths and june bugs? what if its warmth provides a soothing liquescence to an end chosen by these creatures for their purposes? what if the intervening back of my hand, rising from the deep to provide a raft to ‘safety’ disrupts a life plan, not just for the one but for its society? A tiny chipmunk chirrs and stares at the questioning, paddling me, its eyes and mine on the level, and my questions fade to grey, in favor of just being and not knowing nor needing to know. At best my hand is a blunt instrument, scarcely capable of assisting creatures with such fragile wings and antennae, and likely causing further harm in the effort.

The second hour is usually devoted to plain swimming, but today it, too, was studded with these endeavors: me shanghaied by my values into the Moth Coast Guard, so to speak. (I can no more swim dully by such beings and not try to help them than I could one of my own species.) Halfway through I happened upon a large, heavy-bodied moth with wide, translucent and flowing wings. It met my hand with what appeared to be great, unsullied relief and, on being set down, marched sodden but delicately and resolutely away from the water. For maybe six inches, tops, and then it seemed to sigh, still standing up, strong, determined, eying the large leaf I’d set beside it for shelter, but not availing itself of that. Instead, the moth stood staring off into its horizon, inhaling, exhaling, stretching itself—wings, feet, then abdomen—willing itself dry once more and able to take wing on this, the longest day of the human’s year.

Who knows how a moth might reckon any of that? From tomorrow on, the days will grow shorter until we swim in the dark, fog or no, our people-y schedules unable to keep pace with the planet because we have arranged ourselves out of step with it on purpose. I treasure these habits and patterns of this season, these water-logged and dying denizens alongside. They remind me that we humans—so quick to conjure up a lonesome road for ourselves from birth to the grave—are never alone on our crossings here. We travel in good company with myriad beings of which we know little and for whom we can provide next to nothing, on this turning planet that greets and good-byes all alike.

a mill pond lately styled as a 'lake'

a mill pond lately styled as a ‘lake’

~

on touching the soul of the world

Today, as the light fell toward tomorrow: Teenager and I, both in a hurry and tired, her waiting on me for the mean minimum wage people now get for working hard and me just wanting to get my order and pay only they didn’t have half the things I wanted so I just gave up and agreed to take what they had.

As she turned to fix my order and ring it up, I noticed that her hair was artfully, beautifully swirled up into a loose bun on her head, tendrils escaping in the heat, an old-fashioned hair-do from my childhood that almost nobody wears anymore. Harried, she handed me my order and change and started to hurry away and I leapt at my one chance and said, “Your hair is just lovely.” And she stopped and turned back to me, looking stunned and almost as if she might cry, one tentative hand reaching for and touching briefly, ever so briefly, her hair, and whispered, “Really?”

I nodded, more certain than ever, “Lovely, perfect. Nobody ever looks that classy anymore, and it’s just beautiful.” And then she did tear up and said, “Oh my, thank you so much for telling me! You made my whole day!” And I wandered off back into my life, tears pricking my eyelids at how easy it is to slow down for one heartbeat and look—really look—at another person and appreciate them for who they are . . . and also wondering, even marveling at how nice and well-loved and fully at home that makes me feel.

It’s hours later now, and I am still mulling the encounter. She (this young woman, still a girl, still a total stranger to me) just beamed at the compliment, and it seemed as if her smile was backlit, like an old illuminated manuscript in a corner of a dim room, and I the monk (not entirely a long shot, given my hermitic nature and tendencies to go a long, long ways out of my way to avoid having to talk to or see people as well as my utter and complete lack of classiness or interest even in classiness or hairstyles and the such), having stumbled into a backlot of grace (as my dear husband suggested tonight), no longer need to search for heaven elsewhere because it just is. Everywhere. And in everyone. Not tomorrow or in some land beyond the pale, but here. Now. Always, too.

It was in the snapping turtle I helped to cross the road thirty minutes later (nearly getting snapped for my trouble, no less!), in the small aging pup who was patiently awaiting my return with his treats (some of which the young woman had provided), in the homeless vet standing across opposing lanes of traffic who managed to meet me in the middle for the few dollars I had to give before the red light turned green again, in the lovely neighbors I was gathering with to discuss a book I’d never have read at all but for them, in the bumblebee who stung me as I tried to ease him free of a cobweb, in the spider whose next few meals I just disrupted, in that young girl with the lovely tousled, uptwisted bun on her head. It was also, I understand now, in her grouchy supervisor, peering over her shoulder, clearly timing her movements and finding them wanting; it was in the lady in the minivan earlier who—seeing that my lane had to merge for construction—kept speeding up to keep us from doing so; it was in the hard-hearted warmonger pundit I heard on the radio making his righteous case for us needing to go drop bombs in Iraq again (as if that had worked so well the first two times?! I thought, but nobody mentioned); it was in my snippy thoughts about the war-hawks and the nameless, faceless, hurrying people who ran over the mama skunk and her two babies (well off the road itself so they’d have had to swerve off the road on purpose to accomplish that) or the six dead deer or the eight dead raccoons, each trying so hard and so reasonably to just get to the other side and being killed in thoughtless fashion for their efforts. Snippy me, post-encounter with the young woman with the pretty hair, had to stand down even on that. Heaven holds the living close, with death our alter-egos, each a thorough blessing (to use another old-fashioned word and concept), though seldom counted as such.

I used to account myself careful about looking for the soul in everyone’s eyes (therefore no time to note or comment on superficialities like how they looked or dressed), and then today I found out that glimpses of the soul can be any old where (including a hairstyle). And it is never superficial. So a whole new world and way of being fell open for me in those moments: I was one way before, then turned a corner and there was an entirely new play afoot to get lost in. What a thing it is to be alive, to be sentient, to be imbued with consciousness and capable of storying it back to ourselves, re-living the living and thus drawing death’s stings fully within at every step!

at one edge of a most superior lake

at one edge of a most superior lake

~

on living

Overslept and under-rested, what a way to start a day! And yet, with days as pleasing as these? Chock full of the wonder and drudgery and mystery and troubles wrapped up in the fires of existence? How can one not sing out of a gloomy morn, grateful for the journey no matter the cost?

I feel lucky now, counting myself most fortunate to still be here, to still be able to get about, to see, to hear, to learn, to reach out and occasionally touch some real thing, to know how little I can ever know. I even am grateful for the tough breaks, the knuckleheads (among whom I must count myself at times), the losses (all the heartbreaking losses, thus far and to come), the mean-spirited and fear-ginned-up times in which we now live. For they, too, are a clarion call to rise, to stand forth, to give each day and night our very all. Gratitude, it turns out, unspools sadness and rims it with love and pluck, and with these sturdy tools a person can carry on.

winged being alongside for a spell

winged being alongside for a spell

~