True Ghost Stories: Growing Up in a Haunted House

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House on Haunted Hill large

Have you ever had any ghostly encounters?

Each year around this time, I like to reblog a series of tales about my encounters with the ghostly and unexplained, starting when I was a child, and later full grown with children of my own. The first is printed below with links to the others.

While ”intellectually” I don’t believe in ghosts, demons, and the like, I have experienced such. And I cannot deny that the phenomena which I and others–indeed, all known cultures and societies–have laid claim to, are “real.” The reality they seem to have is unexplained, often unverifiable, and usually fleeting and ephemeral. And yet they persist in haunting humanity.

I can neither explain, verify, nor dismiss the reality of the experiences that I relate here. I can only state that these things occurred as I remember them, or as others I trust related them to me. And most were witnessed by more than one person

Happy Halloween!

Our House on a Haunted Hill

When I was a kid “House on Haunted Hill” was my favorite spooky movie. I first saw it a few years after my own family had escaped, just barely, from a haunted house experience. While living there I was not aware of all the horrors that house contained, and only learned the full account when my mother felt I was old enough to learn the truth.

I was eight years old when my parents rented a home set on a hillside in an older, respectable neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. The attic had been converted into two rooms, a tiny room overlooking the back yard and garage; and a huge room overlooking the front yard. This larger room had been recently renovated and then abruptly abandoned, it appeared. The high pitched ceiling and walls were covered in a richly varnished, knotty pine paneling. Finely crafted drawers and book cases had been built beneath the eaves. But the floor, made of rough, unvarnished planks of wood, had been left unfinished. And a large reddish-brown stain that looked like a puddle of blood had soaked into the wood.

Nancy_Drew_-_Ghost_of_Thornton_Hall_Cover_Art

This was my bedroom and I loved it. Being an avid fan of Nancy Drew mysteries, the giant blood stain only added to the allure of the room–that and the trap door on the floor of the walk-in closet. While the door had been nailed shut, I could still probe the cracks with a ruler, detecting steps that led downward—to where, no one knew. My discovery sent chills of delight down my back.

In fact, I was thrilled to have the whole second story all to myself. Even though the second smaller room could have easily accommodated my little brother, my mother made him sleep down below in the tiny room at the bottom of the stairs. She claimed the small room upstairs was “too cold” and used it as a storage room instead. She filled it with unpacked boxes and unused furniture, forbidding me to play there—which, of course, made the room seem even more desirable.

I remember entering the room often to play by myself and looking out the dusty window toward the mysterious barn-like structure that faced the alley. The structure, which could easily have accommodated several cars, sat empty nearly the whole time we lived there, and my brother and I were forbidden to play here as well. It too was considered “too cold” for human habitation. The one time I did enter, my eyes were drawn upward to the high rafters where, through the rotting roof, splinters of light filled with ghostly dust motes fell to the floor. I did not enter again. When some teenage boys wanted to use the garage to rebuild a car, they moved out after a couple of nights, never to return—even though they had paid rent for a full month.

I thought it strange when my mother kept wanting to move me out of my lovely upstairs “apartment” to a room below and I refused to be moved. She kept asking if I was afraid up there all by myself, but I insisted I wasn’t. This was true. I knew what needed to be done to stay safe, although I never shared this with my mother. It was a ritual that I religiously followed. Every night after my mother heard my prayers and tucked me into bed, I would pull the covers tight over my head and stay there until I fell asleep. I knew somehow that no harm would come to me if I followed this ritual. And no harm ever did come to me.

I might well have been very afraid if I had heard what my parents heard at night as they slept in the room below mine.

Athenodorus_-_The_Greek_Stoic_Philosopher_Athenodorus_Rents_a_Haunted_House

Often my mother was woken by the sound of heavy, dragging footsteps lumbering across room over her bed, and she would wake my father and make him go upstairs to investigate. At first he did so wearily, thinking she was imagining it. But once he woke early enough to hear it himself and went dashing up the stairs—but nothing was there and I was sound asleep in my bed.

We moved shortly thereafter. That’s when the neighbors told us about the horrible tragedy that had taken place in the house before we moved in. They hadn’t wanted to tell us earlier and scare us away. Apparently the previous owner of the house had murdered his wife in my bedroom and then hung himself afterwards from the rafters in the garage.

If some other tragic event took place in the small room next to mine upstairs—the coldest room in the house–we never learned. Whatever haunted that room did more than drag its feet across the floor or blow cold air down our spines. During our final days in that home, my mother, to her terror, found this out–with no one but my three-year-old brother at home to save her. Your can read about this in Part II of this series, listed below.

You can read the full series of true ghost stories at the links below which were first posted in 2013

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The Personal & Political, Past & Present

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America Today | Thomas Hart Benton | 2012.478a-j | Work of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
America Today by Thomas Hart Benton

Years ago, in what seems like another life time, I wrote a political column called “Taking Care of Labor” in the local daily newspaper. It was in direct response, or opposition, to another column called “Taking Care of Business” written by my nemesis, Andy Caldwell. Interestingly, Caldwell is now running for the seat of an old colleague of mine, Salud Carbajal, who is the current US Congressman for our District.

I didn’t know either man when I began writing the column. I was teaching as an adjunct professor or part-time instructor at three different colleges and universities at the time. I was what was known then as a “Freeway Flyer,” someone who pieces together a full-time living on part-time wages. Part-time instructors were all the rage back then and no doubt they still are.

Colleges and universities could save tons of money hiring teaching staff on a part-time basis, where they didn’t have to provide health care or offices, or pay for “office hours” to advise students. Instead, we part-timers held office hours in libraries, or on campus benches, or even from the tailgates of our cars when we needed to hand out study materials from files we kept in back seats. Indeed, we only got paid for the actual hours we spent in class, not for the considerable prep time before class or for the evaluations and grading of work after class. But this exploitation of part-time labor wasn’t confined to higher education. It was, and still is, rampant throughout all industries.

That’s when I entered politics, to help right this wrong. My column was my first step on this road. I also was involved in creating a state-wide association for part-time community college instructors so we could lobby for change at the state level. I served as the communications director, writing and editing a newspaper for members that was distributed to every college campus across the state. Eventually I led an effort to organize a union for part-time instructors at one of the colleges where I worked. As its first president and contract negotiator, we were able to finally get increased wages, paid office hours (no offices however), and some limited health insurance.

After all this, however, I became so disenchanted with higher education that I left it to work in the nonprofit field. This is where I met Carbajal. He was the board president of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) when I joined. He left soon after to become a county board supervisor, and I eventually became the board president, and then the Director, of SBCAN, advocating on social justice and environmental issues at the city and county level. My column evolved to take up that work–again, in opposition to Caldwell’s columns. We butted heads often when advocating on opposite sides of issues at Board of Supervisor hearings.

Once Andy and I appeared back to back for interviews on a local radio station. He challenged me to a public debate. I had to laugh it off. I knew, and my board buddies knew, that he would have behaved in much the same manner as Trump treated Biden at that first debate. We weren’t willing to give him that show.

When my husband retired in 2011 and we moved to a new county, I also retired. I had become disenchanted with political advocacy and sought a creative life. At the core of my being I had always thought of myself as a writer, and now I would have the time to pursue that. I’ve managed to stay outside politics, or on its fringe all these years. I could well afford to because I lived in a state and county that “leaned left” as I did. I was happy and relieved to let others lead in local politics.

But it does seem strange now as I watch TV ads by my former nemesis, Caldwell, and my former colleague, Carbajal, vying for the same seat in Congress. Both still actively fighting the good fight, as they see it, while I sit on the sidelines. One of our SBCAN board members was a political icon in Santa Barbara County well into her nineties. She would attend our board meetings, as well as a dozen others in her walker. She was actively engaged in politics until the day she died. I fear she would be disappointed in me.

There was a time when she and other colleagues hoped that I would take Carbajal’s path, running for a seat on city council or county board of supervisors. I was sorry to have to disappoint them. But having sat through so many of those meetings, I knew I would be bored to tears to take that on full-time. It’s not where my passion lay.

I do not regret that choice, but it’s interesting sometimes to look back and see where we’ve been and where it led us. And sometimes I think I could have taken up a larger pen, even in retirement, to advocate on the issues that most touch my heart–a living wage, affordable housing, an end to homelessness, decriminalization of drug use, and increased services and treatment programs for substance abuse and mental health.

Perhaps I’m writing all this to assuage a guilt I still sometimes feel, having abandoned colleagues and causes I had once fought so fervently with and for. Looking back, I can honestly say I’d “been there, done that.” I’d hoped this would reassure me in my choice to go another direction now.

But it also reminds me how the good fight never really seems to end. Certainly not in one lifetime. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Inch by slow inch.

I am deeply grateful to all who are still actively engaged in helping to bend that mighty arc.

Sacred Music from Around the World

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Women Dancing in a Circle  Warren B. Davis (American, 1865–1928)  Oil on board

Women Dancing in a Circle Warren B. Davis (American, 1865–1928) 

Long ago my daughter gifted me with a CD of sacred music from around the world. It became a favorite to play during my morning meditation and exercise routine. I’m not sure you can get the CD anymore, but I was able to find a few of my favorite songs on You-Tube.

If you listen to these, you will notice how the music often starts slow, which is perfect for meditating, stretching or Yoga. But then the rhythm picks up and it’s almost impossible not to want to jump up and move, to dance or jog along with the beat.

The first song, Shema Yisearel (“Hear, O Israel”), is a sacred Jewish prayer sung in the morning and evening. Rita Glassman is an ordained Cantor and composer.

This next one is a mantra sung to the African Goddess Oshun of rivers and waterfalls, the “unseen mother present at every gathering.” Deva Premal is celebrated for her spiritual and meditative music.

This last is a Hindu mantra, or universal prayer, which roughly translates, “You Divine Mother are my everything.” The song  ends with the “Om Shanti, Om Shanti, Om Shanti” chant, an invocation for peace. Gina Sala is also well-known for singing sacred chants.

Enjoy!

“More to Me Than Time Allows to Be”

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Artadoo - Artist: Tian Xu Tong
By Tian Xu Tong

I wrote this years ago, a kind of declaration for a state of being with which I passionately identified, although it seemed so beyond what I or anyone could reach at the time:

Epitaph for a Tombstone

I am compressed within my skin like a time bomb.

There is more to me than time allows to be.

When the end comes I’ll explode like an atom.

It is my end to explore infinity.

It seemed at the time I wrote it that there was so much I wanted to do and explore, and yet I wasted so much time on trivial things, that I feared my end would come before actualizing even a fraction of my potential. I could not accept that such would be the end of me. Surely this keenly felt unlived life would burst through the shell of being into something infinitely elastic, and all that I was or was meant to be would be realized eventually.

Now that my end of days have grown so much nearer, that sense of there being more to me than time allows to be has not diminished. But I think of it somewhat differently. That escape into an ever-expansive sense of self no longer seems to lie upon a birth-death or time-space axis but within the here and now which defies such limitations.

That smallness of being which so ill-fits us, which pinches and punishes, which we all in this present life seem heir to, does not define us and has little in reality to do with us. It’s but an ill-shaped mind-box that seems to contain us but never really can.

It’s as if this limited life which seems to bind us is like a box with four sides. Before and behind us are Birth and Death, and on either side are I and Other. Below is the Ground of Being which supports us. But there is no lid above. It is open to the Wonder or Mystery of Being, enticing us to rise beyond the strictures of time and space, birth and death, I and Other. Inviting us to explore what lies beyond this small sense of self; and so we do, each following our bliss. Through exploration of the sciences or creative arts, or by pursuing the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, service, selfless love, and the common good, we rise somewhat out of our smaller selves into something more expansive.

But until those opposing walls of birth and death, time and space, and I or Other collapse, we are still confined within a smaller, ill-fitting sense of being. We can slip in and out of that box, but cannot escape it altogether. Death is not the door that frees us. Mind is.

Rising to a higher, more expansive sense of self that identifies both with the Ground of Being that supports us, and the Wonder of Being that surrounds us, we find our freedom. There the restrictive walls that would bind us collapse for lack of identity.

All the great spiritual teachings point in that direction. Not toward something outside or apart from us, but toward a more expansive identity : the Kingdom of God, Enlightenment, the Tao. All lie within a higher consciousness or understanding of being.

We know this, it is not new. Nor is it far away. We all taste it, hear it, glimpse it in rarified moments even within this limited sense of self.

When one student asked the sage to show him this higher reality we sometimes call God, the master said, “There, do you not smell it?” as their feet crushed the sweet arbutrus beneath them.

Nothing is hidden. We all catch that whiff of the infinite in humble and exquisite ways along our journey within.

But perhaps this is all too esoteric. Here’s something more concrete.

The other day we all learned how President Trump had contracted Covid. Not a fan of Trump and angry at how he had been been downplaying the disease in a way that appeared to cost thousands of lives, I was not sympathetic. I thought this was his just dessert. I even felt a bit gleeful since he had been mocking Biden about wearing a mask only a few days previously. I hoped he would experience more than mild symptoms so that he would have more compassion for others who had suffered, and not come away saying it wasn’t so bad after all, nothing to worry about to his followers.

Yet thinking this way felt uncomfortable, like putting on shoes a size too small. They pinched. But I couldn’t quite lift my thought away from such feelings, thinking them justified.

The next morning during my spiritual practice my thought completely shifted as I once again began to identify with this higher sense of self, where I and Other melted away. I felt this deep empathy and sympathy toward the president. Not toward his plight contracting Covid. But rather toward the plight we all share when confined within this small, tight, pinched sense of identity. I thought of what he could be, and actually is, when those four walls of restriction fall away and he too experiences that more expansive sense of self where there is no I or Other.

I remembered what his niece, Mary Trump, had written about his upbringing, how he’d been shaped to be the boastful, selfish, egotistical man he seems to be, how his values and sense of self had been warped. Each of us have similar life experiences that shape and limit us, that we all need to outgrow. Perhaps this Covid experience will help him. Perhaps not. Either way it wasn’t my business.

My business was to lift my own sense of self beyond the thought-patterns that had so pinched the day before. To experience the deep sympathy that rises from the ground of being and unites us all. To once again savor that sweet wonder that lifts us beyond ourselves.

It’s not so esoteric after all.

Grieving for America, and Getting Past It

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These are most amazing photos of starling murmurations | World Photography Organisation

Worldphoto.org

I found this quote by Mary Oliver in a recent blog post and it struck a chord.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it

— Mary Oliver, from “Starlings in Winter”

So many of us have been grieving and fearing for our country of late, with the upcoming election and all the uncertainty and chaos it promises.

Feeling so keenly the need to get past this grief and fear I eagerly sought out the full poem to see what wisdom or encouragement Oliver’s “Starlings in Winter” might impart. Not surprisingly, I was not disappointed.

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

What I read in this poem is a metaphor, not so much for what is happening in our country today that makes us grieve, but for what is so resilient and beautiful about who we are as a people, as a nation, and why we will survive even this.

The starlings and the miraculous murmurations they create in flight are a symbol for the principles upon which this nation was founded and our messy history in striving to live up to those principles, to create a more perfect union.

Like the starlings we are “chunky and noisy, but  with stars” in our eyes as well as on the back of our flag.  We created and continue to create this miraculous, exceptional, “notable thing”, this republic, this democracy, these United States. And we did so during the wintry blasts of protest and rebellion against an authority we no longer wished to follow. We did so as acrobats, flying through the uncertainty of the times, “dipping and rising” across time and space, through decades of challenges, “fragmented for a moment” and then reuniting again and again.

Like the poet’s narrator, I “simply cannot imagine how they did it,” our forefathers and foremothers, how “in the freezing wind,” through “the theater of time” they created what we have today, this “silent confirmation” of a miracle,  “this notable thing,” this free-flowing, ever-changing but endurable nation.

Even now, during these challenging times, this “leafless season” of Covid, this “ashy city” of race riots, this chaotic election where our democracy itself appears to be in peril, even now what makes us great is that this “notable thing” we still are, still endures. Still is viable.

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America.” –President Bill Clinton

I believe this in my bones, and with all my “heart, pumping hard.” What lifts me past the turmoil of the times, past the grief that seems so prevalent, is the remembrance of and faith in this “this notable thing, this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin over and over again, full of gorgeous life.” Full of purpose and promise.

One man, one administration, one season of cold wintry blasts, one chaotic election— even one devastating defeat—will not defeat us. Will not diminish this “notable” nation that stands out unique in all of history. This “city upon a hill,” as another President called us.

It’s not hope but faith in who and what we are, for all our faults, that moves me past grief, beyond fear.

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America.”  We will right this.

A Secret Garden for My Granddaughter

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A Secret Garden for my Granddaughter, mixed media by Deborah J. Brasket

I’m painting again, thanks to my granddaughter.

She turns 8 years old next week and custom ordered two paintings for her birthday. The painting above, which I dubbed “A Secret Garden,” originally was a watercolor and oil pastel abstract, sans critters, that I painted long ago. But as much as I liked it, it seemed missing something. That’s when I added a humming bird, Audrey’s spirit animal, and wrapped it up as a Christmas gift for her last year.

She seemed to like it, but then one day said, “Grandma, don’t you think it needs some more critters down here hiding in the garden?” I had to agree with her, but didn’t get  to work on it until a few weeks ago, adding the deer and fox and quail we see on a daily basis behind our home. A reminder of the year she spent with us before she moved away again, and all the fun we had looking watching wildlife together.

But she also wanted a painting of a white kitten with blue eyes in a teacup. We spent many hours looking at images of kittens on Google, as well as foxes, bats, and other creatures that she’s interested in.

I finished the one below just a few days ago. I modeled the tea cup after a child’s china set I gave her when she was three-years old. I hope she will approve. She’s very particular. I’ll be taking both paintings down to her for her birthday next week, along with a long frilly princess dress, glittery shoes with heels, and a pink, faux fur carpet for her bedroom.

Oh, to be 8-years old again!

For Audrey with Love, mixed media by Deborah J. Brasket

 

Landscapes of the Mind – Six Singular Experiences

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fleurdulys: The Devil’s Bridge - Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Devil’s Bridge, St Gotthard Pass, JMW Turner, 1803-1804,

It’s all about the mind, of course. All experience filters through it, the outward and inner, nature and the art it inspires. But some paintings arrest the mind more than others and invite you to linger. To become part on one’s own mindscape, images we return to again and again to express the inexpressible. And that call upon us to articulate what it is that moves us so.

The one above by JWM Turner is one such painting that looms large in my mind. It’s the gold that captures me first, the light that dazzles. A feast for the eyes, the mind, before you ever enter the painting. And then, what depths! What flow. The water coursing down the chasm, the travelers flowing across the bridge, the airy clouds lifting us up. The dark shadows carrying us, like the two tiny birds, far before.

The drama of it all. The mystery. Like life itself. Dreamlike. So deep and wide and far away and dissolving in a moment. Yet for all of that, it matters. This matters. This moment, this painting. Something so deeply significant is happening here and even though we do not know what it is, it  matters.

Henri Manguin - The Parkway, 1905 at Pinakothek der Moderne Munich Germany by mbell1975, via Flickr

Henri Manguin, The Parkway

Here, a very different landscape to enter. Again, what captures me first is the tangle of colors, the reds and blues, soft greens and sparkling golds. The deep shadow in the forefront with the mysterious woman sitting so quietly, turned away, inward, while the forest path winds past her, lost in the distance, and the trees loom over her, curving, lifting, a tangled torrent of upward movement. The glimpse of clear blue sky in the top right corner, a whiff of promise.

But the light, the light!  Filtering down through the trees, dappling the path, dazzling the daisies, and gilding the ground before her. The light that surrounds her and lifts the path out of darkness, that filters up through the tangled trees to the crisp blue promise overhead.

Paul Gauguin - Mata Moe

Paul Gauguin – Mata Moe

This one, for all its similarities, has a different feel. Again, it’s the colors that grab, that tantalize before we even begin to decipher what we are seeing. Not a tangle of colors like the last one, but great emphatic splashes! The mountains in the distance fairly shout, look at me! And the eye does not know where to go next, there’s so much to see! All my exclamation points make the same emphatic point as this painting.

We’re like a traveler in an exotic location. We don’t know what to look at, where to go first, so much calls us. The large birds lazily crossing our path, the man about his mysterious work, the path curving toward the women walking, the whimsical house, the dense forest, the palm tree leaning upward. So much movement, so much color, excites us. We are there, we are there, immersed in the moment. This is not a dream.

inloveipersevere:“ Children at the Beach by Maurice Prendergast ”

Children at the Beach by Maurice Prendergast

This one just makes me happy. Pure bliss is written all over it. The children at the center, enveloped by the sea and sky, dazzle the eye. Their playfulness, those splotches of light-hearted color, are mirrored in the dappled sky above, the dappled sea-shadows and reflections below. It’s as if they are floating in some aquatic space, cradled, cuddled.

Oh, I want to hold them forever! I could stay here all day watching. They make me so happy.

Sower with Setting Sun - Vincent van Gogh. Epic painting that has stood the test of time! #painting #sunset #artwork

Van Gogh, The Sower

Here, so different from the others, the mood more mellow. Yet that golden sun, setting or rising, we know not which, like Turners golden mountain, commands the eye. I’m not just drawn toward it, I want to enter in, to rest there, in that roundness. I want to sink deep into it.

The rest is just framework. The dark tree leans toward it, the orange leaves a fitting crown. The man below, the sower, sprinkling seed-gifts in its wake. The solemn fields patiently awaiting its warm rays. I feel at peace here. Even with the dark-shadowed man silhouetted so softly before it. He’s on this way home. His long golden rest awaits.

peter doig | Peter Doig, Figures in Red Boat , 2005-07, Oil on linen, 250 x 200 cm ...

‘Pelican Island’, 2006 – Peter Doig (b.1959)

When I enter here I find silence. No words. That is the painting’s most salient feature for me. The merging of sea and sky, the fairy-like bird and trees, the trailing leaves above, the blue boat below, are all dreamlike in the distance. All mere contrast. The mirage-like details that draw the mind downward into that deep warm pool, the stillness below. The stillness of no words.

David Whyte, Putting Down the Weight of Aloneness

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Interior with a Girl Reading - Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

I’ve long been a fan of David Whyte’s poetry and this one is no exception. It seems it may have been written especially for these times, when so many of us find ourselves cocooned in our homes, feeling alone, cut off from everything.

And yet, even here, all alone, he writes, is this “swelling presence” of the everyday and ordinary, this “chorus” of the mundane that surrounds us. This “conversation” with kettles and cooking pots, doors and stairs is a grand symphony that accompanies our solo voice. Yet these intimate and animate objects, like a constant companion that comforts and supports, just waiting for our interplay, go almost unnoticed.

My elbow leans lazily on my desk and my hand cradles the mouse as I stop to stare at this brilliant invention before me. Then I lean back in my chair and continue typing thoughts into cyberspace. The wall clock behind me waits patiently for my wayward glance, ticking out the seconds so it can tell me the exact time when I need to know.

Yes, everything, everything is just waiting for me. Somehow these objects and I are woven together, seamlessly creating this life we share. We are never alone if only we would look and see.

Everything is Waiting For you

by David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Links to more poetry by Whyte

Something in this Sleeping Earth

Opened at Last

Melt into that Fierce Heat of Living

 

Wildfires Everywhere, Literally and Politically

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That unusual thunderstorm I wrote about last week brought more than 1200 lightening strikes that forked across California causing 560 wildfires gobbling up forests, homes and whole communities. The worst we’ve had so far, and the fire season gets worse each year.

We were fortunate here on the central coast. The few fires that struck nearby were quickly put out. But the state is ablaze north and south of us. Our county lies under a thick  pall of heavy smoke that fills the air with ash and fine particles. Air quality warnings are on high alert all around us. Our masks do double duty now, to protect us from Corona and the fires’ fallout.

While all this was going on I was watching the Democratic National Convention, which shone like a glimmer of hope beneath the pall of smoke and burst aflame during the final days.

Here’s what I wrote on Facebook after the convention:

I have been so inspired by the Democratic convention this week. I’ve been riveted all 4 nights, loving the new format, the intimacy and variety it brings, highlighting ordinary citizens all across the nation, republicans as well as democrats who are joining together to support this inspiring ticket to redeem the soul of America. While I was thrilled with the speeches by the Obamas, charmed by Jill Biden’s loving endorsement of her husband, excited by Kamala Harris’s acceptance speech, and cheered by so many others, it was Biden’s speech that filled my heart with hope and joy. He is the leader I’ve been waiting for, the one who can unite and heal our country, who can bring decency, honesty, and integrity back into the oval office. Who will defend our democracy and protect our troops and restore our standing in the world. We will again be a city on a hill, a beacon in the dark, a champion of human rights around the world. I’m stoked and hope you are too. Please VOTE

Despite this excitement and new confidence that Biden will win the day, I worry about the day after January 20. There are so many wildfires he needs to put out before he can even begin to “build back better.” Not least among them is getting this virus under control, getting kids back to school and people back to work. Replacing all the Trump-appointed heads of departments and agencies who have worked so hard to tear them apart. Recalling his ambassadors who wreck havoc overseas. Restoring our relationships with the WHO and NATO and the Climate Accord and so many other entities. The list goes on and on.

I think a President Biden administration will be up to the task. But it will be a long haul just to get back to zero, to the prosperity President Obama left for us before Trump ruined everything.  The challenge will be trying to do all this while also marching forward with new positive changes so needed, like ending systemic racism and guaranteeing affordable healthcare to one and all, in order to make this truly a “more perfect union”

The most most pressing problem to address, and the hardest in which to see timely results, is Climate Change, which contributed to all these wildfires and to the double hurricanes sweeping toward our Gulf Coast as I write.

Saving our planet from ourselves and for our children and grandchildren is priority #!. My fear is that with all the other fires we need to put out it will be put on a back burner. And if it is, who knows what devastation will be brought to our shores and across the globe next year, and the year after, and the one after that  . . . .

Photo credit – Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty. A senior center sign warning of Covid during Hennessey Fire near Lake Berryessa in Napa on August 18, 2020

Still Waiting to Land . . . .

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Last summer brought an abundance of roses, so many I did not have enough vases to hold them all. And I only picked those hidden from view!

This year the roses are few and those poorly formed, although our watering and fertilizing and spraying have all been the same. But the baby quail, and deer, and turkey! We’ve never seen so many baby critters trailing through all our yards, hunkering under the bushes, and flying up into the treetops!

This week a heatwave has been forecast, with temperature over 100 for ten days straight and up to 112 degrees. Clear skies, zero precipitation.

But twice this week, instead of heat, we got warm rain. One time lasting all day, and today our house shook with thunder. The rain fell so hard and thick it looked like hail. And they say it never rains in California in the summertime!

A sign of the times, this unexpected mixture of drought and abundance. And not limited to nature. So much seems surreal.

Mailboxes ripped up and sorting machines thrown into dumpsters right before an election!

Walls of moms, and dads with leaf blowers, being tear-gassed by storm troopers!

The first Black woman chosen as VP on a major political ticket!

A diplomatic treaty signed between the UAE and Israel!

Open warfare between teachers and governors over whether to open schools or resort to distant learning again!

Hoards of unmasked worshipers swamping the beaches in Orange County, despite a pandemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans!

What does it all mean? How will it all end?

We are lost within the grey fog of war.

Clearly we live in interesting times. A curse? Possibly. A cleansing? Hopefully.

No wonder we feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under our feet. And we haven’t quite landed yet.