Two Worlds, the Thinning Veil, and Ways of Knowing

IMG_1284The other day, emptying change from my pocket, one penny remained in my hand; it felt heavy. “This could be an old penny,” I thought, and then weirdly, “It feels like a wheat penny.” How exactly a wheat penny feels, I couldn’t say, exactly, but some part of me knew. I don’t know where those thoughts came from or why I paid any attention to that coin, but when I looked down the back of the penny was facing up and there were the two tassels of wheat. A 1952 penny.

Sometimes I doubt the mysterious. Sometimes I doubt the ways of knowing that aren’t logic based. I hate that! I’d like to trust implicitly that which my intuition and softest ways of knowing tell me. The fall and winter, with their increase of darkness, increase of cold, tunnel us inward, if we’re willing to go, and the dead and the more subtle ways we know what’s true may approach.

IMG_1280My father has now been gone eight months. Over these past few days he’s felt particularly close. He walks with me. Last evening I thought about the time of his dying as compared to that of my mother and how art making came into both those experiences.

IMG_3255In 1987 when my mother was in intensive care and after her death I wrote poem after poem. Many of them became part of my first poetry book, Territory of Wind. In February I made art with my father at the very end of his life, a fabric collage, and then I kept making collages, ostensibly because I had a show to prepare for. Emotionally and spiritually both art forms fit the dying parent—my mother introduced me to poetry and my father to the visual arts.

On this early Dia de Los Muertos/All Saints’ Day morning, I wish you faith in your deepest knowing. Nothing less.





Outside In

The note from my student Alana Ortiz read, “Today worked on a level I didn’t see coming. Thank you for the insight of having some outside time, which somehow led me to some new inside places.”

My OLLI@CSUMB class Write the Morning Away began our last session at Fort Ord Dunes State Park. We gathered at a picnic table on a morning that was vacillating between sun and fog and fog and sun. We could see where we were until we couldn’t.

IMG_0271It’s not so hard to get to the park and it’s not so hard to get to other outdoor spots where nature is abundant and at the helm, but how easy it is not to. We can get kinda stuck inside—inside our homes, offices, cars, our heads, etc so that it may feel as though the world of outdoors is beyond reach and that our lives exist on the inside. It used to be, a very long time ago, that everyone’s life existed mostly outside. That’s partly why I wrote Step into Nature because when I rediscovered the out of doors it greatly changed my life and my imagination.

At the park where we walked last weekend, part of the old Fort Ord, there used to be an officers’ club on the bluffs above the ocean. Alana continued, “I have to tell you, my story went in another direction that I didn’t see coming.” She felt the presence of the “many men who had their last dance at the club there and never returned.” She said, that she could even hear “strains of music from that era. It spooked me a bit.”

IMG_0274When I walk in the open places, free of a predominance of cement and asphalt, free of scales tipped by human commerce, where the wind gets in my ears and ruffles my hair and my feet touch down on dirt, I too become available to other ways of knowing the world and myself. And you, what happens to you and the art you make when you take it all out of doors?

Jackie and Patterns

IMG_0935Jackie and I went for a long walk at Jacks Peak Park the other day. Her big dog Max came too. He was on a leash; we weren’t. Well, not exactly. I felt, as I often do out there, leashed to the land itself and to the trees and the sky, not by the neck, but by that which resides down a bit lower.

Jackie commented on how she notices patterns in nature and pointed out the patterns made by the trees suffering from the drought. “Noticing patterns,” she explained, “can be a way to help people increase their awareness of the natural world.” It can be away to pull people in, for them to become active observers.

IMG_2456She went on to tell me a story about her daughter who she’d talked quite a bit to about the earth and her patterns. Jackie had told daughter that willows grow near water. One day they were driving in Oregon together and her daughter said, “There’s a river over there,” pointing out the car window. Jackie didn’t see any running water, so she asked, “How can you tell?” “Look,” said her daughter, “a bunch of willows are growing there.”

Jackie asked me about loving Jacks Peak Park and about the abundant time I spend there. It’s not often that I notice patterns. I’m usually more caught up in the immediate, what’s right in front of me, the details and the stories I make up about what I’m seeing and walking through. But for the last several months I’ve been noticing one particular pattern—the pattern made by the drought-stressed trees.

Their stress is shown in brown and falling pine needles, more fallen branches and whole trees and by something less easy to describe. The trees appear brittle; their limbs aren’t as stalwart and upward facing; there’s a frailty about them. The changes in the trees have diminished my joy in walking at Jacks Peak.

Jackie Nelson is the Environmental Education Supervisor for Monterey’s Regional Park District. That is only part of the explanation for why she notices stuff I wouldn’t. Mostly, it’s just because of who she is, who she probably always has been. Not only did she notice patterns but she found this tiny fallen bird nest that I brought home.

IMG_1182When I next go to the park I’m going to look for patterns myself and see how that influences both what I see and how I feel.

The Oaks of Ft. Ord

Not my habit to post twice over one weekend but thought you might enjoy this piece from today’s Monterey Herald:


Mafra’s Birds of Prey

Our Portuguese host suggested we go to Mafra, saying, “Fewer people go there.” Before arriving in Portugal Michael and I had made grand plans to travel hither and thither from our quiet Sintra countryside base but quickly found ourselves un-inclined.

MafraThe surrounding natural beauty and ancient wonders—Sintra is a Unesco World Heritage Site—had us enthralled. Our first exploit into Lisbon had too. And then there was my grief that didn’t so much have me enthralled as it had me in its clutches. Seven months after my father’s death and the loss continues to drive deep and hard within me. A simple revelation that came as a surprise is that when someone loved dies you don’t only miss who they were at the time of their death but who they were and who they were to you during all the years you shared. My father and I spoke once or twice every day and saw each other often.

All that made Mafra doable; it was only 30 minutes away. There a 17th century Baroque and Italianized neoclassical palace-monastery was built after a longed for child, a daughter, was born to Queen Mary Anne of Austria and King John V. The place, as you can see from the photo, is enormous. The basilica alone has six pipe organs and 92 bells, the library has 40,00 books, and the palace has 1,200 rooms, none of which did we see. We never got past the courtyard.

In a corner of the spacious courtyard was a cordoned-off area within which over a dozen birds of prey sat on individual perches. There I met and got to hold a European Eagle Owl and a Falcon. These birds were all born in captivity and live behind the palace where they do get to fly a little but spend their days on public view.

Owl, MafraFor a few Euros one can hold a bird. These animals have unknowingly dedicated their lives to education. And I felt for them and their shackled lives and yet was grateful (as I never am at a zoo) to be able to look into the eyes of two birds of prey—to touch an owl’s head, to stroke the chest of a falcon.

The experience made my life bigger by moving birds of prey from the abstract into the here-and- now, into the actual. Held on my outstretched arm, the Eagle Owl was so big and not nearly as heavy as I’d expected. The Falcon had a steely aloofness about her I was almost put off by, but in a good way, an authentic one. As I wrote about in Step into Nature, in order to feel inclined to care for the earth and her beings we need to hold the earth up close, in whatever form.

FalconThe organization that runs this educational program is called AmbiFalco. Information about their important work may be found at and There are US organizations doing similar necessary work such as Wild Care: or 415-456-SAVE.