Just before I got up his morning, I
dreamed I was now friends with the neighbor’s dog, Rambo. He was
smiling, I was smiling, and I told someone nearby, “It’s hard to
believe I used to be afraid of him.” Then the scene changed. I came
home and found a strange animal waiting in the grass near our door.
It was a small horse with a pleasant expression, but with sort of a
hand-puppet head that reminded me of a llama or camel. My sense was
that it had been abandoned because it didn’t look like a regular
horse. It was white, with a wavy-woolly coat. My decision was
effortless and immediate: he could stay as long as he wanted.
Yesterday evening I saw Byron again. He
was all smiles and ran to greet me. The woman who lives at his house
told me he is twelve years old. I said, “Ah.”
Two days ago, while looking out the
kitchen window, I saw a maple seed spinning its way down. It landed
near the base of the fig tree. I wonder what it thinks of that.
I made some good coffee this morning.
The taste varies, you know. I use an old pot. It’s the one my
parents used back in the day. No special science, simply a perking
paradise of memory and aroma. We’d go camping in the mountains and
the pot would go with us. Or company would come and the pot would
rejoice at the sound of laughter in the kitchen and living room,
stories being told, and clouds of cigarette smoke. The back door
slams. Kids and cousins, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors
known since childhood, those who miraculously survived atrocities,
depressions, and wars. A song on the old gas stove. Experience. And
yet each cupful is fresh and new. I remember what I remember. I
forget what I forget. I let go of everything but the handle.
A downy woodpecker, a pair of flickers,
sundry nuthatches, scrub jays, robins, bushtits, a varied thrush, an
Audubon warbler, starlings, crows, and others in between — these
were our visitors yesterday, and not one of them rang our doorbell or
asked us to sign anything. They were the bells. They were
the signs. They were the weather, the atmosphere, the movement, the
pace, and the mood. And for some strange reason, I just remembered
the metronome atop my dear piano teacher’s grand piano, near the
west-facing window in her spacious, old-fashioned, ground-floor
living room. A bit of vineyard, and Road 96 beyond. Sparrows and
blackbirds. Mockingbirds. Buzzards and pheasants. Jackrabbits three
feet tall. A 1956 gas-powered Ford tractor waiting in a patch of dry
weeds. A country salon. Barcarolle. The hush and satisfaction
of a little boy she in her Texas accent called Mr. Bill.
Speaking of dogs, early in the morning
the day before I met Byron, I had the good luck to become acquainted
with a one-year-old representative of the Great Pyrenees clan. She
didn’t speak Basque, or assumed I didn’t and so withheld that
talent. She was tall, pure white, with soft, gentle eyes. I say pure
white, but the white was comprised of many subtle whites, whites
within whites, so to speak, and anyway, the light was dim and I
wasn’t wearing my glasses. She was at the end of a leash
considerately held by a friendly man named Bruce. But somehow, in
introducing ourselves to each other, Bruce forgot to tell me his
companion’s name, and I forgot to ask. She welcomed my attention,
thought briefly about licking my face, but didn’t act on that
impulse, as Bruce has been kindly teaching her how to conduct herself
in public. Then she sat by patiently while we concluded our chat, I
observing that she looked like she’d gladly sit there forever,
Bruce saying she would. Then he gave her a little tug, she looked at
me one last time, and we parted.
Yesterday evening on the sidewalk one
street over, I met Byron. He saw me from his driveway when I was
still a couple of houses away, then waddled with his short legs in my
direction, pausing first to moisten some plants by the curb, his ears
almost reaching the ground. “Byron,” I said, “is that you?”
And he replied with his mournful, gleaming, basset hound eyes, “Oh,
what a world.” So I encouraged him with a scratch behind the ear
and a rub on his head and nose. Then we walked together to his
driveway. The garage door was open. A light was on. But no one else
was about. The door into the house was also open. I raised my voice a
bit and called, “Byron is out.” No answer. I continued on. Byron,
though, stayed behind. He knew not to follow. And anyway, he isn’t
young, and a few yards for him is a mile. Just as a mile for me is a
precious, beautiful lifetime.
not naive, dumb, or out of touch. Well, naive, maybe. Dumb, a little.
Or a lot. But out of touch? Perhaps to the extent of my innocence,
which is or isn’t much. As if one could measure such, or arrive
there by degrees, through a forbidding desert, on a slowly moving
bus. By which I mean, why not total and complete? Because if I say
so, it proves it’s not? Or does it simply prove my luck?
This is my experience : that whatever
and whomever I condemn, to that extent I condemn myself, and blind
myself to love. It isn’t a question of right or wrong. It’s one
of physical, mental, spiritual health. Without it, and perhaps even
with it, how much can I know in any clear sense? And yet, there is
the understanding, or at least the feeling, that I must act. This,
then, is also my action : to say aloud, “I do not know,” and to
live. May yours be as sweet, whatever it is.
The wise old man noticed he was hungry.
Then he remembered he had no food. “Ah, yes,” he said, “there
is that.” A very serious-looking man entered his hut. “You owe us
your taxes.” The wise old man gazed around the empty space and
said, “Everything I have is yours. Take it.” And so, impatiently,
the serious-looking man dismantled the hut, put the pieces in his
cart, and hauled them away. Sitting calmly where his hut used to be,
the wise old man smiled. “Free at last,” he said. A little bird
arrived. Finding nowhere to perch, she settled atop the wise old
man’s head and began to sing. The wise old man joined her. They
sang awhile together, high and low and in between. A cloud arrived.
It began to rain. It rained exactly one bowl of warm, wonderfully
cooked rice. The wise old man ate the rice. As he ate, he offered
some to the bird. The bird was no longer on his head. She was now a
young woman, now old, now his wife. “Dreaming again,” she said.
“Who knows?” the wise old man replied. “One can never be sure.”
And all was well. Hut or no hut, bird or no bird, all was well. Now,
you may ask in what way the wise old man was wise. In his wife. In
Are you aware of the rise and fall of
your breath? Or do you take it for granted, as if your nose and lungs
are furnace filters that should have been changed two months ago? And
if you are not aware, and if you do take it for granted, then it is
only logical to ask what else you are not aware of, and what else you
take for granted. Because your breath, after all, is your life. And
what is that life? Is it a busy, distracted visit to a noisy, cheap
arcade, in which all of the machines must be thoughtlessly fed with
with a rapidly depleting supply of your breath coins? Or is it a
clear quiet morning after rain?