Lessons from the World’s Smallest Butterfly

Have you ever seen a Western Pygmy Blue? They aren’t rare or endangered. In fact, they’re all over the map, north to south, wherever there’s desert habitat that suits them. But they’re hard to notice. It’s easy to walk past the flutter of such small wings and not realize whose wings they are unless they arrive in a flock.

The yard of my apartment building has been honored with a little flock. One of my neighbors and I get wrapped up in gazing at them, the exquisite patterns on the tiny wings, the mingled flight as all the butterflies rise and flutter and change flowers, as if a square dance caller had directed a new part of the dance.

They remind me not to overlook small wonders. The scent of purple sage in bloom. A baby greater earless lizard with perfect little orange forelegs. The silver fuzz on green creosote berries. Breath. Movement. Friendship. Another day of being alive, connected, and grateful.

Image source: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/sighting_details/1236172

Any Day Can Be a New Beginning

It doesn’t have to be a birthday, a new year, or an anniversary. It can be any random day. There’s no perfect time, so all times are good. A new beginning may be as simple as rediscovering how it feels to stand straighter, to move more mindfully, noticing the scents of desert flowers, the sounds of birds, and a breeze’s breath.

My past is truly past, including the part I imagined would also be my future. But my present life, if I let go of what I thought it would be, is beautiful. Change has found me, and that frees me to seek it more.

 

New Mexico Mystery Review: Shaman Winter by Rudolfo Anaya

This third book in Anaya’s Sonny Baca series is the most mystical, filled with visions and shamanic dream journeys. Sonny’s detective work takes place in both the ordinary realm and the spirit realm, as he travels through layers of time and identities to confront his ongoing antagonist, the sorcerer Raven.

Raven, in this story, has allied with a white supremacist militia, a plot element that’s surprisingly current, though the book is old enough that doing detective work on the internet was new when it was first published.

The action at all levels is intense, once the story gets moving. The journeys into New Mexico history are exciting, integrating the past with the present. Sonny matures. He has always idealized his fiancée, Rita. In this book, he finally seems to understand her whole, vulnerable humanity as they endure a shared crisis. The curandera Lorenza, however, is still on the pedestal where Sonny tends to put women. He appreciates her, yet I never felt he perceived her entire self. Sonny’s neighbor, friend, and shamanic teacher  Don Eliseo plays a profound role. The end of the book is extraordinary in both the writing and the main character’s spiritual development, as well as the humility with which Sonny concludes this particular case.

This is a book only Anaya could have written. The beginning has some slow spots, so slow I might have stopped reading if I didn’t know the author’s work well enough to keep going, trusting he would reward me. I was right. It well worth reading the beginning to reach the finale.

A Day Outside of Time

Tuesday July 21, as I was leaving Las Cruces, one of those big highway signs with electronic lettering said “7/21/21 Time Begins.” It looked ominous. Usually, they say things like “get vaccinated and you could win the lottery,” or “construction at exit such and such.” After that strange announcement, I was happy to get a Day Outside of Time. The opening prompt in my online writers’ group the following Sunday said July 25 is an extra day in the Mayan calendar. There are thirteen moons, so the 365th day is outside of time.

I literally ran with that idea, alone in the beauty of the desert, allowing my mind to be unconstrained by past or future, by any sense of time pressing on me from one side or the other. Nothing impending or demanding. To be free, I didn’t have to run off on some great adventure, because the moment was the adventure.

When I got home, I realized I hadn’t walked down to the Rio Grande lately. The river looked like a long, fast-flowing mud puddle after recent monsoons. I stood at the edge. Strands and wreaths of desert willow branches floated past, green and flexible, torn off by wind and water. Time and thought are the branches. The present moment is the river. Beyond that, the mountain. Steady. Tadasana.

I walked home past the “cat house,” a trailer that houses a cat colony—at least in the yard. (I don’t know if they have indoor access.) Someone feeds them. Among them are two unusual and beautiful cats I plan to use as feline characters in a future book. They were snuggling and sunbathing with their friends. Animals always have all days outside of time.

 

Rain Runner

Sensation and perception reach my deepest inner places, massaging out creativity and awareness where I didn’t even know they’d been knotted up.  The first day of rain delivered a short thunderstorm. It cooled the air so much I opened my door and turned the air conditioner off, bringing in the special smell of desert rain. The burst of natural light through the screen door changed the look of the room, and the silence created space in which the familiar felt new.

In the prior weeks, the temperature was over 100 day after day. My body is acclimated to exercise in high heat, and I’ve come to enjoy the intensity of it. However, the sand on the trail got so hot my toes were blistering in my five-toed, flexible barefoot shoes. A pair of new, semi-minimalist shoes let me keep running, but instead of responding to subtle differences in the terrain that normally would make me vary my stride and speed, dancing around rocks and thorns, I just kept padding along. My feet felt nothing but shoe.

On the second day of rain, soft and steady, I ran in it, letting it bathe me in its blessings. The sand had cooled and firmed, the perfect running surface. Wearing my barefoot shoes again, I could feel the textures of thick sand, of thin sand over underlying rock, of the rounded bumps of a pebbly stretch of trail—getting reflexology from the ground. My feet were happy. Sole to soul.

Rain beaded on the tips of green needles and leaves, on desert plants that seldom wear such jewelry. The greens grew brighter and deeper under the diffuse gray-sky light.

To honor the rain gods, I cleaned the trail as best I could. With the reopening of tourism comes plastic litter. The discarded containers I carried to a trash can had no texture, no responsiveness to the weather, just impermeable smoothness. The dirt that stuck to them was alive, holding moisture, darkening with wetness. It struck me that my mind after too much time indoors is like plastic, while time in nature makes it more like dirt. Stuff can grow in it.

 

 

Checkered Present

Now that I have more social and community interactions, I have new kinds of noise in my head. Did I say something awkward? Did I listen well? Did I lose my social skills over a year of seeing only a few people, usually one at a time, outdoors?

I came through the front gate after a day of “peopling,” as I’ve heard it called, when movement on the far side of the yard snagged my attention. A lizard was heading my way. All the inner chatter stopped. So did my movement. The animal scurried to a spot of shade a few inches from my feet and angled its head up to examine me. And I examined it—a good-sized checkered whiptail with a dark-and light pattern on its legs and body fading into tiny, delicate squares on its tail. We held eye contact until I moved my head to get a better look, and the lizard sped off to another patch of shade. In our brief encounter, it had done me a service. Popping the thought bubble with present-moment awareness.

Four Years and a Free Story

Today is my fourth anniversary of moving to Truth or Consequences, taking early retirement to write full time. I will celebrate by putting in some serious hours on the next book and committing to an earlier start on each night’s writing.

I’ve been productive in those four years. Three works of fiction have come out—Death Omen, Shadow Family, and Gifts and Thefts—and the essay collection Small Awakenings.

But I actually started the book I’m working on before I moved. While there are elements in it that I like, the problem is I finished the first draft of book eight in the Mae Martin Series before I began book seven. I’ve had to rewrite book eight almost entirely, and I’m still revising. It can’t be the same story it started out to be. The characters have matured and changed.

Speaking of characters maturing … Mae’s thirtieth birthday party takes place in one of the short stories in Gifts and Thefts. In the series prequel, The Outlaw Women, you can meet her at age ten, as seen through the eyes of her grandmother. Free on all e-book retailers through July 15th.

 

Folk healer and seer Rhoda-Sue Outlaw Jackson knows her time on earth is running out when she hears the voice of her late husband telling her she has only but so many heartbeats left. She’s had a troubled relationship with her daughter, and has little hope of passing on her extraordinary gifts, either to this difficult daughter or to her granddaughter. With the final hour around the corner, she brings her family together for one more try. Can she leave the world at peace with them, as well as with her legacy?

 

Reentering

I heard the term “post-traumatic growth” in a segment on NPR in which listeners asked questions of mental health experts, discussing lessons learned over a year of semi-isolation, loss, and change. Some were profound, others funny. One listener worried about getting back into social circulation after being fully vaccinated, afraid he had become unable to make small talk. One of the experts asked, do we need to get small talk back? I laughed, because I’d had the same concern—even though I’ve always been good at it.

Other thoughts on going back into the world:

Some friendships have stayed solid despite distance, while others faded. Those flowers were ready to drop their petals.

Hugging again was less of a big deal than I thought it would be. Good, meaningful, but not soul-shaking. Sort of like the rain today. It was refreshing and beautiful, but not a storm. I’m happy to resume real hugs with real friends, but I don’t want to receive exuberant but empty hugs from people I don’t feel close to, the contact equivalent of small talk. (Especially if they wear a lot of scent.) Touch means more than it used to, and so does my personal space.

Free time means more than it used to. I’ve had less of it during the pandemic, as I committed to more groups and more Zoom meetings. Today I declined to attend a meeting. I’ll still support that group, but I just couldn’t make them a priority today. I was out in the world, doing ordinary things I hadn’t done for so long they seemed special.

Like the rain. So rare, every drop is cherished miracle. Ordinary life is now a cherished miracle. And a changed one.

Writer’s Intuition

By making a joke in my online writers’ group, I caught the attention of exactly the expert I needed—and didn’t know I needed. The morning’s motivational prompt had been a funny one—something about banging one’s head on one’s desk. I replied, “Speaking of head-banging, my work in progress has a plot thread about metal music.” Another writer replied to me: “That’s my genre. Reach out if you need anything.”

I thought I’d done my research, but once I contacted her, I found out how little I’d really learned. Giving a character a connection to metal music in her past was intended to add surprising elements to the plot. Faced with how little I understood about the genre, and how enormous the project of grasping this complex musical world might be, I had to reconsider and ask myself some key questions.

Is the story dependent on this element? Or does it only add flavor? If that’s the case, could another flavor substitute? This reminds me of something my friend Bob said about cooking. When a recipe calls for Himalayan pink salt, if he can’t tell the difference between using it or regular salt, he’ll go with the plain stuff.

The black metal plot thread might be Himalayan pink salt. I’m going to try plain salt and see if the recipe still works. The story is about the characters, their challenges and dilemmas, their desires and obstacles, their lessons. As long as this character has a certain pair of people in her past, their creative output can be an art form I understand better. I never thought my joke would lead to such a revelation, and yet it felt important to make it. When it popped into my head,  I turned my laptop back on and posted it, though I was on my way out the door. The comment was, as far as I could tell, trivial, but my intuition knew better.