Coffee, Caution, and Thunder

I was puzzled when a stranger knocked on my door and asked if I had any coffee grounds. To my mind, coffee grounds are the wet, used-up stuff left in the filter. I asked if he needed them for his compost, but no, he had run out of coffee. My next question: Why he didn’t buy some? The grocery story is quite close, he had walked from wherever he lived, and he was apparently fit and healthy, a lean man in his late forties or early fifties, clean, sober and normal—or as normal as T or C residents get. “I’m poor,” he said, cheerful and unembarrassed. What could I say? In a neighborhood of retirees, artists, musicians, and low-wage workers, most people are kind of poor.

He’d tried neighbors he knew first, but no one was home, so he progressed further down the street. Since he knew my former landlady, he explained, he felt all right trying for coffee here. Deciding this made him reasonably okay, I ground some beans, and he hunkered down in the yard. At 2:20 in the afternoon, he was wearing a T-shirt and pajama pants and had only now discovered that he’d run out of both cash and coffee. Had he just woken up? I sleep pretty late, since I write until two or three a.m., but it is still morning when I get up. Perhaps he was an artist, so he might keep late hours, too, and occasionally run out money. I gave him a zip lock bag full of freshly ground coffee and told him to go get caffeinated, he thanked me and left, and that was that. But while I ground the coffee, I was aware of the presence of an unfamiliar man outside my door. Though he seemed safe, my guard stayed up.

The next day, I got caught in a thunderstorm. Weather is unpredictable here in the monsoon season. A big blue-gray cloud could hover and do nothing or explode with lightning, thunder and rain. Tiny storms sail through like one slender woman in a long gray dress sweeping through a crowd of larger women in short skirts, only hers touching the earth as she dances past. A tumultuous-looking sky isn’t a reason to stay in. But one patch of clouds got productive while I was running, and I was on the midpoint of the loop of the trail. There was no shorter route back unless I cut through the desert off-trail, dodging thorny plants and various critters’ holes. So, I sped up.

At first, I was fast and attuned to the storm. Then, on the last little uphill stretch, I realized I had gotten so used to the thunder that I’d relaxed my pace as if I couldn’t hear all that rumbling. Funny how the mind works.

Warnings are useful, yet we can get so accustomed to them we stop reacting. With a stranger at my door for five minutes, I stayed alert. With a storm all around me for a longer time, though, I got comfortable. When alarm signals begin to feel normal—alarms about public or private behavior, the state of the planet, or feedback from our own minds and bodies that we need to change—the situation gets more dangerous.

 

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Felt like Fiction

The doctor took my arm and studied it, then examined the other. Still holding my forearms lightly, without making eye contact, he asked, “How do you respond to quartz?”

This was a dermatological exam. I’d driven all the way to Silver City because there were no dermatologists in my insurance network in my vicinity. The choice was either a two-and-a-quarter hour drive to Albuquerque or the same length trip to Silver City. I picked the latter because it would be more of an adventure. I hadn’t been to Silver City for a couple of years, and my nurse practitioner in T or C had recommended the doctor there. Maybe it was that recommendation, or spaciness from getting up early and driving (I’m not a morning person), that made me react with less puzzlement to the question than a dermatologist’s patient normally would. Instead, I simply answered.

“It helps me sleep. Makes me feel grounded.”

“And amethyst?” the doctor asked.

“Intuition,” I replied.

“That makes sense.” He regarded me though his glasses. He was a Hispanic man I guessed to be in his early sixties, though his smooth brown skin—appropriately for his profession—looked youthful compared to his thick silvery hair. “We use those for the direction of the North. The ancestors. You feel protection and guidance.”

We use them? My morning brain fog somehow didn’t clear enough to let me ask who “we” were. He said something about the South being the direction of children and family, and resumed the exam, occasionally mentioning things other than the usual dermatological inquiries and slipping into Spanish a few times as if I should understand it, though he spoke English without any accent. He was into holistic health—nutrition, exercise, meditation—and I was already following a healthy lifestyle along those lines, so he had little need to give me advice. Most of his observations about my skin were identical to those my dermatologist in Virginia had made. Perfectly normal medical conversation. He discussed a new study on a nutrition-and-disease link, and then went on to ask me about having premonitions. “Yes,” I said, “I dream the future.”

He examined my hand. “You have the signs of being a sensitive.”

I knew I was. The surprise was that a medical doctor would bring these things up as if it were as normal as explaining the importance of eating right and using sunscreen. He mentioned what he’d found to be a few other indications of a sensitive and completed the exam. Nothing was wrong, and I should come back in a year.

On my way out, I noticed an intriguing work of art propped on a table, a crucifix with the Christ figure on it crafted from forks and spoons. The circle above the figure’s bowed spoon-bowl head was made from a small ponytail holder, containing a pinch of pink-red dirt under a clear cover, and the word Chimayo was engraved into the wood, following the shape of the circle. This was healing dirt from the chapel in northern New Mexico, the Lourdes of the Southwest.

“That was a gift from a patient,” said the doctor, noticing my pause to admire the artwork. “He was complaining to me about his ‘crazy aunt’ and how she claimed she could tell what was wrong with people just by …” He mimed running a hand over a human aura. “She was curandera and she had people lining up for her limpias.” This was the first time he’d slipped into Spanish that I knew what he was saying. A limpia is a healing and cleansing ritual. The doctor continued, “I explained to him about her gifts, and then told him he too had this gift. He had the signs of a sensitive. An hour later, he came back to give me this. The fork is meaningful. On those special occasions when we had dessert, Grandma would say, ‘keep your fork, the best is yet to come.’ Some people ask to be buried with a fork, because the best is yet to come. The spoon means ‘I will feed my people.’ ”

The patient had been so relieved to understand and accept his gift of healing, he had brought the doctor the gift of the fork-spoon-and-healing-dirt crucifix. I didn’t ask if the patient has made it, still too dazed by the strangeness of the whole encounter to ask questions I later wished I had.

I kept thinking about it, though, as I played tourist in Silver City, passing a sign in a window that said “Dog Grooming and Healing Center.” (You know you’re in New Mexico when you see something like that.) After strolling in a shady park, shopping at a second-hand store, and admiring murals, I followed a series of little purple pig-like outlines stenciled on the sidewalk to the most excellent and badly needed Javelina Coffee shop. After a dose of their light roast, I finally felt awake and clear-headed. And yet, still confused. Had I walked into a Mae Martin mystery or a Selkie Moon mystery? It felt like a bit of both. The doctor’s crystal questions were like something that would happen to Mae in my books, but the way he told me I was a sensitive and that his patient who gave him the unusual crucifix was also one struck as the sort of thing that happens to Virginia King’s synchronicity-prone protagonist, Selkie.

I wonder if I’ll create a curandero-dermatologist character. And what he’ll say during my check-up next year. I know I’ll be more awake and ask more questions.

Sit Still

Permission given. You can sit perfectly still. You don’t have to do anything right now.

Ahh. A breath of relief.

This is what’s real. Being. Breathing. Seeing the patterns of light and colors, hearing the wind outside my windows, feeling my body release tension, letting the inner chatter fall away.

Yes, I have a to-do list. Appointments, commitments. Some are fun, some are just part of being a modern human in a somewhat inefficient society. But my first obligation is to my being. My stillness. My awareness.

The other day, I ran in this mind-state, attending to the sound of my steps and to the sights around me. Though I kept coming back to solving plot problems in my work in progress, I did spend more of my run noticing. As a jackrabbit ducked under a shrub, I saw the exact second that its big ears folded back to avoid the branches as it scampered. Life is full of those perfect moments, these ordinary wonders.

Without them, how can I write? Or enter all my busyness and commitments with an open heart?

 

A Runner’s Rain Chant

Today, it finally rained. Real rain, hours of it. Enough to make puddles and breathe petrichor, the magical scent of desert rain. A friend took her infant daughter out in it after the thunder stopped and let the gentle rain bathe the baby. Her New Mexico baptism.

Earlier in the day, while I ran at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the clouds gathered around the full circle of the horizon in tall white towers and thick gray sweeps, and yet I ran under a bubble of hot blue sky. As the wind picked up, the movement of juniper and creosote branches reminded me of the pine boughs carried in Pueblo corn dances. Dances that honor the oneness of humans, plants, animals, ancestors, and rain. I silenced all other thoughts in my mind and ran for rain, adding my inner voice to all the other rain-prayer songs in the desert.

Cloud People, for you,

My feet are a drum,

Pounding the rhythm of rain.

The grains of sand shushing under my feet

Softly rattle the sounds of rain.

My sweat is rain.

My blood is rain.

My thirst is the thirst of the dry earth,

For every fluid of my body

Is made of rain.

Even my breath as I push up this hill

Exhales the moisture of rain.

The plants are dancing for you,

Hopeful and eager.

Your grandchildren call,

And you come to us,

Singing thunder,

Trailing your soft gray hair over the mountains.

 

 

 

Images: Clouds by Child Hassam and Desert Rain by Edgar Payne

Launch

On June 1st 2017, I left my apartment in Virginia for the last time. With the help of an amazing friend, I had most of my belongings miraculously crammed into my very small car, and had already sold my furniture and excess books. I said my good byes and gave away my bed, my landlord inspected the place, and I hit the road. Bit by bit, plan by plan, I downsized to the minimum and retired early. I’d say more, but why? It was interesting to me, of course, but not because of any adventure or drama that would make a good story, but because it went so smoothly.

On June 1st 2018, I went for a walk to enjoy one of T or C’s amazing full-circle sunsets— pink clouds in the south and in the east, orange and purple mingling in the West—and to commune with the bats that emerge from an old warehouse in the middle of town, next door to the trailer I use as Mae’s house in my books. (I’ve not used the bats in my books yet, but Mae would like them.)

I watched the bats pour from a crack in the brick wall in a flow of perfectly sequenced flights, one bat right after another, and tried to imagine how they organized this exit. One squadron would take off, and then no one came out for a while, but after the pause there was a lot of squeaking high up in the old warehouse. Whenever the squeaking got loud and then stopped,  more bats came out. Sometimes a solo bat popped out of a small hole lower in the wall or shot out of a hole to the right of the main exit, while the main surge of fliers swept out from the big crack and headed for the river. Their orderly formations dispersed into every-which-way flutters, a few independent bats leaving the crowd altogether to stay and hunt bugs around the neighborhood.

One reason this multi-bat take-off is so amazing is they can’t run; they can only take off by dropping and launching like hang gliders. Imagine the launch sequence inside the old warehouse as one bat after another lets go of the ceiling and aims for the exit. Somehow, they organize it, and it works.

A year after my move, I have no regrets. It was the right decision, a successful launch. I can live happily as a writer and yoga teacher in a very small apartment in a wonderfully weird town. I’ve made new friends and no enemies (that I know of) and am still discovering the simple beauties of this place. I ran in the desert on June 1st 2018, aware that a year earlier I was in my car. On my way to the quail, the jackrabbits, the mule deer, and the checkered whiptails that made my run so beautiful. On my way home.

 

Happy Coincidences

Dear Susan,

First, happy birthday. I’m honored that you wanted to treat yourself to my books to celebrate. Second. I want to thank you for telling me why. You said reading The Calling had a positive impact on your life. Writing it had a positive impact on my life, too, as I explored healing and loss, friendship and enmity, and the lessons learned from all of them. When you said the book had an effect as you were making changes in your place, working with its energy, I understood. I’m part-way through book seven in the series, which introduces a character who is a house healer, so this was an intriguing coincidence.

Your call to Black Cat Books to order the rest of the series was another synchronicity. My neighbor and I had gone there for tea and book shopping before the store takes its summer vacation. (The off-season in T or C starts after Memorial Day. It’s already in the upper nineties.) Your birthday happens to fall right before the store closes up for three months. I was just about to head out the door when I heard Rhonda, the store owner, mention my name. So I stayed and had the opportunity to talk with you and then signed the books dedicated to you.

Authors don’t often get to talk with readers. I hugely appreciate those who review or get in touch, but I don’t expect it of the majority. All I want is for them to read, enjoy, and repeat. Hearing how you connected with The Calling at a psychological and spiritual/energetic level meant a lot to me. Your input reminds to keep taking my protagonist on her healing journey, through mysteries that challenge her emotionally and ethically and require her to learn (often the hard way).

Thank you for supporting a small, independent bookstore and for making an author’s day—not only by buying my books, but re-grounding me in the reasons why I write them. Next time you visit T or C, perhaps the book with the house healer will be in Black Cat for you.

Amber

Title?

Several readers suggested I should collect some of my blog posts into a short book of reflective essays, and I’ve finished selecting the ones to polish and organize into this project. It needs a title before I can have a cover designed, but I’ve always found it hard to name things. (As an undergraduate theater and dance student, I used to choreograph a lot of pieces called “Untitled.”)

The working title on the file is Meditations from the Middle of Nowhere, because Truth or Consequences, NM is very much in the middle of nowhere. However, I wrote many of those posts when I was only a part-time resident of T or C and spent most of each year teaching at a small college in Virginia. Not quite the middle of nowhere, though perhaps that doesn’t matter. One of my blog post titles, Small Awakenings, might be a good one for the book as well.

Maybe some of you have better ideas. Suggestions?