“I’ve got nothing better to do. Might as well turn eighty-five.”

Last year, when Bob turned eighty-four, another friend and I took him for a float trip on the Rio Grande. With a very old friend, each birthday is a special occasion, even if he says things like the title of this post. When I stopped by Sunday to give him a book for his eighty-fifth, he was sitting on the cement porch of his apartment—a cheddar-yellow, purple, and red building in true T or C style. With him was a friend who had brought a cake, and they were having a quiet celebration in 2020 mode. The chairs on his porch are a little over six feet apart. His mask hangs on the knob of a large, heavy bureau he somehow hauled out from his living room along with his armchairs, a lamp, a clock, a table, and little potted plants. He’s pretty much established his pandemic parlor outside.

Every other day at sunset, I walk his dog. She’s old, too, but she’s a faster walker than he is, so I’m in charge of her cardio workouts, while he takes her for leisurely, companionable strolls to the river.

The bats have relocated yet again. Now they live in the Baptist church. The sky is alive with their dances as the dog and I finish our walk. I deliver her back to Bob, and we talk and watch the sunset. A ceremony of cherishing the day and our friendship.

 

Surfacing

As I said in my last post, when coyotes crossed my path, I chose to see them as a sign. Disconnect more was my interpretation of the message. More wildlife was showing up when I ran because there were so few other humans. Animals were reclaiming their space, and I needed to reclaim mine. My inner space.

Looking through the aquarium glass of a computer screen at a version of the world skewed by what people choose to share or make important was getting oppressive. So, I declared a timeout from Facebook, even though I knew I would miss friends’ pictures of their kids and cats and gardens, and links to their art and music. I needed a break from the mix of news and trivia that makes up the rest of Facebook. This freed up writing time. Freed my mind from the urge to scroll, too.

Then my laptop crashed. Like the coyote-powered universe was saying, “Hey, you like your time out?  Here’s more.”

And it was good. No news at all. No e-mail. My days out from under the internet allowed me not only to surface from the info-pond but to have a breakthrough.  Writing by hand, I outlined my main characters’ life events during the year and six months between the end of the seventh Mae Martin Mystery, Shadow Family, and the beginning of the eighth one. Then I chose five events in that timeline and sketched the plots of short stories.  Already, I can already see the effect this insight into the “skipped” time will have on my revisions to book eight.

When FedEx delivered the new laptop, after my four serene and productive days, I had mixed feelings about it, especially once I was swamped with the hassles of getting various setups completed. Everything was about the computer.

Now I’m adapted to it and doing my best to have a different relationship with it than with its predecessor. When I venture onto Facebook, it’s only to get in touch with a few close friends and a group of fellow writers, and then I’m outta there. I do follow the news again, but I limit it to listening while I’m lifting weights or doing housework. I’ve finished a fairly polished version of one short story, completed the first draft of the next, and improvised the opening paragraphs of the third. Writing short fiction is great discipline for tightening scenes in full-length novels. And my time without a computer made me keep flowing as I wrote, no stopping to fix and tinker. I’m applying that process to my first drafts now:  keep going to the end. It’s all going to get revised anyway.

Though I’m still one of the world’s slowest writers, I’ve learned how to speed up a little.

Hugging a Wasp and Other Encounters

I walked the road along the Rio Grande, going well past the areas where people fish or put in rafts, far enough to be alone with the cliffs, the cacti, and the red-winged blackbirds in the shrubs on the bank. A huge blue heron flew low over the center of the river, gliding upstream. A jackrabbit on the opposite bank crept down to drink. The shared silence felt special. I was at peace. The rabbit was at peace.

The rainbow-like greater earless lizards are one of the many beauties of Elephant Butte Lake State Park. There’s one who lives under a certain juniper at a bend in the trail where I run. She was pink-sided earlier, and now she isn’t, meaning she has laid her eggs. Now she’s just green and orange. I look forward to seeing her on her favorite rock when the temperature is in the eighties and low nineties, and she needs to warm up, holding still as I slow down to admire her.

I spotted another of this species standing upright on its hind legs near an empty campground, front feet on a flat-topped pink rock that was perfectly scaled to be a little bar for lizards. It looked so much like it was ordering a beer, I wished I had a camera. Not that I would go running with a camera, but it would have made a wonderful picture.

While picking figs outside my apartment, I accidentally cupped my hand around a small delicate body. A wasp. Not the kind that crawls inside a fig to lay eggs, but the kind that stops by to eat after the birds have carved holes in the fruit. They’re a stunning variation on the theme of wasp, adobe brown with yellow stripes and geometric designs on their backs. They remind me of some pottery ornaments I bought years ago at a Pueblo corn dance as gifts for my family. It didn’t react to my touch, and I let go, surprised by its gentleness.

All quail family encounters are aww-inspiring. The chicks are SO tiny and so numerous, running to keep up with their parents.

And then, there were the coyotes. One crossed my path in the desert, looking back at me. Then another, paying me no mind. The lack of people in the park may be making them feel free to roam their territory in ways they wouldn’t in a normal year. They’re such a rare sighting, especially in the middle of a summer day, I took them as a sign. Not that they were there for me, of course.

I perceive these various creatures—in my human way—as cute, beautiful, or meaningful. We’re connected in the web of life, and my spirit needs them. But none of them are there for me. That’s part of the magic of wild things.

Schedule and a Sale

Once upon a time, I used to post every Thursday. Then it became every other Thursday or whenever I was inspired. I’m not sure it matters to readers of this blog if I keep to a schedule, but I decided it matters to me. For years, I had a schedule with the group blog, Ladies of Mystery. This summer, I decided it was time to leave. If you followed me on Ladies of Mystery, you got used to seeing my posts about writing on the fourth Thursday of every month, and I benefited from the discipline of reflecting on my craft. I’ll be keeping that schedule here, while posting on the second Thursday of every month on the other topics you’ve come to expect from me. Mindfulness, running, yoga, nature, occasional book reviews, and life in New Mexico.  In a way, there’s no boundary between reflecting on these things and on the work of writing. It’s all connected. A process of awareness and deep attention.

Anyway, the “real” post is next week. This is just my public commitment to the schedule. And an announcement that the boxed set of the Mae Martin Mysteries Books 1-3 is on sale for $2.99.

I hope all my readers are doing as well as possible in difficult times, staying safe and healthy. You’re welcome to use the comments to say hello, even if you have no actual comments on my post.

 

Carport Yoga

After a long hiatus, I finally taught yoga. Not in a studio or a spa like I used to, though. Group fitness classes are specifically not allowed under current public health orders in New Mexico, a decision I support. But personal training is allowed. I taught a private outdoor class in a student’s carport, twelve feet apart so we could be unmasked even with deep breathing and with my voice projecting. A typical New Mexico carport is a detached shade structure, open on all sides, not part of the house, so the breeze blows through. Perfect for outdoor yoga. The cat walked through, giving us a humans-are-weird look. It was the first class I’d taught since early March, and she hadn’t taken a class since the end of February. I look forward to doing this weekly, the exchange of positive energy that is teacher and student.

Figs

I pick figs daily in the front yard of my apartment building. The treasure hunt of foraging for ripe fruit, the embrace of greenness, pawing my way through the tree, getting deep into its leafy arms—I take as much pleasure in this as in fresh figs. I give half of them away. Birds, wasps, and ants nibble their share of figs, and I often emerge from a dive into the tree with a tiny spider in my hair. Immersion in the branches reminds me of being a child climbing trees, and gives me an odd sense of being one of my distant ancestors.  A hunter-gatherer living in a forest.

Music for the Heart and Soul

It’s been stressful just to be a human and an American lately. Though my stresses are lower than many people’s—I’m Anglo; I can get by without my yoga teaching income; writing fiction is work I can do alone at home; I live in a state with a lower infection rate than its struggling neighbors; and I practice a lot of stress management skills—I feel the impact of what’s happening. You’d have to be numb not to. I’ve been feeling the grief of the whole country, the losses, the tragedies, and the outrages, as well as dealing with the necessary contraction of my social life. And then there was the stress of this Thursday’s errands: getting a mammogram during a pandemic, going grocery shopping during a pandemic. Getting ready to head home, I reached into the box in the back seat for music for the drive. My hand grasped the CD Walela from 1992. Beautiful choice by chance. Healing and uplifting.

Yes, this is another RAIN post. It’s the monsoon season. Rain is sacred in New Mexico. It’s a manifestation of spirit, not just the hydrologic cycle. One of those July magical moments appeared, rain in the distance as a curtain across the landscape, a few drops on my windshield, and then I was in it, smelling it, hearing it, my little car being washed with a blinding blast of it. Wind flung rain sideways across the road, and this song came on in the middle of the storm.  Circle of Light. There are no images with the video, so you can close your eyes and imagine a New Mexico monsoon while you listen.

I’ve been disappointed in my fellow humans at times lately, yet most of them are kind, patient, considerate, and loving. And the people who go to work so others can eat or have medical screenings are also brave. The occasional jerks I encounter stand out, but they too have souls and hearts and are capable of love, though their public behavior might make me think otherwise for a moment.

The song blew through me like the storm, cleansing and powerful. All of us, all of us, are in the circle of light.

Zero Percent Chance of Rain

The clouds were thick and gray, trailing shaggy beards of virga, usually a sign that it’s too hot to rain all the way to the ground. The forecast said zero-percent chance. I walked to the Rio Grande, avoiding the place I used to go to enjoy it—Rotary Park—because it was packed with vehicles, and we’ve had an influx of Texans. Instead, I walked the dirt road, listened to red-winged blackbirds, admired the cliff with cacti sprouting from its steep sides, and headed home. Too many trucks puffing dust on the road. Thunder began rumbling, and was I surprised to feel a soft mist of rain on my skin. Such a gift, when least expected.

Boredom? Free Time? What’s That?

Occasionally people have asked me—from six feet or more away, outdoors, of course—if I’m bored yet. My answer: I’m a writer. I’m never bored.

I’m wrapping up another major revision of the eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery, but I haven’t had as much time to work on it as I expected. With all “close contact” businesses in New Mexico still closed—and that includes fitness facilities like yoga studios—I should have free time. I’m not taking classes in Albuquerque or teaching classes here in Truth or Consequences. My new running route, a dirt road along the Rio Grande, is two tenths of a mile from my apartment. I don’t drive to Elephant Butte to run in the still-closed state park. I love this road—the river, blue herons, red-winged blackbirds, butterflies, a few blooming cacti, and some unknown plant that smells crisp and green. A dirt road in the windy season delivers occasional little dust storms, but I can’t complain. It’s flat, so I can run without reinjuring myself, and it couldn’t be more convenient.

The time suck is laundry. I live in a tiny apartment. I often rented places this size when I was a professor spending summer vacations in Truth or Consequences, and I realized all I actually needed was two rooms and a bath, not my two-story, two-bedroom townhouse, so when I retired and moved, I downsized. The lack of laundry hookups or space for machines was only a minor issue. After all, I could do a week’s laundry all at once at the laundromat, bring my exercise tubing, and go outside to work out while giant machines did their jobs.

Then, this spring, the laundromat became stressful. Sanitizing the machines and the laundry carts. Asking people to stay six feet away and getting dirty looks for it. I ordered two little gadgets that are life-savers. But they aren’t time savers. The hand-cranked Wonder Wash holds about five pounds of laundry. I have practically no counter space next to the sink, so I have to put it in the (very small) shower, kneel on a towel on the floor to crank right-handed, then get behind it in the shower and do a kind of half squat and crank left-handed to make it churn the other way. Two minutes for a wash, a minute per rinse. Two rinses. Sounds quick, but there’s the filling, the draining, and the wringing between rinses. Then I carry the wet clothes to the electric spin dryer in the living room. It whirls them at amazing speeds and flings the water out with centrifugal force to drain into a plastic tray under its spout. This takes two to four minutes, and again, that sounds quick. But I have to wipe the washer dry and store it behind the sofa, empty the spin dryer’s drain tray, and hang up my laundry without a clothes line. The whole process takes at least an hour per load. Small items drape on the edge of the clothes baskets. Larger items go on hangers on the shower rod. Sheets get folded in four lengthwise, clipped to pants hangers, dried with a fan, then folded with the other side out, fan-dried again, and then refolded yet again with yet another area on the outside. Towels the next day, clothing the next, a day off, and then I have to do more laundry. Five pounds at a time.

My thumb muscles are sore. My upper back and shoulder muscles are sore—and I’ve been doing yoga daily and lifting weights three times a week for decades. I’m still working out while I do my laundry, but it’s not as easy—the workout or the laundry. Amazing. Think how fit our great grandmothers must have been doing the wash for a whole household.

Every time I put away a set of clean, dry sheets and pillowcases, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I did it myself, at home, without sharing respiratory droplets in an enclosed space with other people.

And now, finally, I can sit down and write.

*****

Red-winged blackbird photo by Sarah Stierch

Note: I provided links to the products I discussed so you could see pictures, but they’ve been in such demand they’re sold out.