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

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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?

Cactus Flowers, Colander Hats and Other May Musings

This is my first May in Truth or Consequences. I may have complained about the wind a little (or a lot) but there’s much to love, and when the wind stops, this hot spring/summer month is beautiful. We don’t have green grass and tulips and daffodils here, but May does bring out some amazing flowers. Ocotillo! It’s not a cactus, though it can be mistaken for one when its leaves have fallen off. In the winter, it looks like a spray of long, thorny sticks. In the summer, it wears small green leaves. And in May, scarlet blossoms flare from its tips, stunning against the bare blue sky, attracting bees and hummingbirds. Tree cholla displays purple-pink blossoms on the ends of its long, spiky arms, prickly pear cacti are blooming with orange or yellow cups, and ice plants, low-growing succulents with daisy-like flowers in a rainbow of colors, cover swaths of ground all along the streets.

A year ago, I was teaching my last college classes, grading finals, preparing to move, and somehow keeping up with writing and yoga. This year, instead of marching in commencement in hot black academic regalia, I was walking with a float in T or C’s Fiesta Parade. Fiesta is a celebration of the town. Local businesses sponsor floats, political parties and candidates join the parade, and of course there are horses and a marching band. My favorite part of the parade was the Stationary Parade on the sidewalk, where residents in extraordinary costumes waved at the moving parade. Some of stationary parade “marchers” were “walking” in no-impact Gazelle workout equipment, legs swinging back and forth on airborne pedals. One man wore a suit of big silver sequins. And they wore, of course, colander hats.

This is not a mere kitchen item on one’s head. It’s millinery art. The Colander Krewe has been part of Fiesta for eleven years, and it’s catching on. The prize-winning float sponsored by Desert Archaic Gallery, Don’s Den, and Truth or Consequences Brewing Company—a float featuring a pink-wigged woman in a top hat beating a large drum, pulled by the iconic Whatever-mobile—was followed by people in costumes topped by astoundingly strange and original hats, including at least one colander.

Fiesta also includes a car show at the Moose Lodge, music and vendors in Ralph Edwards Park by the river, and a junk boat race. By trying to squeeze in the car show and the boat race, I missed all but the final junk boat, a strange creation heading off down the Rio Grande with what appeared to be tiny wheels on long arms like spider legs poking out from its floating center.

The vendor who caught my attention for the longest time was selling crystals, some of them enormous, and he had tubs full of geodes, most of them not broken open, so one could purchase a surprise. I didn’t—crystal-bearing rocks cover a corner of my desk already, some plucked from local trails—but I liked the idea of buying that gray rough sphere, knowing it holds a crystal cave, and waiting until the time is right to open it and reveal the magic. It’s a metaphor waiting to be used. I hope I can find a reason to use it, and to write a scene that includes colander hats.

*****

Totally off topic, but if you haven’t read The Calling yet or want to recommend it  to someone, it’s on sale through May 21 for 99 cents all e-book retail sites.

 

Gnats

They only want light. Or at least I think that’s what they want. They cling to the ceiling and then die, in such astounding numbers I’m amazed they keep coming and that the world isn’t running out of gnats. They started slipping in through the tiny gaps around the air conditioner every night when the weather got warm. I keep a mop out so I won’t be constantly stepping on their poor little corpses. In the place I used to rent, the converted pea-soup-green trailer that plays the role of Mae’s house in my books, I had a few well-placed house spiders who lived under the lamps and took care of this problem. But I have none here.

When the bats came back to their nearby caves in mid-April, the gnats vanished for a while. But when the high winds kick up, the bats stay low over the Rio Grande, their delicate bodies protected by the banks, and they don’t come into town. They don’t like wind any more than I do. So, on windy nights, the gnats once again hover around my ceiling light, walk across my computer screen, and then pepper my floor.

Sometimes I resent them, but they only want light.

My thoughts intrude like gnats sometimes, and I catch them being negative or critical, or just self-pressuring-busy with all the things I tell myself I ought to do. Behind all this seeking-something energy, there’s an impulse toward light. I mop up the gnats. Thoughts. Gnats. With gratitude for bats and spiders, and for the space between my thoughts.

Ghosts, Mediums, and Scientists: A Review of Spook by Mary Roach

Reading Spook was one of the most enjoyable pieces of research I’ve done. My fiction often involves ghosts and other forms of contact with the dead, as well as psychic phenomena. I’ve found numerous studies of mind-to-mind communication, remote viewing, precognition, etc., but this is the first time I’ve read about scientific attempts to study the afterlife. I read a couple of books on ghost-hunting and paranormal investigation; however, the author of those books is more a professional skeptic than a solid scientist.

Mary Roach explores current science on reincarnation, soul weighing, out of body experiences, and also the history of mediums and other interactions with the spirits of the dead. She’s one of the funniest writers I’ve come across. She manages to find the strangest items in the historical record—her chapter on ectoplasm, for example. The fact that it was regarded so seriously at the time it was a popular mediumistic trick is as fascinating as the methods used to produce it.

Roach participates in a training for becoming a medium; takes part in a study on creating the perception of a ghost through infrasound; goes along on reincarnation research trips in India; visits a small North Carolina town where a ghost helped a man win a lawsuit; and more. Her inquiries are serious, but she never takes herself seriously. Much of the humor comes from her ability to laugh at herself, and to notice the workings of her own mind.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts or life after death, you can enjoy and learn from the author’s journey.