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.
The puddle bewildered me. The weather was cloudy, but it hadn’t rained. I returned from a walk to find water in the yard of our apartment building. The direction of flow seemed to come from next door. I alerted my landlord to the puddle and climbed over the chain-link fence to the currently unoccupied neighboring rental property, snagging the seat of my oldest and most disreputable sweatpants in process. I’d wondered why I actually left my apartment dressed like that. I try not to go out looking too awful. Sometimes we just plan right by accident.
Anyway, my trespassing (which was oddly fun, by the way, after the stuck moment) led me to water that trickled through the yard as far as the cement slab of the side deck next door. Was the source in the house? The water was warm-ish. I called the owner. He came all the way from Las Cruces, thinking his rental house’s water heater had leaked.
Nope. It was fine. He dug around in our yard and found the problem. It was bubbling up from deep underground, from a pipe that runs to the Airstream trailer in the yard, the trailer my former landlady once fantasized living in when she retired. When my current landlord took over the property, he was told all those pipes were no longer connected to the apartments. No longer connected at all. Wrong.
A tree root found a pipe. The tree had water. We whose pipe it was do not.
Despite two days of trying, my landlord and one of my neighbors in our building were unable to make the repair. A professional is coming Tuesday. That will give us a full week of water appreciation.
I marvel at the simplicity of life with running water. How easy it is to wash your hands and your dishes, how uncomplicated it is to brush your teeth. Everything takes longer when you’re juggling jugs. But the jugs make me measure what I use. Even a frugal human uses a lot of water.
Our landlord bought us a week’s worth of soaking and showering at a spa two blocks away. I relish the hot mineral spring soaks along with my showers. Water. It’s sacred and healing as well as necessary and cleansing. The sensation of sinking into a hot tub when you have no water at home is doubly miraculous.
Today it rained twice, a long, quiet rain in the morning and a wild thunderstorm in the evening with intervals of hail. As I write this, the third rainstorm of the day is approaching, thundering gently as it comes. It hasn’t rained for a month, so, like all desert rain, this is welcome. Tomorrow it may even snow, after a spell of sixty-to-seventy degree weather, complete with the winds and pollen of spring. The water washed the air and calmed it down. And nourished the tree that no longer can drink from our pipe.
I could have resented the task. I was doing it out of frustration, not from the goodness of my heart. The yoga studio where I teach, which doubles as a walk-in massage clinic twice a week, needed deep and thorough spring cleaning. I’d suggested a group effort, but for various reasons, no one signed on.
It was a hard place to keep clean. The former owner/manager had left a lot of well-meaning clutter three years ago, things she mistakenly thought would be used, and people were reluctant to get rid of her stuff. I excavated in the corner behind the altar that hides the CD player and the massage supplies and found a sword, a goat-toe-shaker, a slide projector screen, and a very dusty massage chair that hadn’t been used for over a year, as well as a variety of colorful markers and odd wooden massage tools. I got permission from the current owner to remove them. One of the massage therapists offered to store them for the former owner. Phew. And one of my students offered to help, saying God put her on earth to clean and organize—that it was her calling.
I think it is. Not just because she got the job done, but because of the way she did it. She was so positive, and I was so grateful, I felt little need to vent. I only did it once, and I was mindful enough to tell her I was going to, and then I was done. It took the two of us five hours of hard work, but we got the dust and desert grit and clutter out, reorganized the space, and did laundry. It’s quite a transformation. The details of the tasks don’t matter. Her attitude does—her genuine, no-strings-attached giving of her time and energy. I offered her some free classes in thanks, but she said no. She’d come a couple of times when she was the only student, and to her those private classes for the price of group classes were more than enough.
She found a tiny house gecko living behind a large plant. Since we were vacuuming, she tried to hand him to me to put him out. I lost him for a second, and then captured him again, holding his firm yet delicate body with enough of a grip to get him safely outside. I was surprised how sturdy he was for such a miniscule being, and how unafraid of me.
In the sunlight, he was a miraculous being, like gold brocade on an off-white background. Even his eyes seemed golden. I was enraptured by him, glad to be cleaning because we found this treasure in the process. I set him on the outdoor adobe wall. He’s a house gecko, so he’ll probably come back in. The clutter won’t. Now that’s it’s easy to clean, a housekeeper takes care of it. I won’t have to do this again. No resentment necessary, only gratitude for my student’s teachings. Anything done from a place of love can be a spiritual practice.
Tourists were cycling in shorts and sleeveless tank tops today. I could tell they were “from away” (a wonderful phrase I picked up in Maine) not only because they were clad for summer in January, but because they wore actual bike shorts—and helmets. A local cyclist is more likely to ride in jeans and have long gray hair flowing out from under a ball cap, while dangling a grocery bag from one hand or pulling some sort of wagon with his dog in it.
Another tourist I saw today, a man with cropped silver hair, was sunbathing shirtless outside his camper at the lake. No hat. No sunglasses. Getting a tan, of all things. I didn’t think anyone did that anymore, but if you’re from some snowbound Northern state, it might be hard to resist a sunny, fifty-seven degree day in the desert. Meanwhile, I was wearing long pants, two layers of shirts, gloves, a visor hat, wrap-around goggles, and sunscreen.
I enjoy winter here in southern New Mexico, but its beauty is familiar. If I imagine what this day would have felt like should I have been suddenly transported here the year I had a job in Maine, and the snowbanks were as tall as I was, I’d have thought I’d gone to heaven. Back then, I walked to work wrapped in a windproof snowsuit, taking cautious steps on perpetually icy sidewalks. I know I don’t live in paradise. Our community has its problems, and we need rain the way those half-naked Northerners need sun. It’s good to see them. They remind me to appreciate the ordinary and to realize it’s actually extraordinary.
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.
The world we see through headlines seems to be falling apart, filled with violence and dysfunction, and ordinary life can be full of petty hassles. I need to get out in the natural world where life is more in balance than in the man-made one, and do it daily. Before the temperature goes over a hundred and after it goes down.
The same conditions that make June in New Mexico so challenging during the day—no humidity, no clouds, hot winds clearing the sky—make it spectacular after dark. Even just standing in an alley, a short way from the streetlights, I can look up and see not only the bigger, closer stars, but the background billions and billions sparkling like a beach of diamond sand behind them.
Heat and all, I still run, heading out while the temperature is only in the nineties. As I was about to start a run a few days ago, I encountered a grasshopper longer than my index finger. Yes, it held still and let me measure. Its head was marbled, its body striped and speckled, and it had golden antennae that looked like strands of broom straw. Beautiful, in its own buggy way. Along the trail, pearlescent gray lizards with radiant orange bands on their sides perched on rocks then ran away. Another species displayed glowing blue-green hind legs that appeared lit from within. I think it’s some kind of collared lizard or perhaps a type of earless lizard, but I couldn’t find one quite like it when I searched on web sites. Whatever it’s called, it’s a miracle. So is having vision to see to it and a mind to appreciate it. For all of this, I am grateful.
Southwestern earless lizard photo courtesy of the New Mexico Herpetological Society.
I’m taking time to reflect on the good people and good fortune that enhance my creative life.
I am grateful for:
- Having had parents who loved books and theater and a grandfather who was a poet. I was raised on Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes and taken to plays before I was in first grade. Language was valued in my family. My mother advised me not to cuss because it made me look as if I had a limited vocabulary—a far greater sin than saying a dirty word. My father was a late adopter of all things electronic and claimed to be a member in good standing of the Lead Pencil Society, which made him as good a letter writer as he was a conversationalist, full of wit and good stories.
- Discovering Sisters in Crime when I was just getting started on my first book. I bought How I Write by Janet Evanovich, even though I may be the only person alive who doesn’t like her Stephanie Plum series. I told myself: “She’s successful. I could learn from her.” She mentioned SinC in the book, and I joined, and through them I have found many of the people I’m grateful for, listed below.
- My first critique partner, an editor and writer. She was supportive of the potential she saw in my early efforts that didn’t turn into a polished book until I’d worked on it for over for three years. She edited it and all my other books, and has taught me about the craft of writing in the process.
- My current and former critique partners, who can tell me when something works or falls flat, offer insight into my plots and characters, and not only help me create better work, but reassure me that I’m not alone in caring about it.
- Readers. Without them I’m an actor in an empty theater. Having my characters live in someone’s mind and heart means a lot to me.
- Readers who review. They don’t have to do it. It takes time to organize thoughts and post them on a review site. They help other readers think about my work and often help them decide to buy the books.
- Tara at Draft2Digital customer service. She’s cheerfully solved many little problems for me, and she remembers me. I’m not just some author with a question. I’m a person.
- My job. Most writers need a day job, and I am blessed to have one that gives me summers off to write. When I’m grading papers until nine at night I tend to forget that—but I am grateful.
- My whole life. From the annoying people who inspired antagonist characters, to the losses and loves and joys that enable me to tell stories with a heart.