“smoke rises straight and calm” (Gary Snyder)

Yesterday morning I had time for a swim in the pool at Cerritos before Peter and Sharon drove us to the airport at San Jose del Cabo for our flight back to Vancouver. In the evening we were having dinner in Richmond. On the plane I was thinking, and dreaming, that state where the mind solves things it didn’t know it was puzzled by. What was my puzzle? It’s hard to describe but at its core it’s about making things. Not just essays or quilts or meals, though I love to do all those things. I want something else, something that I can do over time, with my hands, involving wood and string and sticks. In the fall I read this review of a show featuring the work of the late Polish artist, Magdalena Abakanowicz. I hadn’t known about her but reading the review and looking at the images (and more I found online) of her sculptures, woven from fleece, linen, rope, hemp, and sisal, I was enthralled. More than enthralled. My hands wanted to be immersed in both the materials and the finished pieces. I wanted to be immersed. On the plane, I closed my eyes and thought about what I could do with some of the sections of the dead cedars we had felled in late fall. Slowly we will split them and bring them to the woodshed in our old red wheelbarrow. But I have my eye on a couple of them. I want to use them for…well, something.

the shapes

But what? I wonder if there’s a way to suspend one of them from a tree, laced with heavy rough rope. Maybe wrapped in a basket of long willow sticks, or maple, or both. Long supple sticks. Or maybe the basket forms alone, without the cedar, but with shells woven into the form? Baskets for the air? Dream nests? I don’t know. But that’s what I was thinking about, not quite planning, but moving towards in my mind. I was excited the whole drive home.

The first thing we did when we got home was make a fire to take the chill off the air. We’re burning fir and it smells nice. But not as nice as the pine burning in the fire circle (made with an old washing machine tub surrounded with rocks) at Pizzeria el Potrero the other evening. That was one of the most memorable meals of my life. Simple food: I had a pizza Margherita, made with tomatoes and basil grown by the owners, and someone else had a pizza with gorgonzola and pears. There was wine, excellent talk under the little lights strung from tree to tree to fence, and more talk afterwards by that fire. There was excellent music. To get to the pizzeria, you have to drive off the main road from Cerritos to Todos Santos onto a dusty little trail through huge cacti and straggly mesquites. It was almost dark, though the tiny new moon tilted in the sky like a little cradle, and then the lights over the paddock, the scent of woodsmoke — we were there! At the end of the evening, all the other diners gone away by foot or by car, we were still there. And in a way, I’m still there, thinking of ways to weave wood and rope into, what, vessels to hold dreams?

after pizza

The older I get, the more urgent it feels to draw the strands of my life together. The stories, the love I have for my family and friends, memories of places and events (rafting down the Thompson River, camping on Nicola Lake, celebratory meals on our summer deck with the wisteria hanging over us, owls calling in the woods, deer stepping high on the soft moss, Ruby Lake first thing in the morning), all of them braided and woven and threaded with shells, turning in the wind.

      the tangle of the heart.
Black coffee, bitter, hot,
     smoke rises straight and calm
     air
​Still and cool.
         –from “The Cool Around the Fire” by Gary Snyder

“strung like jewels in the book of my life”

morning mountains

These are the mountains I’ve seen every morning from the balcony by my bed in Baja. We didn’t drive into them but they were always there, mauve at dawn, gilded at dusk. Imagine the sound of the surf. That’s been a constant too. This is our last morning in Mexico and tonight we’ll be sleeping in Richmond; tomorrow we’ll be home.

Last night we went to the Pizzeria el Potrero for dinner. Potrero means paddock and you drive down a dusty road off the highway at Pescadero until you see the trees strung with lights in a fenced paddock  that formerly held horses. A wood-fired oven, tables set under the trees, a few seating areas off to the side where you could linger after a meal, and maybe the best of these were the chairs around a laid fire. By the time we had eaten our delicious pizzas and pastas, had finished our wine, the fire was blazing. What’s the wood, we asked the owner, and he told us it was pine. I was reminded of the pinyon pine fires in our room in Taos in 2014, a scent that I carried home in my sweaters. Last night we sat by the fire and talked under the stars and when we got in the truck to drive back, we all smelled of pine smoke.

So many things to remember, to polish with memory until they can be strung like jewels in the book of my life. Humpback whales in the distance as we sat on a white beach near Todos Santos, dolphins following the shore when Sharon and I walked up the big hill near her home, the curl of waves around my legs as I waded in the surf, the sand glittering with flecks of gold. Bougainvillea everywhere (and I am sort of debating wrapping some cuttings in damp paper to bring back, sprigs of orange and peach and magenta and soft pink), a tiny blue morning glory with succulent leaves, a bigger one cascading over a fence, the tiny geckos coming out from under the beams over the terrace at night, the pair of hooded orioles in the palms by where we drink our coffee, Costa’s hummingbirds with their purple mantles, and the Harris’s hawk that floated over the cardons.

memory: a swimming meditation

the pool

I’ve been swimming in this pool almost every morning we’ve been here in Cerritos. In La Paz I swam in another pool, a rectangle, fringed with bougainvillea, and shaded with palms. When I swim, I think. I do laps, changing from one stroke to another every 3 or 4 laps. In the pool this morning, I swam clockwise and then counterclockwise. I was thinking about what we’d been talking about on the sunny terrace with our coffee. Mostly John and Peter were discussing family history–they share one set of grandparents; their parents were brother and sister. John had a very early memory of staying with the grandparents in Sheffield while his mother awaited the birth of his sister near London. What was your earliest memory, Peter asked me. I had two but one interested me the most because of its imagery. We were living in Matsqui. My father was stationed at the radar base there. The house we lived in was one of 10 built for military personnel and the row of houses backed onto a field which had a slough at one end. One day when I was 2, I watched my older brother walking across the field with something slung over his shoulder. Something. What was it? It was dark with mud and am I right in remembering it was strung with waterweed? As he got closer to our house, I realized he was bringing home my rocking horse, stolen from our porch months earlier. He’d found it in the slough. My memory of this is doubled. In the memory was also the earlier memory of my sadness at my rocking horse going missing and the recognition of it returning. I was 2.

In the pool shaped by the symbol of infinity, I was swimming in the moment and I was also thinking ahead to how I would remember the beauty of the water, Costa’s hummingbirds in the yellow throads of the palo de arco flowers around it, the soft sound of people talking under the palapa–the young man who just cleaned the pool, a woman passing. Not far away a dog was barking, dust from the tires of a truck approaching rising into the air, and the sound of the surf soft as a dream.

turquoise mornings

blue

When we went to Todos Santos early in our visit to our cousins here in Mexico, I saw a bracelet in a shop of silver jewelry. It wasn’t delicate. Maybe it wasn’t even pretty. John said it was clunky. But when I put it on my wrist, it felt right. It was expensive. Maybe I could pay a little less for it but then again, I might see something else I liked better. If you know me, you know that I love bracelets. I have lots of them, silver mostly, though a few are beaded, with turquoise and lapis lazuli. My favourite is a silver one from Mongolia, a man’s piece, about a hundred years old, enameled in places with blue, green, and yellow. So I don’t need another. I talked to the man about the source of the turquoise used in the bracelet in Todos Santos. He said it was from Sonora, from a mine in (I think) Cananea, where the turquoise appears not in veins but in clay deposits. Its matrix is mostly quartz. Turquoise is a soft stone and is often stabilized by soaking the stones in a non-toxic solution to bring out the colour and to make it easier to polish, then fixed with a resin or epoxy.

So I didn’t buy it and we went off to La Paz for five days. I thought I might see another bracelet I liked. I didn’t. But I saw that blue everywhere. On our last day in the city, we went by boat to Isla del Espirito Santo to look at the sea lion colony there, the bird colonies (magnificent frigates, brown pelicans, yellow-legged gulls, blue-footed boobies), to swim on a beach where the water rippled like sunlight on turquoise, and so when we came by bus back to Todos Santos, I knew I’d need to look at the bracelet again.

turquoise

While we were in La Paz, I’d been asked to do a couple of small writing-related activities once we return home next week, and was it a coincidence that they would pay almost exactly the price of the bracelet? I wonder. So we walked to the shop and there it was, still on shelf with its more delicate (and maybe more elegant) associates. Did I still love it? Yes. I am not small but I have small wrists and still the bracelet was a little snug. No problem for the man in the shop who attached few links to the chain by the clasp. Cousin Peter bargained gracefully on my behalf. When we went to lunch after, before returning to Peter and Sharon’s home at Cerritos, I kept noticing, with surprise, the blue stones on my wrist. With surprise, and with pleasure. “What you seek is seeking you,” said Rumi. A bracelet on a shelf in a small shop in Baja, my wrist.

imagine

…passing through this arch in a boat, after the nesting area where hundreds, thousands of pelicans, yellow-legged gulls, blue-footed boobies, magnificent frigate birds (some of the males still sporting their red gular pouches), imagine hearing and smelling the 700 California sea lions before you saw them, on rocks and in water,

and then imagine the beach where you arrived to swim, eat ceviche on tacos, the blue sky your umbrella.

beautiful bones in the dry air

Yesterday, a morning at the Museo de la Ballenas here in La Paz, a wonderful young man taking us through the timeline of proto whales and their descendants, the contemporary cetaceans. You can touch, he assured me as I reached out my hand to compare it to the beautiful bones in the dry air. So much to look at, to think about, and the memory of the humpbacks we saw breaching off the other coast on (was it) Saturday morning. On our way to the Malecon for lunch, the tiniest hummingbird, a Costa’s, I think, hovering at eye level in the bougainvillea.

La Paz

Yesterday, a swim at El Tecolote. Today, a visit to a ravishing exhibit of folk art (or pieces in that tradition) at the Museo de Arte de Baja California Sur, followed by lunch on the Malecon. Because the bus we needed to take back to our hotel never arrived (or maybe we were waiting on the wrong street), we trudged back, hot and tired, grateful for the pool and cold beer on our little courtyard.


this was the road

the road

This was the road we took to the long beach, 18 km, no one else there until a man arrived to fish from the shore and a couple arrived to walk. The waves were at least 30 feet high, one after another, some of them curling into the most beautiful green tunnels, some of them full of sand. Flocks of pelicans whirling back and forth. And in the distance, first one whale, idling around, surfacing, breaching, then four more. We couldn’t swim on this beach, too wild, but to be there, the sand going on forever, the light so brilliant on the water, the grey-green plants, the sky was to be present in what felt like the beginning of the world.

the long beach

infinity, with a little crescent

palo de arco

1.

I was swimming early in the pool shaped like the symbol for infinity, with a little crescent at the shallow end. Swimming in sunlight, bougainvillea tumbling over one wall, the palo de arco flowers against the fence. Swimming, the only one in the blue water. Around the symbol for infinity, water shimmering on my skin. And oh, hummingbirds in the yellow throats of the flowers. Were they black-chinned or Costa’s or Xantu’s? By the time I was finished, they’d visited each flower.

sunset

2.

Last night, eating shrimps in diablo sauce on the beach, watching the sunset, I saw Venus. Scent of waves, cool wine, sun quietly falling below the horizon, water dark in the middle distance. In the afternoon, in that same middle distance, I saw a whale breach, too far out for me to know whether it was a humpback or a grey. While we ate shrimp and drank cool wine, there were whales out in the middle distance.

early pool

3. Black-chinned, Costa’s, Xantu’s in the palo de arco flowers, me in the blue water, in the deeper circle of infinity. How many laps? An infinite number? How many hummingbirds? One or nine? The ocean goes on forever.

second morning

little house

This morning, coffee on the terrace, wondering what it would like to live in the little house on the hill, I see birds in the palms, unfamiliar ones, but as colourful as the bougainvillea blooming everywhere, the thorny succulents with brilliant flowers. I see hooded orioles and blue grosbeaks, doves and sparrows, a Harris’s hawk (I think) gliding along the side of the hill. I was wondering who nests in the cardón cactii (little round holes in the trunks) all around us and just read that the holes are made by gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers who nest, then clean out the holes after; then elf owls and finches follow. Yesterday I had one successful ride to shore on my boogie board (after many attempts), just before sunset, and we came back to steak grilled over mesquite charcoal, Long walk on the sand, a morning swim in the pool just beside Peter and Sharon’s home, little geckos coming out at night, and pinch me, it’s January.