Archive for July, 2013

Time to get on my hands and knees and pick up the pieces

July 27, 2013

It’s hopeless! I gathered up all the dirty cat and dog dishes (including human dishes from letting Honey and Chico lick the plates) and stacked them neatly in a plastic dishwashing tub. Set the tub down on the steps by the kitchen sink, thinking I’d soak the animal dishes and scrub them last. As luck would have it, a few moments later Honey exploded with a bark that would wake the dead, knocking the tub off the steps as she bolted out the door to chase a band of raccoons. Plates and bowls flew through the air and hit the tile floor with a loud clatter, breaking into a zillion pieces . . . And now all is quiet again. She sleeps peacefully, totally oblivious. Only the two stainless steel bowls are intact.

Time to get on my hands and knees and pick up the pieces.



The holy full moon rose last night in all her shining glory

July 23, 2013

The holy full moon rose last night in all her shining glory. I saw her peeking triumphant through the trees, but was too tired to walk to an open spot where I could enjoy a full view. I had barely enough energy to follow the dogs in the creek bed, and missed the magic of her first appearance. But a little later, after settling the pack in our den and resting with my legs up the wall, I felt an uncontrollable urge to finish the cleaning started earlier in the day. It’s been like this every full moon as far back as I can remember . . . my feminine spirit wants to clean and feather her nest.

I was all out of dog and cat food anyway, so I justified a slow drive out of the river bottom on this holy night for the mundane task of shopping at Vons for cleaning supplies—which normally can wait. In my ideal universe, commerce would stop on the full moon. Time would stand still. We’d all be transported out of our earthly concerns. Crime would stop. Sins would be forgiven. It would be a night of love and pleasure for those so inclined. Or a night of prayer, meditation, magic potions, yoga, dancing . . . whatever might attract us as we move through the stages of life. At the very least, all humans would stand in awe and bask in the moon’s light, as we surely would if this were a once-in-a-lifetime happening.

Every month, the cycles of the moon remind us that we are in this world but not of it. That we are part of nature, and transient passengers on Planet Earth . . . All this was in my mind as I stared at the moon’s bright yellow orb, all the more dramatic when seen from the Vons parking lot. Before heading inside, I attuned to the moon (at least I imagined I did) and felt the fatigue of the day start to dissipate.

The funny thing was that I then became aware of a banjo playing. Live music at Vons? Yes, a lovely young free spirit was sitting on a stool near one entrance and playing, as shoppers dropped dollars and coins into a basket on the ground. The sight of her was so natural and friendly, so humanizing; it gave me the feeling of being in a foreign country. “Really,” I told myself, “the main difference between Vons and the colorful bazaars and open markets of India or Africa is the packaging and the obscene amount of choices.” But the young mother and father with the newborn in the baby carrier, and all the working parents with their young children, were essentially the same, struggling to survive.

The cold interior climate felt energizing, and I quickly filled my cart. The KeVita lemon ginger sparkling probiotic was on sale. Each time I go there it seems there are more “green” products, like the liquid laundry detergent packaged in a recycled-cardboard compostable pack. No plastic! Safe for our greywater system. As I stood engrossed in reading labels, I suddenly heard a familiar laughing voice say, “Wake up!” It was Dvorahji herself, one of the many people whose calls I haven’t returned, so here was our golden opportunity to chat.

Snoop that I am, I noticed that her cart was shamelessly loaded up with KETTLE brand potato chips! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stared at those bags, wanting to buy one, but the ascetic in me won’t allow it. But if someone as enlightened as Dvorahji buys a dozen bags, surely I can have one!

“Where are they?” I interrupted our conversation about the plight of homeless dogs and why we need a No-Kill Director. She pointed me in the right direction. There were at least six kinds, so I read all the labels. “Why have I been depriving myself?” I silently asked. According to the label, these were non-GMO, all natural, all organic, made with the finest natural ingredients. I grabbed the honey dijon flavor and made my way to the checkout stand without further ado.

The checker was a friendly woman I’ve known for many years. It was after 9 p.m., and here she was, probably in her mid-sixties, like me, working away, standing on her tired feet, being so cheerful with every customer, reminding me how to slide in my Vons member card, and ringing up every item without any mistakes. I smiled and thanked her—the least I could do.

On the way out, I dropped a dollar in the banjo player’s basket. I hope she is well-received wherever she plays. Our world needs more street musicians.

The moonlit landscape was so bright I never turned on the extra-bright headlights. After being car-free for many years, having a car in which to go shopping spontaneously is still a novelty. I stopped to check on my parents—just a quick peek through the window. My mom sat in her bright sundress, reading her Dutch newspaper. My dad was eating alone in the kitchen. In their old age they’ve metamorphosed into a couple of night owls.

I cruised downhill into the black river bottom. The moon was now high in the sky. I’d lost my will to keep on cleaning, but I unpacked the cloth bags and hoisted the kitty litter out of the trunk. The cleaning supplies still stood at the ready.

It’s all too much, this hustling to pay the bills, feed the beasts, clean the den . . . but now came the good part of living alone. Every few months for many years, my lifelong friend Karen has brought me piles of amazing books that she finds at garage sales and used-book stores. In the morning, as I was running off to teach, she had handed me a fresh stash, so six new memoirs sat waiting on the bed. One, Atomic Fragments: A Daughter’s Questions, is by an Ojai woman, Mary Palevsky, and is about (I gather) her parent’s involvement in the creation of nuclear weapons. Just reading the back covers allows me to see my life from an ever broader, more cosmic perspective.

My cats were already nestled deep in the comforter. I tore open my bag of honey dijon potato chips, so crisp, so tasty. I’m happy to confess that by midnight I’d eaten almost the whole bag. I read and read. No one cared when crumbs fell on the sheets. I was twelve years old again, and this time no one told me when it was time to go to sleep . . .


Photo Credit: Michelle Lopez-Dohrn

“Vision isn’t in the eyes; it’s in the mind.”

July 14, 2013

As the sky grew dark, Honey started barking, running in circles, and practically pulling me out the door. I grabbed my knapsack, cell phone, and pen and notebook, and poured some Honeyrun elderberry wine into an empty bottle of Lori’s Lemonade. Honey was so wound up that she and Nubio rolled around in the dust, growling and nipping, pretend fighting, before charging out the gate.

We made our way down the trail into the dry river bed. Out in the open, the landscape was still gold—light enough for a good walk. But a few minutes later there was a single gunshot, or a firecracker explosion, and suddenly all the wild exuberance in Honey evaporated. She ran back to me and pressed her body against my leg like a frightened child.

It took a while for my brain to relax. After Honey calmed down, too, we continued walking the river bed. Before turning back, we sat on the warm stones. The ceremonial sips of wine heightened my senses. The dogs settled down, and together we sank into the pervasive silence that is always here at day’s end—a blessed break from the injustice and insanity in the world.

On the way back I caught sight of the bright, clear sliver of the moon and the white rim of the sky above the pitch-black mountains. Day slipped calmly into night, in a cosmic rhythm untouched by the day’s events.


This morning, after yoga, I went to see my parents. My mom was sitting alone in the front yard, wearing a pretty sun dress, a sun hat, a necklace. She was in high spirits. I know I inherited my love of nature from her. The atmosphere around the house felt extraordinarily tranquil. We sat together and watched the birds drinking from the bird bath. There were white clouds above the mountains. The temperature was just right. I heard myself say, “This feels like heaven on Earth.”

I let myself relax and sense into my mom’s world. She told me again how when she left Holland she had no idea she’d end up in a place this beautiful. I was only seven, but I recall the car ride from L.A. to Ojai. On the freeway I remember my mom shaking her head, complaining about all the cars, all the asphalt. This was 1957. It was a great relief when we arrived in rural Ojai.

After a while my mom wonders, “Where is that man that lives with me?” So I go check on my dad. He’s on the back porch, asleep on an old sofa, wrapped in a blanket. I watch to be sure he’s still breathing. The breeze ruffles his hair. I debate whether to wake him, so he knows I’m here in case he wants to go do an errand, and decide it’s better to let him sleep.

On the way back to the front yard I pick up the July issue of National Geographic to read to my mom. At first it goes well. There’s an amazing story about Daniel Kish, a man known as “Bat Man.” Blind from the age of 13 months, he explores the world—and even rides his bike—by clicking his tongue. Now, at 47, he navigates the world primarily by using echolocation, like a bat. He says, “Vision isn’t in the eyes; it’s in the mind.”

But then I turn the pages. After showing my mom a wonderful photo essay about farmers in Transylvania, I go back to look more closely at “Last Song,” a story about the slaughter of songbirds. It documents how some people eat these beautiful creatures in the same way that others eat chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Three billion birds of some three hundred species—songbirds, waterbirds, raptors—migrate thousands of miles. They navigate by cues that the human mind can barely fathom: the sun, the stars, scents, landforms, the Earth’s magnetic field . . . And instead of standing in awe before these winged wonders guided by the cosmos, humans take advantage of their exhausted state after flying thousands of miles without food and use their merciless cunning to devise cruel traps to catch them.

Suddenly the world seems a very dark place. I want to cry. All at once I have to leave my parents’ tranquil cocoon. My work on the Earth plane is not yet done. And neither is yours.

Finding my balance in nature

Finding my balance in nature

“Well, I’ll show him! I’ll just go on my own”

July 11, 2013

My middle sister is here for a few days, helping to take care of our old parents. Last night, in the cool of the evening, sitting outside in front of the house we grew up in and talking about our crazy childhood and how some of the neighbors used to beat their kids with a belt, which was considered normal back then, she told me the story of how she hitchhiked with her little dog from Ojai to Long Island.

When she said, “Long Island,” I blurted, “Long Island! You mean to tell me you hitchhiked all by yourself with a dog across the United States? When was this? How come you never told me?”

My sister looked at me and said, “You mean you didn’t know? Oh, this was around 1971. You must have been busy with your baby.”

“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “While you were off on adventures I was changing diapers and working nights as a janitor at the Thacher School!”

She proceeded to tell me the whole saga of how she had been living on an organic farm on Burnham Road, with her boyfriend and half the now old hippies still living in Ojai. She and her boyfriend were planning to hitchhike back east together, but they got in a fight and he took off without her. She vaguely knew the address where he was headed, so she said to herself, Well, I’ll show him! I’ll just go on my own.

“All kinds of nice people picked me up,” my sister went on. “Families with children . . . truck drivers. One truck driver let me sleep in the back of the truck. One guy let me stay in his apartment, where I could take a shower. It was beautiful going through Colorado . . . Iowa . . . West Virginia. One family took me to a corn festival, and I remember John Denver singing “Country Roads” on the radio. This was in the summer, so the scenery was absolutely beautiful. People on vacation gave me rides . . . For part of the way I made friends with another hitchhiker, so I kind of tagged along with him . . . he quickly realized that it was easier to get rides if he had me and my little dog standing on the road with him.”

“What about your boyfriend? Did he know you were coming? Did you have your cell phone with you?” I joked.

She answered gleefully, “Early on I passed him hitchhiking on the highway . . . he didn’t see me, but I saw him!”

“But were you ever in danger? Did you ever not feel safe?”

She paused to reflect. “Well, yes, toward the very end of the trip there was a guy who picked me up and tried to start something, but I just jumped out of the car.”

I remembered doing the same thing when I hitchhiked—you just jump out at a stoplight.

“And was your boyfriend surprised? Was he happy to see you?”

“Yes,” she said.

As we talked, I realized that there are many things I don’t know about my sister. As I was leaving, I told her, “You’ve got to tell this story to all your nieces. They see you as this bossy, square old aunt . . . you’ve got to tell them the story about how, when you were their age, you had such a spirit of adventure that you hitchhiked thousands of miles all by yourself, all the way across the United States, and how you ended up living in a teepee in Alaska . . .”


I saw a homeless man with three large dogs

July 10, 2013

Monday, July  8, 2013

Yesterday, on the way to teach my Sunday morning yoga class in Ventura, I saw a homeless man with three large dogs walking near the intersection of Olive and Main. He was pushing some kind of cart, filled with a big backpack and bed roll. The dogs were on leashes, walking along obediently, not pulling, and my impression as I waited for the light to change was that they were well cared-for.

A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. I know firsthand how difficult it is to find housing that allows dogs, and the day-after-day challenge of their care. I wanted to stop and find out their story. I wanted to thank him for caring for those dogs and gift him a 20-dollar bill to help with their food. I found the sight of this human/animal pack, walking, walking . . . like nomads amid modern life . . .  so moving.  But the light changed, and I drove off so I wouldn’t be late.

There’s more to this story, but for now I’m running off so I won’t be late . . .






My Dog is My home: The Experience of Human-Animal Homelessness.

The National Museum of Animals & Society is preparing an online and physical exhibition that draws upon the personal stories of homeless human-animal families.


If I suddenly fell into a pit of money

July 8, 2013

Friday morning, July 5, 2013

If I suddenly fell into a pit of money, or an inheritance, and if I were left to my own devices, I think would stay in bed for a month reading back issues of The Sun and Granta literary magazine. The writing is so delicious, it makes me delirious with joy that human beings with such depth of perception on the human condition exist!

Last night I tried to muffle the sound of fireworks by playing Byron Katie (“Who would you be without your story?”) full blast on YouTube. Then, when I lost internet service, I dove under the covers with Honey and Chico and a stash of Nourishing Lemon Ginger Odwalla Bars. I was feeling a little glum, and pitiful; the fun of being alone all day had worn off. I reached into my basket of Granta magazines and randomly began reading Saul Bellow’s Memoirs of a Bootlegger’s Son. I soon rejoiced at the mirth in which he recounts his rough childhood. Even better than letting go of your story is telling it so that you’re rolling around laughing and can barely get the words out!

I right away saw that, in telling the tale, Saul Bellow breaks every single writing rule that ever existed . . . so brilliant that it leaves you gasping for more!

HoneyCatSuzaOnly a master writer can get away with this.

“You’ll get your reward in heaven, Suzanne”

July 3, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013
Today, as the atmosphere grew hotter, I totally forgot that everything is temporary. That nothing is permanent. I became irrational. In fact, I freaked out. Instead of hosing myself down with cold water and plopping on a yoga bolster, I fought to function. It’s the end of the month. Time for accounting, making statements. If I were rational I would do that job at 2 a.m., when the heat breaks, like in Indonesia. Even tonight my writing hovel is like an oven. But the temperature is dropping, whereas before I feared it would never stop rising.

So in the late afternoon, feeling desperate to escape the inferno, the dogs and I jumped in the tank my middle sister got me two weeks ago to better care for my old parents. We wasted gas and drove to Ventura. There the air was cold, and it felt like a foreign country. I did enjoy it. I could actually leave the dogs in the car for a few minutes and shop! So I went to Vons, got water for the dogs, cat food and cleaning supplies,  champagne and bubbly water, and stood in line with humanity. Stood behind a young couple buying a frozen banana creme pie, just like I once did. Read the headlines of People magazine. (Who cares about these people? We have our own troubles, our own escapades. Who decided to make these plain folk celebrities? And isn’t it fun when they fall?)

There was no parking at the beach, but I’m starting to get the hang of driving again. Honey was so excited to smell the ocean she hung out the window as far as she could without falling out. I promised her we’d be back during the week. So then we cruised home, turning on Creek Road. A lucky break—not a single car behind me, so we went slowly and enjoyed the green view. Stopped at Camp Comfort. I’d forgotten: No Dogs Allowed. One time we disobeyed the sign and got caught, so now we obey and leave.

Our little excursion out of hot Ojai is over. Time to check on my parents. My mom is wearing her bright pink-purple-red sundress from the 1950s and reading a book about Albert Einstein.

“Do you know Albert Einstein?” she asks when I walk in the door.

“Yes, I’ve heard of him,” I reply.

“His hair was messy –like mine.” Sure enough, she then tells me how messy my own hair is. “You must part it in the middle. You are still beautiful but you must do something about your hair.”

My old Indonesian dad sleeps in his easy chair. They’ve lived their whole life without air conditioning—just one slow overhead fan. I ask him if he’d like some cold water. After awhile he says, “You’ll get your reward in heaven, Suzanne. Don’t you worry . . . You’ll get your reward in heaven . . . not here on Earth.”

“That’s for sure,” I mumble to myself.HONEY HUG

Life is always changing —and yet some things never change!


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