Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems.


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The Itch that Launched a New Life

I don’t know exactly where it started:

The itch that became a wondering.

The wondering that became a flickering idea.

The flickering idea that sputtered and sparked until it caught, blazing through my life like a wildfire of change.

I’d been scratching at that nagging itch for years, trying to satisfy it with flower beds and backpacking and kayaking and all manner of seeking connection with the natural world. But it seemed a moving target, always just out of reach. And then one day, standing in front of a wide bookcase, staring at a significant collection of books I’d accumulated about solar and wind power and collecting rainwater and foraging for wild food and organic gardening and building twig furniture and making dyes from plants and constructing decks and cabins and cob houses…and I asked myself:

Why am I just reading about all of this? Why aren’t I living it?

I took a long, deep breath. Why, I wondered, did I spend so much time dreaming about things and so little time actually doing them?

Oh, it’s not that I don’t do stuff. I’ve hiked and backpacked and camped — often solo — in the Badlands of South Dakota, the Canyonlands of Utah, through the sequoias of northern California, on the lakeshores and prairies of Minnesota, in the mountains of Colorado, and across the diverse ecosystems of Washington state. I bought my own house and lived alone in it for years. I jumped the corporate ship and landed safely — albeit somewhat shakily — on the deck of my very own freelancing business. Yes, I’ve taken myself on adventures, some of them scary, but I always seemed to return to my safe, convenient life in the city. And, try as I might, I could never quite put down roots.

My roots still felt like they were sunk deep in the soil of my rural childhood. I looked at that shelf of books and saw fallow dreams, forgotten values. I calculated my finances (woefully lacking), took stock of my health (fraying at the edges), and considered my career opportunities (fading with age), and decided the hell with it.

If I don’t do something now, I’ll never do it. I’d stalled long enough.

Without pausing to think, I started striding down the path to a new way of living. I knew it would test my mettle, my courage, and my determination. The books on the shelf were a mere outline, not a plan. I’d plan as I went, I decided. I’d remain open and flexible. I’d follow my intuition.

To where, I had no idea.

But suddenly I was purging possessions, selling my house, and searching for a slice of rural mountain property on which to put down my roots.

roots

 


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Strawberry Moon

The punchline

{Who cooks for you? Who? Who cooks for you?}

nearly

escaped

me.

——

In my one hand,

the map to a dream —

my heart a fluttering sparrow

as my boots thumped the wild

mountain road at its border,

tangled with grass and mud

and blackberry vines.

The songs of warblers in the air,

and crowsfoot

garlanding the west slope

under patiently watching pines.

 

We were talking and not talking

in waves as we drifted

along the western boundary.

He swooped momentarily out of view

reappearing a moment later,

extending a gift from his sudden dive:

a striped feather,

almost bulbous at the shaft

and narrowing to its ragged tip.

 

“This is for you,” he told me.

“Hawk. No…turkey,”

he said, brow furrowed.

“I always confuse them.”

But as it crossed my empty palm,

the feather whispered:

 

{barred owl}

 

The pines sighed in the breeze.

Strangely shaken, I thanked him

and tucked his gift tenderly

into the nest of my backpack.

 

I retrieved the map from the pocket

I’d folded it into, a wrinkled square.

It felt strangely warm in my hand

after the feather.

I let my fingers trace its lines,

feeling the leathery stirring

of bat wings from a shaman’s dream

deep in my chest.

 

{Something I must do —

something to gather,

another to release —

to redraw this map

and claim my Home.}

 

Later, back in my room,

I searched for confirmation

from Turkey, from Hawk.

But the finding…the finding:

the wrong territory,

an unlikely answer, improbable but

unmistakable:

Barred Owl.

 

Across the thinning veil

of dreamstime and magic,

Bat lazily woke to scold me,

opening only one eye

and yawning his impatience:

 

{Why would you think

the feather didn’t know? 

Child: Leave behind

this doubting mind of yours.

Shed this foreign skin.

Follow the feather home

to your heart.}

 

Light pierced a crack in the curtains

and lit the map, lying on my bed,

its creases carefully smoothed flat,

the feather lying across it:

a Strawberry Moon,

full and bright and ripe

with possibility.

 

A ceremony was circling.

I twined my fingers

with the moon’s around the feather

and began.

——

And the joke

{my heart did not know

to be hungry

for this land}

is

on

me.