Half hidden behind the drooping branches of a bottlebrush bush, I watch him doing pushups on the top of the wall. Even in the mild March sunshine, the blocks radiate too much heat to rest his abdomen on their flat surface. This guy is big: fat, in fact. It’s been a good spring for lizards. Early bug hatching and lots of tender weeds provide a plentiful food supply.
I sit quietly and lay my book down. Stilling the movement of the glider, I barely breathe as a hummingbird whirrs toward me. She hovers, taking me in, and then darts up and down the tall stem of a penstamon, drinking from each trumpet-shaped pink blossom. Her wings are a fast-forward blur, while her body’s a still life in concentration. I am surprised by the deep drone emanating from this tiny creature. She tips her hat to me before zipping away to sample the next stand of flowers.
Monarchs dart between the bees and the penstamons, stopping to feed on the blue ageratums and salvia leucanthas. The butterflies have arrived early this year. The red bloodvines they so love are not in bloom as yet, but they make do. Overhead a hawk circles, riding the currants. I wonder if he’s the same red-tail that thinks a wide limb of our mesquite is his dining table?
The garden is a crazy quilt of color: pale and hot pinks, white, a creamy peach, bright yellow, and a touch of burgundy. Wildflowers take root wherever they choose to propagate. The old saying “one man’s weed is another man’s flower” is never truer than in my desert version of an English garden. Three’s a crowd does not apply, and the hummers and butterflies seem to agree with me. I’m usually quite happy to ignore the spacing guidelines for both planting seeds and placing bedding plants, so they live shoulder to shoulder, one variety blending into the next. No social distancing in my garden.
A bee buzzes a little too close for comfort. This curious yellow- and black-striped boy lands on my hand, sniffing—if bees can sniff—my skin. I stay very still. As soon as his curiosity is assuaged and he lifts off, I move swiftly away. I’m not afraid of bees but treat them with cautious respect. Those that are Africanized have temperaments that are not to be trusted.
Not ready to go indoors, I settle into a cushioned patio chair and breathe in the sweet cinnamon fragrance of the hyacinths and the frilly, party-dress stocks. A breeze kicks up. This morning’s white, angel-wing billow clouds are now overrun by their grey-bottomed, cumulous cousins, who are striding across the sky from the south west: a portent of a storm moving up from Mexico? I smile, realizing I won’t have to stress about driving across town in a desert downpour. There’s nowhere I have to be. Social distancing has its benefits.
Mandated self-isolation has become a vacation of sorts. Two weeks in, and I’m relishing my cleared calendar. My soul feels more nourished than in longer than I can remember. My disappointment at events being cancelled has melted into satisfaction in having time to sit in my garden with a cup of tea and a book. Being still and watching sparrows flirt in flight and woodpeckers rip at the fruit on the hanger is a rare treat, but it shouldn’t be. I realize that my ambitious to-do list was becoming a self-dictated lifestyle of over-commitment.
The red-tail swoops down and lands in the largest mesquite tree: a thwarted attempt at hatchling stealing perhaps? A smallish bird, squawking and cursing, dives after the hawk, circles and then races away. The hawk shakes out his feathers, disgruntled but tenacious. He tilts his head sideways. I relate to the look in his eye. His focus on achieving his goal is absolute. He’ll bide his time and then take flight again.
For now my wings have been forcibly clipped but, once the feathers grow back in, I’ll be more judicious with my flight plan. I look forward to reconnecting with the friends and activities that enhance my enjoyment of life, but I won’t forget that, to rejuvenate, I need to occasionally withdraw into a shell of solitude. Social distancing just might have made me hit the reset button.
Like a lot of you, I’ve been on a major clearing-out-clutter tear. A few weeks ago, three large bags of winter clothes joined a trunk full of items bound for a charity thrift shop. Last week boxes of household items were taken to a non-profit for their annual yard sale. I’ve culled my shoe collection and emptied bins of holiday decorations. The kitchen cupboards and pantry are re-organized to the point that my husband doesn’t know where anything goes anymore. (He’s decidedly unappreciative of my efforts.) I even tossed out stacks of special-interest magazines, but only after tucking unread articles into sheet protectors and snapping them into a big binder. How’s that for overkill?
The house is reasonably ship-shape, or at least heading that way, but I still can’t shake feeling edgy, almost twitchy, whenever I stare into a closet. It’s like my body's been taken over by an alien being with a compulsive need for order. Think of it as a Stepford-wife-on-steroids version of PMS.
When I sat down long enough to mull over this uncontrollable urge to purge, I came to the conclusion that my zeal to over-organize is, in fact, a “productive” coping mechanism. This revelation hit me after listening to an onslaught of mind-numbing TV newscasts, receiving word that our one healthy dog needed surgery, learning that yet another friend had passed away, and processing it all with too many glasses of red wine.
What I have come to terms with is this—the unvarnished truth—the stress of life’s minor upsets is accumulative and can quickly shift from exhausting to unmanageable. We become targets in a carnival game. We take the hit, bounce upright in time for the next pitch, and then over we go again. Do you know what I mean? To heck with having a five-year plan, how about an uninterrupted five-day plan? I'm still waiting for that to happen.
When I can’t cope with the news of another mass shooting, out-of-control wildfire, political derailment, or when crisis-after-crisis tempts me to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed all day, I change my focus and diligently put my own house in order. Yes, it's all feel-good smoke and mirrors: a vain attempt to find the elusive nirvana of a serene life and a calm mind. The truth is that no matter how many times I redo that pantry, neither my personal ducks nor those of the world will ever line up in rows as neat as the serving spoons in my kitchen drawer.
Coping with life’s challenges while trying to stay emotionally balanced is like being caught between the two maxims, Life is What Happens While You're Making Plans and Man Plans, God Laughs. Only I have to tell you (your mouth to God's ear), sometimes it’s not so damn funny.
This summer we bracketed the most intense months of heat with four days a mountain cabin, in northern Arizona. Neither of us are beach people; it’s the serenity pines and sound of the streams that rejuvenate our sagging spirits, especially mine. One morning, hanging out on the porch with the dogs, I was struck by the anomaly of the fast-moving stream against the stillness of the day. I jotted down these thoughts.
Juxtaposed to the pine-scented, serene landscape, the stream gurgles and gushes, polishing rocks worn smooth by years of relentless rushing. An inquisitive squirrel, tail held high, dashes about like Mr. Rabbit at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, stopping momentarily to chatter at the dogs: so much bravado from such a tiny creature. A Blue Jay drops in for a visit and squares off with the squirrel over a seeded hunk of bread. The squirrel’s fast, but the jay can fly, his swift swoop and departure leaving the squirrel dancing from foot-to-foot in fury. I assuage his annoyance by tossing out more bread. He grabs a chunk and runs to a rocky ledge, sits on his haunches, and eats daintily from tiny paws. We play the game over and over.
Fast forward two weeks. I’m rocking in a glider on my patio, watching butterflies and hummingbirds nosedive fall flowers. Two unrelated thoughts strike me: (1) a visual of an old lady rocking on the porch of a retirement home (a bit disconcerting), and (2) the realization that solitary time outdoors is what feeds my creativity.
I’m not the adventurous type. I wish I were, but there you have it. I’ve come to terms with who I am. It’s not likely I’ll ever see a wildebeest on the African savanna or meet a bear in isolated canyon. But I do find deep contentment in the simplest, everyday wonders of nature. A stroll through the nearby desert reveals marvels—the tiniest of wildflowers underfoot, dry seed pods of all shapes and shades, the shadow of hawk circling overhead, the marching of ants, or the first glow of a the sunset turning the underside of clouds a purplish pink. It’s all breathtaking to me.
My focus narrows when I leave the confines of four walls and step into my garden. My breathing stills at the simple sight of bees diving in and out of crayon-bright zinnias. I marvel at the dexterity of a spider shooing out sticky webby stuff, building a gigantic snare to trap his prey. Nature is as complex and beautiful as it is unapologetic. My mind calms as I work my way through the garden, clipping, deadheading, watering, and asking how everyone is doing. The superb listening skills of my plants give me permission to speak freely and thoughts and words flow with a clarity that eludes me at a desk. Note to self: carry a pocket notebook and pen.
I’m not sure what this all means. Maybe it validates the old saying, “happiness can be found right in your own backyard,” or maybe it means that if you can’t find beauty and wonder in what’s right under your nose, you probably won’t find it anywhere else either. Or, maybe it’s about staying still long enough to listen to that inner voice. Your soul will tell you what it needs.
Since this is my first post on my new blog, I thought a bit of an introduction might be in order—not to my writing, but to me. We never see ourselves the way others see us, so my perception of “me” might come as a surprise to those whose vision is otherwise.
I believe I’m an introvert trying hard to be an extrovert, which by the way, can be exhausting. Most of my pastimes are solitary: writing, photography, gardening, reading, perusing Facebook…. But, I also love to cook for people and entertain, so friends who have called me “the hostess with the mostess” are shaking their heads in disbelief at the word introvert. Well, here’s the thing about being an introvert; it’s easier to be the hostess of your own party than a guest at someone else’s. Seriously, think about it. You’ve chosen the guest list so you know everyone; you don’t have to make “so what do you do?” small talk; you can stay busy smiling, refreshing drinks, and making introductions. Even the shyest among us can manage that. The flip side, which just occurred to me, is that being more comfortable running the show might mean I’m a bit of a control freak. Hmmm. This might require a bit more thought.
I’m also introspective to a fault, if you haven’t picked up on that already. This, I believe, is the underlying cause of my insomnia. I analyze past conversations and interactions ad infinitum, often beating myself up for something I either said, or should have said, or should have done. I’m self-conscious and insecure, which often conflicts with the image I project. Sometimes I over-compensate. The truth is something as simple as an initial coffee date with a new acquaintance completely intimidates me, and I’m never happy with how I come across. A lifetime of being who you are expected to be can leave you unsure of who you are.
I’m more comfortable sending an email than picking up the phone. I can backspace, correct, and rethink an email. Chatting on the fly is another story. My mind goes either blank or I’ll blurt something out and bury you in too much information. With most people, an eye-to-eye chat is more within my comfort zone. Facial expressions and body language help keep me in check.
Lynn Nicholas - AUTHOR oF Dancing Between The Beats
My blog is a window into my world. My slice-of-life narratives are triggered by life's