Friday, October 14, 2011

Grace and the Bobcat

I am very proud of my daughter Grace. Today was a great day for her, and also for me. I witnessed the profound effect of her taking action for a cause she feels strongly about. It’s true what they say about being a parent: It only gets better

Today we visited two bobcats at The Living Desert, which is a very special Zoo and botanical sanctuary in Palm Desert, California. Grace raised $300 last spring to “adopt” a bobcat and that entitled her to a “behind the scenes” visit with the animals.

We arrived early for our 2:30 pm appointment, both of us a little nervous and very excited. First we met Shirley, who runs the adoption program, in the administration building where she gave us each a bottle of cold water and showed us out to her golf cart. Grace sat up front with Shirley and I rode in the back. The ride alone was enough to satisfy Grace, who remarked later, “and I’ve never even been on a golf cart before!”

Shirley drove us through the park and since we were a few minutes early we took a detour to see the giraffes. It was a gorgeous day, only about 90 degrees, and the giraffes were majestic against a blue sky streaked with cirrus clouds.

When we reached the bobcat area, Shirley drove around the back of the exhibit. It looked like the back end of a grocery store or a restaurant. Scattered behind the buildings there were sea containers, dumpsters and vehicles parked here and there. There was another golf cart and two young women stepped out to greet us. We were introduced to Katie and Amanda. Katie was in charge of the bobcats and our visit. Amanda, we learned, was new to the zoo and tagging along.

“Now, the only thing I need to ask you is please don’t get too close to the cages because the cats can stick their paws under the edge if they really want to.” Katie smiled when she said this and then asked, “are you ready Grace?” as she opened a big steel door. Inside there were cages and in the cages were the bobcats. We were so close to them it took my breath away. These were the enclosures they use to feed them or do any procedures with them or trainings and they were not deep. So we were only a few feet away from them. They looked like big house cats with wide moon faces. Their eyes stared right at us, not used to seeing anyone back there but their keepers. The tufts of hair around their faces made them look like old men with white whiskers. They were incredibly cute and obviously strong and sturdy. Their fur looked soft and fluffy like you could bury your face in it. Their paws were large with long fur and they moved silently, the way cats do, around their cage. It struck me how soft and silent those big paws were.

Katie explained that she had come up with three “enrichment items” for the cats so that we could observe them in action. She sounded excited about her plan, explaining that one of the items was a ball that they had played with before, but that the other two were new. One was a toy- a circular track with a ball that went around inside it- and the other was a bucket of what she called “wolf dirt.” Wolf dirt was collected from the wolves’ enclosure and smelled of their urine.

“Almost all of the other cats love it, but we haven’t tried it on the bobcats yet.” She walked us into the area where the bobcats live. The cats were safely in their cages inside the building while we walked around their outdoor habitat. Katie and Amanda put out the toys and spread the wolf dirt around. Katie warned, “You never know what they’ll respond to, but I’m guessing they’ll like the wolf dirt.”

We exited the enclosure and went out to where we could watch them. The zoo was very quiet so there were only two people, a pair of women, standing there when we emerged from behind a gate. Their eyes got wide as they saw the two zoo keepers and figured something was about to happen. We all stood there waiting for the bobcats. It took a minute for Amanda to walk back and let them into their space, but then we heard a sound and there they were, bounding toward us with anticipation. They immediately found the wolf dirt and rolled around in it just the way a house cat might roll in catnip.

“That’s just what the other cats do with it,” Katie said. We all watched the two cats joyfully roll and lounge. They looked relaxed and happy. Eventually they noticed the new toy and pawed it once or twice, but then they discovered more wolf dirt on top of a little swinging platform they have and rubbed up against that. They hung out around the swing for a while. Grace stood as close as she could taking picture after picture, trying to get good shots of them and record the whole experience.

The five of us stood there watching the bobcats for about an hour. It was that entertaining. Katie talked about them, sharing her extensive knowledge of wild cats with us, and veering off into other animals and experiences as well. We learned all about the bobcats, the story of how they came to the zoo and about a lot of the other animals there as well. The Living Desert is home to many animals that cannot be reintroduced into the wild, but they also work hard to set free the ones that can.

Grace often talks about how she would love to work with animals when she grows up so I asked Katie and Amanda about their backgrounds and how they ended up there. All three of them (including Shirley, in fundraising) said they loved working at The Living Desert. I asked Katie if she had a veterinary degree, and she said no. That they have one vet at the zoo but most of the keepers have degrees in biology, not necessarily zoology, and some have other specialties. “We have people with degrees in nutrition, psychology, and many other things which is what helps us come up with solutions for the animals. People come here with experience from all over the world and all over the animal kingdom. All that varied experience really helps us make things work. I came from marine biology and then I worked with birds for several years.”

Amanda, having just gotten herself hired there piped in with strong words of advice for Grace. She said, “The degree is important, but you need to start volunteering early. Because its your experience that will get you a job, not a degree. It’s a very competitive field because so many people want to work with animals. You can start volunteering quite young. You might not get to work directly with animals until your older, but when the time comes, they’ll want someone who knows how the place works.”

“Are you getting all this Mom?” Grace asked, putting down the camera for a split second.

Finally it was time to say good-bye. The bobcats had lost interest in us and had gone back to hide in the bushes. Katie and Amanda had other work to do (thought they were very gracious and never made us feel like we were taking up their time). Shirley had a meeting to attend.

We said our goodbyes, thanking them again and they thanked Grace for raising the money to sponsor the cats. Grace and I decided we wanted to see the cheetahs before we left so Shirley gave us a ride to their area in the golf cart and then she went on. I managed to get a picture of her and Grace and the vehicle before she left.

We were lucky. Both the cheetahs were visible. They have a big long enclosure with lots of places to hide. One of them was quite close, but lying down. The other was farther away but sitting up. We watched one and then the other for a long while. We had nowhere to be. The cheetah that was sitting up walked around and we got to see her move her body which was thrilling. She looked strange and graceful in her walking, and very elegant as she paced up along the ridge.

On our way out of the zoo we saw another interesting cat called a “Sand Cat” that lives in the Sahara. It was very small, about half the weight of our cat at home, but with a broad face and long thick coat. As we stood there a hummingbird came very close and sat on a branch next to the cat’s cage.

We stopped in the gift shop on our way out and I told Grace she could get something. She picked out a tee shirt with a leopard on it, and a necklace with a cheetah, and for once I said she could have both.

We left feeling very satisfied and exhilarated. It was so exciting to see the bobcats up close, to learn about them from such a knowledgeable young keeper, and to ride in that golf cart. I was extremely proud of Grace and I think she was too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Green Love

I have never been very good with plants. You would think I’d be a better gardener with my intense appreciation for trees and birds and all the time I spend drawing and painting from nature, but I am not. It’s not that I don’t try. I have a garden that is usually limping along and a few (okay, just a couple) of houseplants that have either been with me for ten years or are brand new and still lively, or on their way out.

The few that I have managed to keep alive for a long time are sturdy as hell. They are succulents, which I seem to be good at. I love succulents and the desert climate they represent and which I happen to live in. But I also love the woods and am very fond of ferns. So I am always trying to grow a fern in my bathroom and it never works.

The last one I bought is still hanging there, with two leafless twigs sticking up out of the dirt. I am still watering it, more from a sense of guilt at this point than any real hope that somehow it’s going to fight its way back from the brink. When I bought it, it was luscious and bright, busting out of its pot like it had needed a transplant a year ago but the florist had not gotten around to it. So being an intuitive gardener, I bought a bigger pot for it and transplanted the vivacious fern as soon as I got home. Two weeks later it was wilting badly and the leaves were turning brown at a speedy rate, so I called the florist for help (and sort of to complain). They said transplanting it was a mistake, that the fern likes being crowded, but that it should be okay with some extra care.

Uh oh.

“Put it out at night in the cool air, soak it every two weeks for thirty minutes, and give it something strong like ‘Thrive’.”


“It’s plant food that will give it a real boost. You can get it at the hardware store and I’m sure the plant will do fine. It’ll come back.”

Thrive. I put it on my to do list that the next time I was at the hardware store I would look for it. And I did, but I guess Home Depot was not what she had in mind. Whenever I found myself at a hardware store I would idly peruse the gardening section for it, but I never went up to the counter and asked, nor did I look on the internet to try and find it. I guess it was what the fern really needed because despite my taking it out at to breath the cool night air and soaking it once in a while, it never did come back. It held on for about a year, maybe more. But now it is just the two leafless twigs.

I was looking at my to do list today where it still says, “Buy ‘Thrive’ at hardware store” when it struck me. The color green, and why I never made the trip to buy the ‘Thrive’ to save the plant that was dying in my bathroom. Because this is a place where I like to fall short: The care of my plants. It’s one of the areas in my life where I need some improvement. Another one is managing my money. The color green hit me as the through line to ‘Thrive.’

I bathed in the color green this summer, constantly surrounded by it in Vermont for a month. The trees, the fields and the garden there are vibrant all summer long. The heart chakra is green and green is the vibrational color of love. As I drove along country roads walled in by the woods chlorophyll-rich outer layer I tried to feel the connection to my heart. Hmmmm. Green is the color of love and plants and money and I could use some extra love in my garden and in my bank account. And yet I resist. I resist the garden just as I resist the budget and the bills and I resist buying a bottle of something called “Thrive.” Maybe I am still a little afraid of thriving myself.

I am at a place in my life where it is really time to shit or get off the pot. It is time to get to those places where I habitually neglect what needs to happen. It is time to pull some weeds. It is time to dig into the hardened soil in my backyard. It time to plant seeds and lovingly water them. And it is time to make some changes in my life. Time to sit down and make decisions about what our priorities really are and where we want to be in ten years. And I need to go to the damn hardware store and buy some “Thrive.” Maybe I’ll spray it on myself.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Poulter's Measure

I am taking a poetry class right now and this pair was for our last assignment, a form called Poulter's Measure that is a meter made up of alternate Alexandrines of iambic hexameter, (12 syllables or 6 hard stresses) and Fourteeners consisting of iambic heptameter (14 syllables or 7 hard stresses). Because of the extreme length of the lines, each line of the poulter's measure couplet is usually divided into two near-even parts with a caesura.

The Girl’s Room: Day

The space is replete with color: rainbow curtains and a rug

Smallish beds sport doll collections, tea sets and a rubber bug

Shelves are stacked with plastic toys from Target hardly used

Exotic costumes in a wooden chest worn out and plainly abused

The princesses sit dead center surrounded by castles created

From beads and Lego’s attached with tape, their attentions unabated

Unnoticed I slip past the kingdom, garbage bag in hand

Teasing out broken hairclips, tangled necklaces no mortal can command

For if a disposal regimen is not religiously followed

It won’t be long before your highnesses in detritus will be swallowed

The Girl’s Room: Night

In the darkness keys tap quietly as attempts to sleep are made

A four year old who’s feverish ought to slide into slumber and fade

Alas her body is fidgety and a her mother’s patience is lost

The laptop lights the stillness of empty parental threats that cost

The child tosses the bed sheets and asks for milk in a glass

Mother fetches it while silently thinking “what a pain in the ass”

Frustration mounts in wishing that mother could go to bed

Misfortune sits its weighty bottom on her lap instead

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Am Lucky

I leaned over to smell a purple flower this morning and started to cry. The odor that waltzed up my nostrils was sweet, strong and surprising. Wild flowers in my experience, are not usually that fragrant but there was something else bringing up those tears. It was realizing how often I bend to smell a wildflower and am disappointed. I was bracing myself for that familiar disappointment when I was knocked out instead. How often do I brace myself for disappointment unconsciously? Honest answer: A lot.

I was hiking down the hill when this happened. I was hiking down the hill that is at the top of the big street close to our house and which I drive past nearly every week day taking my kids to school. The hill (really it’s part of a mountain but I like calling it a hill) calls me. In the fall I was hiking it several times a week, using it as a training ground for a backpacking trip I took in October. Since then I have kept going up there regularly but when the weather got colder and the days shorter, my routine petered out. Since spring arrived I have wanted to go more than I have made it up. Running and biking have been giving me a better work out.

But I missed my hill, so today I made time for it. As soon as I walked through the gate I was startled by how alive it all was. I was taking big deep breaths, consuming the odors of pine and eucalyptus. The earth was still holding some damp from the rain yesterday and the grass was tall and yellow. The hills stretching up in front of me were greener than I had seen them in a long time. All that rain this winter really paid off.

It was chilly, much to chilly for mid-May but who knows what's normal anymore? I had on a fleece shirt and it was buttoned up. I walked up the steep incline at a brisk pace, my new habit of running giving dividends in spades. I took that hill like I never have before. I was huffing and puffing and feeling fast. A wrentit was singing its long trill. I felt like I was with the family who have known me since before I existed. My earth, mountain, stream, bird and brush family. I was soaking it up and working hard to make it to the halfway point in record time.

I stopped at the electric poles and took off the fleece which was making me sweat. I was panting. The air up there was even colder and felt great in my lungs and on my hot skin. I looked out over the view of Pasadena, Los Angeles and the ocean. A crow was circling overhead. I felt lucky. Lucky to be alive. I felt grateful for the incredible accident that is the earth.

I had taken the girls to JPL on Saturday and we learned all about the solar system which brought me back to the incredible fact that we are spinning through space on this ball that has the perfect balance of water, atmosphere and minerals to sustain an enormous abundance of life. And the fact that we are the perfect distance from the sun to make that all happen. Seeing pictures of the other planets up close made me think it’s pure accident we have all this. Just like the accident that was my own conception in my mother’s womb. An incredible collision. That is how the earth and I were born. Out of a collision that produced the magnificent sun and about eight other planets and countless moons that are either too close or too far from the sun to sustain life as we know it. I was looking at that perfect balance: the mountains, the sky, the sun and the ocean. I am so lucky to be alive right now. So lucky to be here at all.

I started down the hill with a tremendous feeling of gratitude buzzing in my chest. I had only seen one other hiker on my way up. The trail was surprisingly empty for such a gorgeous day. I heard a shuffling on the path ahead that lacked the steady footsteps of a human. When I turned the corner the side of a deer was just a foot in front of me. It was looking up to my right and glancing back at me when I saw there were two more just a few feet above me in the brush overlooking the path. As soon as I looked at them they bounded up the steep slope but I was blocking the other one who wanted to join them. I guess I could have backed up but by then the deer in front of me had bounded up ahead. I watched as it cautiously peaked around the next corner to see if other humans were approaching. They must normally avoid the trail. But maybe they cross it regularly and I just never caught that moment before.

It was exciting to be so close to them. It brought me to the many other close encounters I have had with deer. The one that I always think of first is the time I was at a retreat with David Elliott in 1999. I went into the woods feeling very sorry for myself and frustrated with my problems. I was sick of them and wanted someone else’s. I walked up to a big pine tree. It started to rain. I talked to the tree. I hugged the tree. I told the tree everything. I complained about myself. Then I turned to walk away and there was a deer staring at me. Very close. Very still. I stood still and stared back at her. We just stayed like that, staring at each other with the rain falling on us both and pit patting on the leaves all around us. Then slowly she started to walk away. She was moving so slowly I could see each muscle contracting. I stood still, in awe of her grace and beauty. Her message was clear as a church bell. Be gentle with yourself. You are too hard on yourself.

I thought about how far I have come since that day. I am a healer, a writer, an artist. I was the same person back then, with all the same talents, but just frightened to death of myself. Now I am married to a someone I love to death and together we are raising two hilarious and wonderful children. I think of all those collisions, all the accidents that had to happen at just the right moment to get me here today. I mean really. I am damn lucky.

I was feeling all that when I reached the purple flower and thoughtlessly bent over it ready for nothing to hit my nose. Instead I was rewarded with a beautiful smell. What is the opposite of disappointment? Surprise? Satisfaction? Gratitude? It is all of those and more. Because disappointment is the result of having an unmet expectation. It is something I have to set myself up for. It is something I do. And I can just as easily do gratitude and satisfaction instead. Then the reward is a surprise!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Flight 1080

I could tell from the way she glanced at me and moved her things, that the woman in the window seat had hoped that the row, or at least the seat next to her would remain vacant. Anyone, except those odd people who need company at all times, might. But in her glance and her moving of her things was a reluctance so pregnant and complete that I almost felt sorry for asking. It wasn’t snobbery or selfishness that afflicted her, I decided. It was pain.

We were on our way to a funeral, my husband and I, and in that fact we felt assured in our purpose and the ethics of it that shielded us from any criticism or complaint we might otherwise be susceptible to.

I was careful not to notice her at all after we took up the two seats to her right, partially as a defense for the feeling I could not completely shake, that I had caused her some inconvenience or discomfort. But halfway into the one hour flight, when I put my book down for a moment, I noticed a stillness about her that was unnatural. She was no longer playing on her phone as she had been when I asked if the seats next to her were free. She had kept on tapping after the announcement to turn off all electronic devices long enough that I began to admonish and judge her in my mind as I was busy ignoring her, and reading. She had finally relinquished her iphone, placing it carefully into her small orange purse that was made of leather and gathered along the hasp but modest in size so that sitting open on her lap I could see all that there was inside. The Chanel compact she used to check her hair, the Gucci wallet, a pretty little notebook with a gold pen attached.

When I looked at her again as I paused my reading, she was sitting up straight with her sunglasses on, staring ahead at nothing. They were the kind celebrities hind behind, large and dark with rounded edges and a golden tinge to the frames. She was somewhere in the decade between thirty and forty. Her light hair curled gently around her jaw, fell into resting on her shoulders in attractive layers of wavy curls that were nothing short of perfection. She was wearing brown pants and a soft tan sweater that said she was all business, but had no need for the awkward restriction of a suit. She was poised, stylish and elegant. There wasn’t anything about her that called for improvement.

But it was her stillness that was most striking. Unlike every other passenger, she wasn’t fidgeting or eating or reading or writing. In her stillness there was the invisible movement that was all inside her head. She was thinking so hard she couldn’t do anything else. She was going over and over and over the same scene, replaying it in her head, letting the feelings seep out of her skin. Envy, regret, jealousy. Maybe she was planning her revenge. Or her comeback.

It occurred to me she might be asleep and I tried to steal a glance behind her glasses, after all I was only inches from her face. But it was dark enough in the cabin I couldn’t be sure about her eyes. They may have been closed but she was not asleep. Her body was not that relaxed. She was upright, and pulled together. In her sitting she was as organized as her purse.

At the end of the flight, a familiar sounding conversation started invading my ears from two or three rows behind. We were landing and I was not reading any longer, the turbulence of descent making it too hard to concentrate and keep my eyes on the same line. As I tried relaxing my body the man’s voice caught my attention.

In it I could hear everything there was to know. He was retired. He was lonely. He had no hair but he had once been fairly handsome though not entirely so and not anymore. He was more than friendly and charming, he was lecherous. But he was skilled at the game he was playing with the young woman seated next to him. He was asking her questions and pretending to understand her as a way of seducing conversation out of her. She was pretty, though not incredibly and was eager to make her way in the world, and in her line of business (was it marketing?) she had to be outgoing and charming and was always practicing her skills. She had no idea what he was doing. She saw him as an opportunity. You never know, someone once told her, who you might be sitting next to on a plane. He could be your next boss. She was not trying to impress him as much as she was impressing herself with how easily she answered his questions and how much smarter she sounded than she was used to. This was his gift and she was oblivious to it.

The plane hit the tarmac and I relaxed my outer layers to compensate for the reflexive fear. With my closed eyes I imagined the plane’s outer layers ripping off from the force of the wind as we screamed down the runway. The cabin swayed to the left and right, fishtailing a bit on the wet surface of the earth and then settling into its high speed brake from the flight. For those few moments it felt as if we might explode from the force. As we slowed down and rolled up to the gate at a speed that made me feel sane again, the conversation behind me resumed. He was wrapping it up and still trying to get something. After I took off my seat belt and stood up, I looked back at them. I was right and the contrast between their ages was much more startling in its visual truth. He was even older and she even younger than I thought. When they got up her face was starting to reveal some discomfort. It was in the edges of her smile. A forcing of the muscles. Perhaps she realized her mistake. That he was not just being friendly. He wanted something and had already taken it from her.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I was throwing out a pair of red sandals that I had worn a few times, but which always made me feel a little dowdy. A pair of black flats that I never wore, not even once, followed them into the large garbage bag that the Vietnam Vets will pick up next week. After that came a pair of white sandals that I liked so much I bought two pairs. They were pretty well worn but even those make me feel like someone I am not feeling like anymore. All three pairs have been in my closet for a ridiculous amount of time. I think I had the never-worn black flats three years, the white sandals five years and the red sandals eight years or more.

A lot of things ended up in the bag for the vets that had suffered long neglectful relationships with me, but none longer than a yellow silk scarf that I had only worn a few times.

A French girl named Catherine (pronounced Cat-trine) spent a summer with us as an exchange student when I was eight years old, and we all fell in love with her. She was beautiful and kind. She wore colorful silk scarves on her head. I was a covetous little girl and I coveted those scarves and she promised to send me my own when she got back home. I made her promise again and again, knowing, even at that age, that France is a long way away and that when she got there that she might very well forget her promise to the little American girl she had spent the summer with. Months and months later she might come across something that would remind her of the promise, but by then she would think the little girl had already forgotten and she might let it go, the way any nineteen year old girl lets things go.

But she didn’t and about six weeks after the end of the summer, a flat package arrived in Brooklyn from Catherine. Under the brown paper with my name carefully written out in her swirling French handwriting was a square, flat, thin cardboard envelope with a fancy design on the outside. It was cream colored with a long fine line running diagonally across the front of it, and a single French word in chocolate brown lettering underneath it. That must have been the name of the place where she purchased the scarf. I remember opening it and feeling surprised and disappointed. I was expecting to see a single square scarf just like the ones she wore on her head all the time, tied back around and under her long brown wavy hair that made her look like a milk maid or something. There was a square one that was pink, but it was not the same as the ones she wore. The pattern was much finer, less bold. And then there was another scarf that was not square. It was a long rectangle and it had a sort of artistic, painted, yellow and white design instead of the intricate pattern of small shapes, like the other one. I was intrigued by the yellow one but also disappointed in both because somehow they just weren’t close enough to the ones she wore and I wanted to look just like her. I folded both of the scarves back up and replaced them neatly inside the cardboard envelope and closed it. For a long time I never wore either or them. I didn’t try to be just like Catherine.

That envelope stayed at the bottom of my underwear drawer in Brooklyn, and ten years later when I went to college it came with me. As I packed it, now the age Catherine had been the summer she stayed with us, I still harbored the desire to wear the silk scarves on my head the same way she did. Maybe now I could be like her. But college life never seemed right for the silk scarves and when I moved back to Brooklyn four years later, into a tiny room in a shared apartment on Dean Street, the scarves were still lying quietly at the bottom of my underwear drawer. Sometimes, I would take them out and unfold them and think about how I might wear one of them. I would hold them up and fold them again, admiring their intense colors. Maybe I would even go so far as to try them on in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, folding the square one into a triangle, placing the long edge along the front of my hairline and pulling the two corners down along my face and then underneath my hair and tying them together. I would look at myself, trying to see if I was getting close to looking like Catherine did that summer, and I would pull the scarf down, dissatisfied, again.

I never lost hope for myself in those scarves and I know I tried on the yellow one once in a while too. And I never lost my affection for them either. My initial disappointment upon opening the cardboard package all those years before was long gone and replaced with a feeling that the scarves were totally unique and unattainable. My friends could not go out and buy scarves like these anywhere. They were from France and not just anywhere, they were from the little town where Catherine grew up. She said the town was famous for them. I knew they were special and I kept them folded up in their flat container, carefully hidden in my underwear drawer for many more years.

Today looking once again at the yellow scarf I noticed it was stained. The pink one had gone by the wayside at least a decade or two ago. The cardboard flat envelope I kept them in for so long was also missing. I remember its getting very worn finally, but I think I probably got rid of it and the pink scarf at the same time and kept the yellow one because I thought I might actually wear it. It had grown even more interesting with time.

I did wear it, finally, as a grown woman in her thirties. But not on my head. It was just long enough to tie around my neck and knot in what I felt was a European fashion that gave any outfit quite a lift. It was very bright light yellow, the color of the yolk from a store bought egg. There was white writing on the yellow, that looked like battique, which was unreadable. I wore it from time to time, to work, or to a party. Anytime I wanted to look smart and feel French. I may have worn it three or four times.

Tonight when I pulled it out of a drawer full of silk scarves and large wraps, none of which I ever wear, I dropped it in the pile of clothes for the Vietnam Vets without a lot of thought. I guess that is because I haven’t worn it for ten years and it had a stain on it and because I had long ago lost the desire to be just like Catherine.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dreaming of the Albatross

Today as I read Dr. Suess' "The Lorax" to Frances, I was reminded suddenly of my dream last night about the albatross. The giant bird flew through an opening of some kind, and when it flapped its enormous wings they became wild and unkempt like Dr. Seuss' birthday bird. In the dream I pointed it out to the girls exclaiming, "Look! An albatross!" knowing I was right without having seen one before. Then another one flew through the same opening, with a younger and smaller bird riding on its back.

I retold the dream to the girls and forgot about it until later, when I was working on my new book and suddenly thought of the metaphoric albatross. The one that hangs around necks. I had been writing about myself as a teenager, precisely the moment when I felt completely misunderstood by my father and step-mother. The albatross had me thinking how traces of that same feeling had traveled with me all these years and was still cropping up, unexpectedly. Specifically around the book I just published and am starting to promote. The one about grief. Maybe not coincidentally, it was my grief that felt unsupported all those years ago. It was the grief that I was taught (in silence) to ignore. And here I am, count them, 3o years later still in the business of acknowledging my own adolescent grief. It is amazing when I think about it, how resilient and tenacious the human emotional cycle can be.

When I was a little older, in my twenties, my step-mother told me the story of the albatross. How they mate for life. How they circumnavigate the globe in a year, landing back at the same nesting site annually. How they can fly a thousand miles in a day, searching the open sea for food. How they can live 50 -70 years. How they only lay one egg, both parents raise it together, and it takes a full year until that fledgling is able to fly and find its own food. I remember, as she told me the story, realizing how interested I was in story-telling, specifically in the the sounds and the rhythm of the words.

Today I looked up the origin of the metaphor, never having known it before, and the poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, written in 1797 by English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (all this from Wikipedia). It's a long tale about a seaman who kills an albatross, thought to be good luck, thus subjecting the ship to a curse. The crew make him wear the albatross around his neck as penance, but his real punishment is to wander the land retelling the story, of how all except he were lost at sea because of his thoughtless act. I like Wikipedia's definition of albatross metaphorically as "a psychological burden that feels like a curse."

That albatross of mine, the thirty year burden (that sometimes feels like a curse) that I have carried in various forms and which has plagued me in different ways until now, was flying in my dreams last night. Newly free from the old story, from passing it on to my young, and searching for someplace to land.