Hope on the Last Day of the Old Year: Everyday Magic, Day 912

I’m perched on this lovely porch on the last day of the year, at least the last day according to the Jewish year, which ends at sundown. The wind and crickets thread sound through the Osage Orange tree, leaning over the driveway with its heavy hedge apples (think lime green brains the size of grapefruit). A few hummingbirds dive-bomb each other on the aerial path to the feeder. I’m comfortable in a hideous chartreuse recliner with iced coffee within reach. It’s just another beautiful edge-of-summer day in Kansas for me, but for many it’s far more heartbreaking and threatening.

I think of people in central Mexico, working frantically to unearth possible survivors from collapsed buildings from the 7.1 earthquake yesterday. I’ve watched videos of people coming together in the streets, crying in each other’s arms, or staring at buildings that have sloughed off into big piles of concrete and steel.

I think of thousands in Puerto Rico, right now, enduring Hurricane Maria, which hit the island as a category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 155 mph. I imagine the terror so many must feel right now as the winds batter their homes or shelters, bending palm trees horizontal and tossing cars across flooding parking lots. At the very least, they might be worried about having enough water and food, knowing how likely it is that they could face weeks or longer without electricity; at the most, their lives might be danger because of storm surges, crumbling buildings, and mud slides.

I think of millions in South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Guam, and many other places living with the searing threat of nuclear attack due to two immature and reckless leaders, one in North Korea and one in America, talking trash about the other and escalating a historic conflict. With rhetoric about destroying these countries and many more, those within easy reach of missiles bearing nuclear warheads must be living with overwhelming fear as the war of words builds.

Meanwhile, the fires in the west burn millions of acres of forest and change the faces of many a gorge, valley, and mountain. Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar has led to hundreds of villages being burned to the ground. People throughout various chains of islands and many on our mainland are still without electricity, or are busy with the sad work of stripping out of their homes all the water-logged furniture and family treasures.

Fire, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, Maria), and war rage on, sporadically or worse, and much of it (excluding the earthquakes) due to the worst of human behavior: ignoring or denying the effects of climate change, and escalating the conflicts between tribes or nations to the point of no return.

It’s the end of the world as they know it for so many, human and otherwise. It’s also, as seems to have been the human habit, a time for the best of our beings to come forth. People in Texas made human chain to transfer elderly people out of flooded homes, thousands (or tens of thousands) of people driving to Texas or Florida to help with feeding, clothing, rebuilding, and reconnecting electricity for those in need. People in Mexico worked in the hot sun for hours, then all night, and still continue today lifting shards of concrete, digging with their bare hands, and listening carefully for one trapped beneath. I think of my brother-in-law in Florida, an electrician, who has worked long hours in the heat along with countless others to restore power for many communities. I marvel at the photos of humans throughout the Caribbean and Bahamas who lost everything, but also gave every ounce of their energy to rescuing others. A cruise ship ended its trip early, giving passengers the option of staying on to help evacuate islands in the path of Hurricane Irma, and over 70 vacationers did just that along with many cruise lines that sent ships and cash to the islands. Firefighters in Montana, Oregon, Washington, and other states worked themselves to exhaustion doing dangerous work to save lives and places.

At sunset, we cross over into the new year, but millions around the world have been forced to do this already, leaving behind all that was lost in the old year. For them, and for the blessings we can be when we reach out to help those facing the end of their worlds, my deepest wish is that we find hope in action that shows us what we’re capable of. Let us mend what’s broken, lift who and what is fallen, and act always on a love for life, and all that being and staying alive entails. L’shanah Tovah — a good and sweet new year — for everyone.

It is 12:04 a.m., and I”m writing this from our back deck where I sit cross-legged in a chair and stare up at two enormous trees. The wind pours wave after wave through the tree to my right, Cottonwood Mel, and the moon rises through the the branches and thick leaves of the tree to my left.

I should be sleeping perhaps, but instead, I’m letting the wind bathe me free and watching the stars above and the lightning bugs below. It’s a time of big endings and beginnings for me, and the confluence of all, plus some misguided coffee in the afternoon, has landed me here, telling the field how much I love it, letting this land know how much it has healed and held me over many years.

Tonight, I had my last governing meeting for an organization I’ve been involved in deeply for 13 years, now on solid ground and blossoming, and me having realized close to a year ago that it was time to step off and make greater space for others. Following the Curve, a book of poems is at the publisher, another — one based on this very blog — is being proof-read, and my novel Miriam’s Well that I’ve been writing for 13 or more years, is coming out later in the year. Other endings abound, and all seem especially fortuitous. A chronic illness gig that has occupied me too often for many years seems to be, I hope I hope I hope, packing its bags and only making short appearances. The cars are almost paid off. The shed we wanted to build for 20 years is kinda sorta almost done. Bigger projects of the big dream variety in my life and work seem to be ebbing and flowing to new pulls of the moon.

But what is happening at this moment calls me attention: the wind suddenly surges like a standing ovation for the best concert in the world, an ovation that can’t stop itself. I think it’s over, but the fast air through my air and on my skin, the rocking branches of the trees, and the sound the sky makes tells me otherwise. Then, without warning, a few seconds of quiet before it starts all over again.

It’s a cliche, true that though, to say everything is beginning and ending at once, like the 19 minutes since I started this post, the moon climbing a few branches higher, a errant lightning bug sailing over the railing of the deck and back to the woods. While the endings are sometimes easier to see, at least in retrospect, the beginnings are especially mysterious, even tracking when the beginning begins. The chatter hum of the cicadas and the yawning roar of a distant plane tell me how little I know. Yet everything sings to and through me of how blessed I am to be here on a summer night with my best elemental friend, the wind.

Once we saw the postcard, we couldn’t un-see it. Seven buffalo coming on Tuesday — “Please make all necessary arrangements” — rung through our minds all weekend. Yup, we figured buffalo wouldn’t actually arrive, but this little message is one of those whimsical delights of a lifetime. It had no return address, and postmarked in Kansas City meant it could have come from Lawrence or from Kansas City. It was also worded so bureaucratically that whoever sent it is surely a great life artist.

While the buffalo didn’t arrive, getting to share the news on Facebook, not nearly as exciting as getting a small herd, did have it rewards. “Sadley, but not unexpectedly,” I told people, the buffalo didn’t come. “Call Amazon,” my mother wrote, Others suggested I contact Fedex or UPS, and Dan cautioned that the buffalo couldn’t stay in boxes for long in the sun. There were lots of cow patty puns, Bob posted a photo of a historic Brewster Buffalo plane, Cathy shared an image of buffalo walking down the road, and Robin wrote, “How incredibly disappointing for us all.” Laura shared Pete Seeger singing “I’m Going To Mail Myself To You,” and people wondered if we were just ill-prepared or if they showed up somewhere else. I also found several other people who received the same postcard.

My favorite comment of all was Nancy’s — “hey are there! Just very, very well camouflaged!” — because I know this is true. If time is just a human construct, and past lives are actually having simultaneously in other dimensions, then the fields around our house are likely teaming with buffalo at the same time all we detect is chiggers and ticks. Thinking of who was here before us also got me thinking about what it would take to graze buffalo here again although it would take way more than between now and Tuesday to get ready. In the meantime, I’m just a bit sad to not be in what Kathryn called “the critter of the month club,” but very happy to have enjoyed the imagined buffalo with my real community.

There’s white fur on the bathroom mirror, bath curtain rod, and bedroom windows from Calicoco, the feral cat I stupidly thought I could catch and keep. For three months, this beautiful and seemingly tame calico kitty has been hanging out at our place: sleeping on the deck or on top of the kayaks while blinking at our indoor cats, who blink back without a fuss. She got along well with Shay the Dog, who treated her like any of the other feline-Americans of the house, and I spent a lot of time talking to her. “Calicoco,” I would call out in a high-pitched voice, “We are your forever home!” Then I would put out food and water for her, each day getting a little closer although she required an eight-foot perimeter with humans.

After a big storm the other day, when we found Calicoco outside our bedroom window cowering, Ken and I decided today we would set up the live trap, then take this supposedly sweet and pitiful kitty to the vet to get her shots and make sure she was healthy before making her our new cat. A few hours later, I set out the trap on our driveway, sat on the screened-in porch, watched and waited. Calicoco circled it continuously but she seemed too smart to actually get inside the cage with the food, surely knowing it would trap her. After a few hours, I had to leave, so I told Forest to check on her.

Of course, she got caught in the trap 10 minutes after I left, and Forest reported she immediately started ramming her pretty face against the cage to the point that she was bleeding. I told him to put the cage in the bathroom, and let her out, then close the door until she could chill. The plan was then for him to wrap her in a towel, put her in the cat carrier, and meet me at the vet.

Sitting at the Wa with Kelley while finishing our bento boxes, Forest called, and we both listened to him trying to catch her. It sounded like a Roadrunner cartoon without the beeping: lots of crashes and bangs. He took a breather, tried again, and the sounds we heard were even more outrageous (think mega squirrel on steroids). So I drove back home to help catch the kitty myself, figuring that if my over-6-foot-tall, strong, young son couldn’t get her into the carrier, surely it would be a piece of cake for me.

When I locked myself in the bathroom with sweet Calicoco, I experienced the most wild animal encounter of my life up close and personal. This cat doesn’t just jump — she flies! She could leap from the top of the bath curtain rod to the molding over the door, front paws extended, in a flash, then boomarang window to floor to sink to bathtub in about two seconds. Trying to throw a towel over a feral cat is also a very bad idea indeed, and it results in a barrage of crashing and breaking glass. Within a minute, the floor was covered with blue and pink glass, cat food, blood, and fur.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Forest and I talked earnestly about letting her back out into the wild, but with cuts on her face that could get infected, we decided to try to get her to the vet instead first. So I opened the door to the bedroom, where Forest, a box, and several towels waited, and we backed up to watch the fireworks. She repeatedly body-slammed herself into every window, trying to break out, and she might have succeeded. But then she leapt down between the bed and the wall, just her adorable feet sticking up, and this was when I did something brave and idiotic: I grabbed her feet, praying she didn’t swing around and kill me, and flung her into a towel and box. Forest and I threw ourselves on top of the box, taping the hell out of it, then carefully carried that box to the car.

Now the ethical (and financial) quandary deepened. If we took her to the vet and spent big $ to sedate and treat her, it would just be to let her out in the wild again. Then again, it was our fault she was injured. Ken and Daniel were concerned about her effect on the bird population, and given that this cat flies, so was I. If we took her to the humane society, we feared they would kill her. For the next hour, Forest and I drove around with a feral cat in a box, calling various friends, talking with Ken repeatedly, then puzzling it out with each other.

In the end, we drove to the humane society to see if they would truly send her to the wild cat rainbow bridge, and it turned out they turn wild critters like her into barn cats by way of shots, neutering, and flea treatment. We spent a lot of time talking with staff there about when and if they would kill her — they might if she’s not adopted, and it’s apparent she’s suffering too much. “It’s torture for a feral cat to be in a kennel,” one of the very wise women who worked there told us. “We have to think about what’s best for the cat, not what we want.”

Forest and I wanted Calicoco to live, but we also realized she couldn’t live with us. Turns out Denise and Courtney, who brought us an abandoned kitty years ago (Sidney Iowa Goldberg, found in a parking lot on their home from where they married in Iowa), need a barn cat. So we’re working with them to give Calicoco a real forever home, one with a heap of goats, some big-ass pigs, and humans who will know enough not to put a feral cat in the bathroom. In the meantime, I look at the top of the kayaks, so lonely now without a beautiful and fierce flying ninja cat sunning herself on top of them.

As a kid, I dreaded the stretch between New Jersey and New York City when our family station wagon would descend into the underworld, otherwise known as the Holland Tunnel, to cross through the dark waters of the Hudson River. Since then, every mid-December, I feel like I’m transported to the way-back seats of that station wagon to watch the lights of the tunnel sweep over us at regular intervals, all the time praying we make it back to the open air and neon swirls of what’s on the other side.

Part of it has to do with the truncated length of each day, only about 9 and a half hours long near the winter Solstice, but a bigger factor is the quality of darkness. When it gets dark, it gets really dark: a black charcoal darkness that makes driving home past sunset feel like I’m back in that tunnel, especially when I’m beyond the reach of street lights, and the inky clouds wrap tight around those on earth.

This year, the nights seem longer because the son of dear friends, someone we had watched grow from boy to man, died suddenly. I look into the big blanket of gray, frigid air with sadness in my heart — for the sorrow of a beautiful man’s life cut short, and for the seasons of pain my friends and their family are inhabiting. The anniversary of another big loss approaches in a few days, and despite the warmth and lights of winter holidays, I often experience December as having a particularly hard underside.

December has a way of reminding us of what despair echoes within and around us, but it also calls us to see anew in the dark. I think of how David Abram, in his writings, teachings, and in  conversation with us, talks about “the good darkness.” In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, he writes:

The story [of the sun’s journey] follows a kind of perceptual logic very different from the abstract logic we learned at school. It attends closely to the sensuous play of the world, allowing the unfolding pattern of that display to carry us into a place of dark wonder.

In this time of more night than day, there’s exactly “the unfolding pattern” and the subsequent “dark wonder” now visible not just because of what this darkness reveals, but what it conceals, which for me encompasses a lot of bright and shiny distractions. These long nights make it easier to see in the dark, and to see how much our lives are patterned by forces and sources far more vast than our thoughts and habits of thinking.

It turns out this darkness isn’t really a tunnel, but a time to wander through the open and mysterious space on the other side of whatever we’re tunneling through in our lives. It’s also this: a call to learn more about the art and necessity of slowing down, and although I’m a slow learner, I’m looking toward how I can hang out more with what is in between cooking something hot to eat, sleeping more than usual, and right now, watching the dark cedars wave hello or goodbye against the darkening sky.