The stories of 2021 are written in sand. Time will edit them; nature, too. May our favorite passages endure and sustain us, and may the troublesome parts drift out to sea.
Over the holiday weekend, we explored Badlands Park–an easy hike that follows the coastline above Laguna.
Hard to image that these sandstone bluffs were, at one time, a stretch of sandy beach.
Why do they call this the Badlands? I traced the origins of that term to the Lakota people, who called the weather-exposed, rugged terrain of the Black Hills “mako sica,” or “land bad.” French-Canadian fur trappers also called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.”
Hardscrabble trails…prickly cactus…venomous snakes and who-knows-what-else, hiding in the underbrush…no shelter from the elements or fresh water to be found. This is unknown territory, pockmarked with uncertainty and trepidation.
But also, excitement. Because once you get your bearings, you can follow the trailhead to the ocean.
We wore face masks on our hike, to protect ourselves and others from the ever-present risks associated with COVID-19. We tried to keep at least 6 feet between us and other travelers, even when they got sidetracked by their cell phones and veered into our path. Everyone’s going through a rough patch right now, so while we remained vigilant, we made allowances.
That’s the nature of our journey, in this global pandemic. We’re traversing unfamiliar ground with untold risks, exposed constantly to unseen dangers. It’s a perilous trek, one that challenges our strengths and exploits our weaknesses. The Badlands, if you will.
But while most of us are more cautious, now, we remain curious. No way will we allow COVID-19 to steal from us the joy of discovery!
What magic does this place hold at different times of the day, for instance? We saw the angled shadows of late afternoon, but I also want to see the golden glow of sunrise from those bluffs, and a fiery sunset over the water. Badlands or no, there’s always another “just around the bend,” always new vistas to explore.
The typical ruby-throated hummingbird is about three inches long. He weighs as much as a penny. That this tiny creature somehow manages a 1,500-mile sprint– in the span of twenty-plus hours, mind you—is miraculous, to say the least.
And still, they embark every year on this seemingly impossible journey. Twice a year, in fact.
This amazing feat is the inspiration behind Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor’s upcoming picture book, TINY BIRD: A Hummingbird’s Amazing Journey.
With a feather-light touch, Robert Burleigh blends lyrical words with action-packed phrases, charting Tiny Bird’s progress on every leg of this suspenseful journey.
The story opens in a peaceful garden, where “Tiny Bird rests and feeds, / flickering from flower to flower / like an emerald spark flashing in the bright sun.”
Burleigh gives a breathless account of Tiny Bird’s southward trek–down the Atlantic Coast from New England, across the Gulf of Mexico, and into his tropical forest home, where he returns every winter.
“Over the first pounding waves, / it begins its nonstop flight of more than twenty hours. / Can Tiny Bird make it? Many hummingbirds never do.”
From the very beginning, we find ourselves rooting for Tiny Bird’s success. And we are lured deeper into the story with every page.
Drawing inspiration from hummingbirds at a neighbor’s feeder, renowned artist Wendell Minor uses watercolor images to help lift Tiny Bird’s story off the page. His paintings move seamlessly between shimmer and shadow, sprinkling symbolism over the realistic contours of a very suspenseful tale.
In this opening scene, for instance, Tiny Bird is basking in the warm autumn sunshine at his rural New England home.
So different, the bright colors and dynamic brushstrokes Minor uses in this scene, where Tiny Bird is dodging a predator…
and the darker, more intense palette of this illustration, where Tiny Bird braves a storm at sea!
In the span of 40 pages, we get a very real sense of Tiny Bird’s strengths and vulnerabilities. We come to appreciate his persistence. We are awed by his outsized courage. From takeoff to landing, we get the full measure of a hummingbird, and the magnitude of his journey.
My own garden is a year-round sanctuary for Allen’s hummingbirds—homebodies that build nests in our front yard fuchsia, feast in our flower garden, and guard our nectar feeders. They may wander into the neighbor’s yard, but they never migrate. And why would they, when the California sunshine warms their tiny, iridescent bodies almost every day? Even so, I enjoyed learning about their migration patterns—first, by following Tiny Bird’s amazing journey, and then by thumbing through the “Fun Facts” section and endpapers.
Although its intended audience includes children from 5 to 8 years old, I imagine it’ll be a favorite for kids of all ages. If you want proof, just look at this two-page spread! Here, Tiny Bird is a nearly imperceptible speck in a vast, tumultuous ocean.
It’s a magnificent image, symbolizing everything I’ve come to know and appreciate about this ephemeral creature. Strength, courage, and persistence in the face of adversity… these are traits worth emulating, in times such as this.
Rain’s in the forecast every day this week, spilling over into the next! No big deal in most parts of the country, but it’s a blessing for SoCal residents because it tamps down fears of another drought. Also: Traffic’s lighter, because we sun-lovers don’t venture out as much when it’s wet.
And so it is that I’m curled up in my reading chair, memorized by the percussive sounds of raindrops on our red tile roof. It falls in sheets from the wooly-gray sky, shimmies down my picture window and splashes into my birdbath. My garden is getting a long, deep soaking, and I am filled with a sense of well-being.
It’s as if Mother Nature is sprinkling over all of Creation what we needed most–a quarantine of sorts for world-weary humans, and liquid nourishment for the great outdoors.
Image: “Rain Room” exhibit at LACMA; my silhouette.
It may be midnight in Washington, but the sun will rise again. I put my faith in the optimism of our Founders. You should too. —Congressman Adam Schiff
Like Congressman Schiff, I believe in my heart of hearts that right will prevail over dark, and that the sun will rise again. It’s an optimistic view that I hold close, when the sky is blanketed by wooly-gray clouds and the air is filled with uncertainty.
I’m not entirely sure what tomorrow will bring, much less the moonless hours between midnight and dawn. But I see this short pause in the proceedings as an unexpected gift. We’ve been fully engaged in the impeachment trial, for and against acquittal. We’ve pored over the documents and listened intently to the arguments–on both sides. And as a result, we see the broader landscape. We know and accept our role in the larger battle. But in this moment, we’ve been afforded a temporary reprieve. Time to lay down our burdens. Time to nurture our inner warriors.
Most of us can’t afford a spa treatment, much less a luxury vacation. No worries. Self-care is invaluable, but it doesn’t require tons of money. As the axiom goes, simple pleasures are oftentimes the best.
Breathe deep the calming scent of lavender. Lean into a treasured friendship. Listen in the quiet for the robin’s chirp and the honeybee’s hum. Unplug. Sit still. Just be.
These ideas too tame for you? Let loose your inner hedonist. Indulge yourself with the crunchiest vegetables, the sweetest fruits, the perfect cuppa, award-winning books, and all manner of fine chocolate. Or…write your own prescription.
The revolution won’t fall apart in our absence. All will be well, so long as we remain united in our resolve. Everything will work out for the good, if we remain committed to our highest ideals. I truly believe that. But to that end, I also believe that even the most valiant warriors need an occasional respite. So let’s take a quick break. Rest. Renew. And then come together again in a show of force, fully equipped for these and other liminal moments.
On this idyllic afternoon, our friend Freckles was lounging on Treasure Island–flanked, as usual, by his harem and seal pups of all ages. Easy living for his pinniped pod. Until, that is, the tides rolled in.
The waves churned and slammed against the rocks, scooping pinnipeds from their resting place and tossing them into the sea. Whoosh, the surf grass vanished. Saltwater swirled and frothed, and then submerged the tidal pools. Large portions of the island disappeared underwater.
But good ol’ Freckles, he remained as nonplussed as ever. Instinct, no doubt, enjoined by learned wisdom.
In a series of calm, deliberate moves, he nudged his offspring to higher ground. “Tuck your fins,” he seemed to say, “Lift your chin and move that tail! We’ll ride out this storm together, and when the waters recede again, we can rest.”
No matter how vast and dark the world might seem, there’s always a tiny glimmer of hope. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder, that’s all. And believe in the magic you can’t quite see.
Hummingbirds lay two eggs, on average, and incubate them for about 15-18 days. Mama’s been sitting on her nest for about 20 days now. So if I’ve done the math correctly, she’s probably keeping two hatchlings warm, or will be very soon.
Two, featherless symbols of hope. You can’t see them, cradled as they are in the condo nest that’s situated in a high, dark corner of our tile roof overhang. But you trust and believe, anyway, because when the sun peeks that shadowy space, her iridescent feathers catch fire, igniting your imagination and setting your heart aglow.
We meditated by the water’s edge, saying goodbye to 2019 and inviting goodness and light into the New Year.
We wrote our intentions in the sand with driftwood and allowed the incoming waves to wash them out to sea.
Three close friends, basking in the sunshine and enjoying each other’s company.
Two small girls walked past, holding their young mother’s hands. They glanced back at us, watching our every move.
The littlest one caught my gaze. I smiled and then added a rose from my garden to the words I’d etched in the sand.
She grinned, grabbed a stick of her own, and lifted it overhead. An unspoken gesture of solidarity among kindreds.
When we left the beach a while later, she was writing her own story into the sand.
Singular events, brimming with joy and sprinkled with magic. This is what we live for. And if we’re lucky enough, we have friends and loved ones with whom to share them.
Happy New Year, everybody! Wishing you every goodness in the now, and every good thing on the horizon.
It’s true, what they told us when we were little: Time passes ever more quickly as we get older. One holiday blurs into another, and before you know it, we’re turning the calendar page on another decade.
We put down our devices and look up from our screens. Where has everyone gone?
We put out the welcome mat, phone our friends, and ring the neighbor’s doorbell. Oh, there you are!
Old-school, maybe, but this restores in us a sense of community. And it reminds us of a more innocent time, when we met a stranger’s gaze with a smile, and the sound of a loved one’s voice was as magical as sleigh bells.
That’s my holiday wish. Which is why I snapped this photo of my impossibly sweet–and always gentle–rescue kitty, Nellie. It speaks to me of our cozy family and the comforts of the season. Treasures, which I never want to take for granted.
Much later, I realized that I’d also captured a liminal moment. Yes, I know: Thanksgiving’s over, and the pumpkin decor is past its prime. The clock ticked forward, as it always does, and autumn gave way to winter a few weeks ago. Yes, I see: It’s a miniature tree, and the twinkling lights don’t reach the lower branches. What can I say? Measurements aren’t my strong suit. But hey, it’s all good. Our home is made for memories, not magazine spreads. We live here, and our home is a reflection of who we are, not the latest design trends.
Speaking of which, I’ll let you in on a little secret: A quick nap (which is where Nellie seems headed) is more delicious than the fanciest hors d’oeuvres. And another thing: I’d rather buy than make the traditional holiday dishes. Except cookies. Some of my favorite memories involve decorating Christmas cookies with friends and family. Here’s my Swedish friend Emma’s first try.
Shopping, wrapping, cleaning, cooking–you’ll get to it, in your own good time, and in a way that feels right to you. But life is short, remember that. Take breaks…take deep breaths when you’re feeling rushed…give and receive the gift of friendship. In this moment–while the kitties nap and the teakettle sings–make plans for an adventure. One that gets you out of the house, where the to-do list grows longer by the day.
Time is fleeting, and those tree ornaments can wait.
It is possible, I suppose that sometime we will learn everything there is to learn: what the world is, for example, and what it means. —Mary Oliver
I share Mary Oliver’s delight in exploring the unknown. Today, for example, I’m reveling in all there is to learn about this plump, juicy pineapple guava–an exotic fruit that I just now tasted for the very first time. Wow, is it ever good! It’s similar to a kiwi in size and texture, and it tastes like a tropical smoothie. A sweet indulgence, born of curiosity and mindfulness.
I planted this sapling in my backyard garden two years ago, during the autumnal equinox…
It was a miracle, really, to watch these beautiful flowers bloom in springtime, and then transform themselves into edible fruit.
…and if I’m lucky, it’ll produce more fruit every year to share and savor.