Hello everyone! Well, this makes me sound like Out of Africa’s Karen Blixen (“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”), but nevertheless: I’ve been on a ranch in Malibu, at the foot of the Santa Monica mountains. Yes indeed–I got a free pass on 5 weeks of Illinois winter this year and it was exquisite. Looking out my window right now, it’s gray and bare, but that’s okay, because if I close my eyes I can see mountain trails lined with rosemary and eucalyptus, magical waterfalls and fragrant bay leaf trees, and the tidal pools of Matador Beach, dotted with sea urchins that close like tiny fists around your finger if you touch them. If we instituted a mandatory month in southern California every February, the world would be a much happier place, I feel sure.
Perhaps similar to the northeast, California has sort of a smug feeling of being its own country; actually, California seems to think of itself as two countries–northern and southern. Other states don’t quite make it onto the radar. For example, when I told people I was from Illinois, they often got it confused with Iowa or North Dakota. And they don’t really care.
After spending some time there, I can understand this. And at this time of the year in Illinois, I am usually counting the days until it’s reasonable to hope that the temperature may get out of the 40’s, say by the end of May. That is, unless I’ve given up on spring altogether, which sometimes happens.
But at this moment, I’m looking back, missing the sun, and the protection of the mountains. I can’t imagine ever taking the natural beauty of where I was for granted, but of course eventually I would have. Still, if I didn’t spend almost all of my time in east central Illinois, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the miracle of standing at the edge of the Pacific on the same day that Martin and the boys were walking across a bridge over the Chicago River in the 20 degree cold.
Sometimes I feel stuck here on the prairie, and despite the vast flatness, it can feel very, very small. I think it’s the sameness of the landscape. I get a little obsessed with thinking about all the places that I will never live, and likely never even visit. Moscow, Calcutta, Tokyo. I don’t even want to go to Calcutta, but still. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes I feel stuck in the monotony, and can get to feeling a little desperate about what isn’t there, what I don’t have, what I had once and then had to leave behind.
But this winter I was lucky enough to experience a new vista, and a new sense of what’s possible. And the poem below by contemporary American poet Marie Howe reminded me this morning that when we recognize beauty in something, we have that beauty in ourselves; if we loved something once, it is with us forever, even if we never see it again (“if once it hailed me it ever does”). Loving anything is a way of discovering ourselves, and falling in love not just with what is outside of ourselves but with our own exquisite longings as well. Experienced in this way, there is no such thing as unrequited love.
I’ve missed you tons, and have lots of good things to share with you in the next few weeks. Lent starts on Wednesday, March 9, and I’m going to give a Lenten blog another go. I hope you’ll be here! Also, for all of you writers, journalers, storytellers, and poets (or anyone who wants some inspiration for their own writing practice), there’s a new page on the site (you’ll see it in the top navigation bar) called “Write About This,” which is a monthly collection of writing prompts and ideas. I’m excited about this, and hope we might be able to share some writing experiences!
Keep looking for the sun, and as always, I’d love to hear from you!
Even If I Don’t See it Again
Even if I don’t see it again.–nor ever feel it
I know it is–and that if once it hailed me
it ever does–
and so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t.–I was blinded like that–and swam
in what shone at me
only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.
P.S. Here’s a short video of Marie Howe reading her poem “The Star Market.” It starts with the intriguing first line, “The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday…”
So glad you are back online, Leslie, and that your time away was restorative. I look forward to the Lenten blog.
Thank you Barb! I’m so glad you’re here!
I am glad that you are doing the Lenten Blog again. The poem above reminds me of the year I was feeling a bit down (daughter away at college, ice storm, Illinois winter, etc.) and then I had a chance to spend two weeks in Paris. Just knowing that much beauty exists has sustained me for a very long time. I am glad that you have had a similar experience. “Write About This” is such a great idea. I look forward to it and to some sunshine.
I know exactly what you mean, Linda. Thank you for sharing, and for being here!
So nice to hear your voice again. I heard Marie Howe read a year or two ago in Seattle and was blown away. My place I may never be again but will always remember is the internal stillness that came after my surgery last summer. Welcome back and I look forward to more.
It’s so wonderful to have you here, Julie. I remember some of your writing on Open Salon about your surgery experience, and that’s such an interesting way to conceieve of “place.” Thank you for sharing!
If not genuine sunshine, at least you brought some light and lightness into the dreary Illinois day. So good to have you back writing and sharing again. I look forward to the Lenten blog and the writing prompts. Welcome back dear one.
Thank you, Cloydia! I hope you’re well, and have made it through the winter! Let me know what you think about the writing prompts.
You were in California? and I take it that you’re home again now. I’m so eager to hear what five weeks away was like, oh my! I do wish I could have seen you, even for just a small sliver of time, but I do so understand the need for true quiet. This is one of my favorite times of year in California– spring greening. For a few brief weeks our hills begin to look like they could be in the Lake District of England; then, of course, the relentless brown overtakes the green. Our canyon chaparral grows the tawny covering of a lion’s pelt as spring fades into summer. I’ll look forward to your lenten blog, and I do want to call you about setting up my own blog. Is there a best time of the day or week to call you for that kind of a chat? Even this week as I’m off school for spring break… I hope you are well, my dear. Blessings to you.
I thought of you often while in CA, and Martin and I have resolved to come out again next winter, so we would love, love, love to visit. I was in awe of the natural beauty, and that’s only the little tiny area that I saw! I would love to talk with you about your ideas for a blog. I know it will be wonderful! Let’s email about times to talk.
I was so happy to read your blog today, Leslie. I’ve been a little uneasy not knowing how you are doing. Now that I know that you were in California and are going to be bringing the fragrance of the rosemary and the California sun to us who have been here in Illinois this February, I am grateful. Thank you for sharing with us. It has made this dreary Illinois Sunday afternoon beautiful.
Thank you for your caring, Cynthia, and for sharing your own sensitivity to the natural world in your comment!
Love to you and your family,
Great to read your post Leslie. I trust your visit to California was a time of growth/healing. BLESS YOU for coming back to the prairie! We missed you and look forward to seeing you soon.
Yes, being in CA was definitely a time of growth and healing. And, it’s wonderful to be home.
Thank you for being here!
What a lovely retreat…and a fantastic poem. I’ll be back!
I am so jealous! My neighbor just bent over outside my window (nice) and its windy with a little bit of windy hitting later in the day. I really need a vacation. Loved the pic of the ocean…….calgon take me away!