I captured this photo yesterday at a park in my town. I’m assuming they’re raccoon prints, those masked night-time bandits.
Two hundred years ago on this land, there were large numbers of bears, elk, antelope, wolves, and mountain lions sampling the plentiful sea fare. The birds were so copious they sometimes darkened the midday sky.
Now the skies are mostly empty, and the only animals still living in my fairly urban neighborhood are those who brave the night: raccoons, skunks, possums, rats. Sometimes in the daylight, I’ll notice a misplaced deer grazing dangerously close to the freeway, too often already a casualty to a car.
Our imprint has overtaken this land. So it’s exhilarating to find evidence of a wild being–one who leaves its mark in the dark of night, a handprint much like our own.
On April 16, 1996, the canine love of my life was born. If he were still alive, Bunker Hill would be 25-years-old today. This photograph was taken by a photographer named Bev Sparks, who I’d hired solely to capture his essence. She did exactly that, and I am forever in her debt. This photo became the cover of Dog Medicine, and it captures him so beautifully. I still miss him, and I am so grateful for him.
When I hired Bev, I remember feeling a little embarrassed, because who hires a dog photographer? In the late nineties, very few people did. But I already knew that Bunker’s time with me would be too short. I knew that at age three or four, he was at his prime. And I knew our connection was transcendent. So, I am reminding you (and myself) today that the thing you want to do but worry it may be misunderstood or seem strange: Do it anyway. Write it anyway. Say it anyway. Be it anyway. That’s your path. Keep going.
The crows have gone quiet. Last week, they were so active and vocal, but now I rarely hear them. I wish I could peek into the nest. Hopefully they’re sitting on speckled eggs, black eyes half-closed, taking a well-deserved slumber.
That’s what the beginning of the pandemic felt like for me. I know it was different for everyone, and for too many of us it was a tragic, awful time. But for my family, March of 2020 was the beginning of a much-needed quiet time in our nest. Yes, it was scary, but there was also a peculiar relief. We didn’t have to fight traffic, rush to school, work, or sports, arriving frustrated, sweaty, cranky, and tired. We didn’t have to rush at all. The house was our safe space, and our one job was to stay there. Together.
We were incredibly lucky. Not every family had this experience. Every day since the pandemic began, I have thought about the front-line workers thrust into the epicenter of this global trauma. Several months ago, I was walking my dogs and I saw a woman on her front porch wearing scrubs, taking off her sneakers before she entered the house. I shouted to her, “Are you a doctor or a nurse?” She replied that she was an ER nurse, and the fatigue in her voice was clear. I put my hand on my heart and said, “Thank you so much for everything you’re doing!” She nodded and went inside, not touching her reaching toddler until she could change out of her scrubs.
That nest had a mother who needed to leave, to walk straight into incredible danger, to do her best to help people. I went home feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. All I could do the entire year was stay home, keep my kids safe, and not spread the virus.
Now I’ve been given a small chance to give back. If you know a health care provider or first responder who is looking to process and share their pandemic stories through writing, I will be leading a free virtual writing workshop with a psychologist named Jonathan Stillerman as part of the ThingsTheyCarryProject.Org. We’ll meet online for three 90-minute workshops at 8:30 PM EST/5:30 PM PST on Thursdays, May 13, 20 and 27. To learn more and sign up to work with me, visit here and look for the May 13th date with my name on it. There will be seven people in my workshop, so space is limited. There are several fabulous workshop leaders, though, so if my class fills up, there will be others. Please share this with anyone you know who might like to participate. You don’t need to be a writer—just a human wanting to share and heal. And to those moms and dads, husbands and wives, friends and siblings who had to leave their nests to fight for our lives, we send you an eternal Thank You.
A family of crows is building a nest at the top of a pine tree across the street from my house. For the past few weeks, they have been carrying small twigs and branches back and forth across the sky.
These crows are my mindfulness tools right now. They’re very vocal. They call to each other throughout the day, and I’ve trained myself to pause when I hear them. When the crow caws, I try to notice: Am I being nice to myself? Are my shoulders tight? Am I breathing deeply? The answers are usually: Not really, Yes, and Not really. I’ll soften my thoughts, drop my shoulders, then slowly inhale and exhale. It’s a small, helpful practice.
Some mornings, I take a handful of peanuts outside and leave them on the railing of my porch. It’s an offering of gratitude. They’ve started to recognize me, I think. When I come outside, they appear on the telephone wires above. I always greet them kindly because we’re building something alongside each other that requires attention, tenderness, generosity, and connection.
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In the spring in California, the trees bloom slowly, all at different rates. The Japanese maples are already fully leafed-out in their red or green elegance, while the crepe myrtles look positively dead. The ornamental pear tree looks like it’s holding snowballs made of petals. But the sycamores are bare branched, as if they’re still expecting one more winter frost.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel like we’re behind—like someone else is farther along than we are. But none of that is true, I remember, when I look at the trees all doing what they do, quietly, assuredly, all at their own pace.
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