Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Manzanita Magic: An Oracle Dog-walk through The Sandhills!

Back before he died; Willy and I took a walk almost every day. Our little black mutt was a most precious family member, and how he loved his daily walks! But on one particular morning, during our walk, I encountered something that invited me to take a significant turn in the direction of my life.

Willy loved the ritual invitation almost as much as the walk itself. It was an ongoing game we played: a family tradition. To whip him into an instant frenzy of ecstasy and wild excitement, you only had to almost say the magic phrase: "Do you want to go for a-a-a-a-a . . ."   (then silence and a breathless interlude). His hyper-alert, furry form would freeze--as if he'd been placed 'on hold'! Like the calm before the storm, Willy's ears stood on sharp alert--his tail paused mid-air, in a motionless trance of torture--while Life itself waited to hear what would come next . . .

Willy knew the word. His whole being had experienced it already, inside, but until the humans finally relented, and finished their sentence, his big chocolate eyes, would remain riveted on the verge of insane dog-laughter. Until uttered aloud, it simply wasn't REAL! So, of course, we played our part by  s-l-o-w-l-y  teasing forth this sacred word-charm, at last!

"Do you want to go for a "WALK?"  

Once he did finally hear this magic word, out loud, the dam would burst! Reassured that his high hopes were really true--he'd turn round and round, in mad circles, unable to contain his thrill, prancing and lifting himself up, excitedly, making happy dog sounds, as he bolted for the door.

We would each re-enact our role in this human/dog game, over and over again. We all needed the medicine waiting for us, up on top of 'The Sandhills'.

Fortunately, our street dead-ends at the entrance to a rare and precious eco-system of Sandy Hills and desert foliage. It's part of a tiny, unique, and well-hidden greenbelt, crisscrossed with delightful trails—well, it's actually more of a white-belt! 

Eon's ago, when the ocean floor was uplifted, high into the Santa Cruz Mountains, most of it became forest terrain, with Pines and Redwoods. But this small section of The San Lorenzo Valley, managed to remain exactly intact--like the Pacific shoreline it once was, with a smattering of desert plants, and loose sand.

The Silver Manzanita resides here, it's root-feet dug deep into hard packed sand dunes.

Silver Manzanita, Oak, and Madrone Embracing
The stately Madrone with it's bare and brazen branches is exquisite to behold. Dancing with the humble Manzanita--these two remain entwined, showing off their smooth red sheen of wooden limbs, protected by the sturdy old oaks. A Moonlit stroll, up into these sandhills, reveals one of Earth's well-hidden treasures. At night, the ground beneath your feet glows with incandescent moon dust! 

Winding among petrified dunes, dusted with a light layer of loose powdery-white sand, an entire world of utterly unique fossils, flora, and fauna is tucked away. But it refuses to stay 'in place'. Fickle as the sand it's made of, everything shifts and alters easily. Change is constant. No wonder I love it so much up here! My known world is exactly the same.

Metamorphosis is ongoing. Fortunately, I've always found it interesting. But I remember back, over a decade ago, when a particularly huge wave-swell hit. My marriage had ended abruptly, and it was easy to get caught in sudden undertows of loss and pain. Wave-swells would surge through without notice, pulling me beneath the surface, swift and hard.

On one particular day, as Willy and I started off on our walk, I found myself growing weary of bracing against the tides. I discovered something interesting, quite by accident: Pain is patient. It resides politely within us, until we are ready to deal with it. But it was actually the modest Silver Manzanita bush, who helped me out, the most.

Meandering back down through these familiar hills that rise from the Valley floor, I ran behind Willy, trying to keep up, when a monster wave of angst took me by surprise. It felt utterly impossible to manage. So, I followed my little black mutt through the smooth white mounds, of this rare, endangered habitat--drawing comfort as if from an old friend who knows me well.

Then SUDDENLY, I realized what it was we shared together (this unique area of terrain: and me); I understood why I need its lessons NOW. This place is going extinct—rapidly before our watching eyes. While my life as I had known it, was also going extinct, as well.

Willy, ran around exploring until he found a spot to rest, while I stopped to admire a particularly vibrant specimen of Manzanita.

Rooted in powdery sand, it's bearing was so majestic; so alive, that it might suddenly begin to walk around. 

Speaking directly to this lovely young tree , I shared my admiration. Silently, it listened. Soon I found myself asking for advice,

     “How does a plant deal with dying?" 

The bush was rather surprised at first; but soon replied,

     “Cycles rather than endings---that’s what we experience.”

So, I pondered this and saw how my personal relationship to grief, mirrors the plight of these lovely sandhills as they rapidly lose plants and critters--while they continue to erode. They are being rapidly crowded out by housing developments, while Life--as I'd known it--was slipping away as well.

      “Both of us are in the business of dying.”  I explained, then I also

     “And yes, for you it’s all about cycles but for me this isn't just a    

      cycle. It’s an ending. You probably don’t even care, one way or  
      another about your future. But, to me, my future matters   

Taciturn it merely presided over the sunsets glow. I regarded its equanimity and remarked, 

     “Well, the truth is that       neither of us is very
      good with endings.
      You are blissfully
      unprepared and have
      no clue how to how
      to deal with them,
      while I have been
      drawn to endings all         my life, without                 knowing why. 
     "In fact, our society in
      general, isn't so good
      with endings. We
      have overrun the            planet the in our               attempt to deal with
      pain, loss and grief. 

My lecture did not phase the lovely Manzanita, with it's intricate web of deep red branches, glowing through the silver-green foliage. It simply presided over the area. The next remark seemed to come out of nowhere:
    “There will always be waves of pain.”

This sage-like insight was stated in a very calm manner. I can’t say it was the silver manzanita, but I can’t say it wasn’t. However, since I like to feel engaged, I grabbed onto the quality of the word  w-a-v-e: sensing its pulse-like rush, punctuated with pauses. They did surge through me.

     “Yes, its true.”  I agreed, then noted,

     “Pain does have a beginning, a middle and an end. Like waves, it also tends to come and go."

What I glimpsed about waves of pain was a godsend as the waves would no doubt keep on coming. But this meant that I could breathe, rather than stiffening up, knowing that it’s always just one wave at a time. There's usually a break before the next one comes. And that could be manageable, if taken, just one wave at a time. I felt good about our conversation and turned toward home.

There was something else though, as the prickly leafed red limbs of the manzanita grabbed at my sweater, inquiring directly,

     “This business about dying. Aren’t you being given a chance finally, to do it right, this time?"  

While I considered this wise advice, the Silver Manzanita paused for a moment, then it continued,

     "Here is one of the most important relationship in your entire life and it is ending (changing). What if you put all the TLC possible, into making this a worthy ending? Remember, you and these sandhills are not alone. The planet is dealing with endings, Big Time, right now. Welcome to the club!”

     "Thank you." I said. And as I bowed to my new friend, something heavy lifted from my spirit. We just never know where, or how, Life's wisdom might arise!

~ ~ ~

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