March 25, 2017

Writing and Wildlife at Windhorse

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I’m always struck by how cold the vernal equinox is.  Spring may usher in the warmth of summer on its far end, but it begins with Aries riding through the world, directing the whirlwind, waking up hibernating animals (like me) and splashing cold water on our faces.  During the week of the equinox, I was up on Whidbey Island,  which is already a windy place without any special help from archetypal energies.

Windhorse, the Buddhist meditation retreat where I come to write, feels like a second home.  I enact a homecoming ritual when I turn off the highway onto the two mile stretch of narrow road that takes me to the bowl of the retreat center.  First I turn off anything I might be listening to.  I unbuckle my seat belt and open all the car windows.  No matter the temperature, I drive slowly for two miles and let the air blow in and out of the car. I watch for deer, rabbits, and eagles.  I look at the canopy of trees as I drive through the woods.  I am beginning to arrive.

I turn in at the Buddha House and back my car up to the door.  I fish out the hidden key, let myself in, and unload the car.  I take out of the drawers and cupboards the dishes, utensils, and pots I’ll be using and wash them in hot soapy water. Everyone has different standards about cleanliness and I don’t think I am especially obsessive. It’s just that meditators—who mostly use the retreat– are exceptionally spacey people and I don’t think they even notice they’ve left scrambled egg on the sides of the pan or rice caked to the fork.

This week I wrote for five hours every morning and then my brain demanded other stimulus or lack thereof.  I had done some work with an editor (Jennifer D. Munro) and learned there was such a thing as Point of View and that I knew next to nothing about it. I read a lot of Victorian novels when authors all knew everything that was going on in everyone’s head. This is what I gravitate to. It turns out there are other ways to tell a story.

So I worked for five hours a day with the 20,000 words I had already written and I ended up with 19,500 words.  But every day after I closed the computer and went for a walk I felt excited and alive. The story is beginning to flow more freely.

Last year a mouse trotted into the Buddha House in the middle of the night and got into my pistachio nuts. I wonder how many mice the meditators haven’t noticed. I told Bert, The Very Good Neighbor, who has been trying to keep the place mouse free, that I’d seen droppings next to a sprung trap, as though a mouse had managed to get the peanut butter without killing itself.  Bert re-set the trap in the kitchen and reported that he had also removed the mouse that was under the bed.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah there’s a trap under the bed,” he said cheerfully. This is one of Bert’s most identifiable features: undying cheerfulness.

Every morning I did a wildlife check, both inside and out. First I went to all the windows of the Buddha House to see if any deer were visible. Then I checked the three traps in the house. I never found a mouse in a trap but on Tuesday morning I found one drowned in the kitchen sink. I had left the sink full of soapy water and he tumbled in. I gave him a proper burial reflecting that city rats are creepy but this little guy could be on a birthday card.

The mouse in the kitchen sink was the only wildlife found inside. Outside, there were five deer whose habits I got familiar with. Two of them looked like teenagers and one was so pregnant I could almost trace the outline of the legs of the fawn she would birth before too long. I checked for them early and late afternoon and a third time at dusk. When I came upon them, I talked baby talk to them.

One evening they were grazing between the Buddha House and Tommie’s house, a distance I usually make in about 30 seconds. On this evening it took nearly ten minutes to get down the hill because I didn’t want to scare or disturb the five deer. Gradually over the course of the week, they let me get closer to them.

The deer were a constant source of wonder and delight. I’d be in a voice lesson, see them outside, and get distracted. Talking to Tommie at her house I got up and watched them every time they came within view.

“The deer,” I said to her. “You are so used to them, you probably don’t even notice them anymore.”

“Oh, I notice,” she said. “They’re eating the forest.”

After a pause she added that they were “wondrous creatures,” which I took to be Buddhist for “fucking nuisances.” As Tommie pointed out, they could be both. I suppose that’s true of us all.




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