Postcard from the Greening Desert

DSCN0592DSCN0591May was one long rainstorm here, proving that 200 times the normal rainfall isn’t zero after all, but brimfull cisterns and water rushing down rivers and streams and acequias. For weeks folks kept asking each other “Are we still in New Mexico?” but a friend returning from New England said we could stop worrying: this was indeed still the desert. Well Amen to that.

I am delighted to once again be carrying buckets of dishwater out to the garden, thought it is nice to see springtime snowpack on the mountains instead of fires. We make our way each evening to the river and the willows, but never have a mosquito interrupt dinner under the apple tree. A happy medium, indeed.

A friend moved to the mountains where she has this acequia running past her house. It feels vaguely sinful, all that green right out the door, but I couldn’t help but recite Wendell Berry on the log crossing:

The god I have always expected
to appear at the wood’s edge, beckoning,
I have always expected to be
a great relisher of this world, it’s good
grown immortal in his mind.

In town, where our green belts are slightly less orgiastic and school is letting out for the summer, I think of my friend and her family in the mountains often. What would Katie do? I wonder to myself, thinking of her contentment to quietly spend the days tending her home, watching her children play, welcoming visitors.The same things that content me, but are easy enough to toss into the rushing current of life. I keep the calendar as free as I can, and savor this high season in which life is less about doing, and more about relishing.

Rather than being carried away by the figurative runoff, I want our roots to be well-watered, our leafy crowns reaching to the sun. Moored to the unfolding days, to our unfolding lives that blossom in the quiet garden.


Rambling Day


It should be one long song of praise, the pen moving in time to the lemon balm rising from the mulch, the tulip petals dropping, the eggs in the nest, the plipping rain that is this spring day.

The storm darkened sky, which is really a brightening. The third helping of milky sweet tea in my cup, not the one he gave me and I loved until it broke, but a good one full up, or was not long ago, anyways.

The girl who wants and wants has written to Santa every morning this week (which I admit is only two days), every morning with a new want and asking me, why can’t I have it all? I want love, and so write my own letters each morning asking for it–long run-ons like this one asking, asking. She comes after a while back into my arms, though her own are empty, and before long we take up our pens again.

Last night I sat under the rain dropped roof reading a book until late, only then remembering the roasting pan with it’s half eaten chicken, the husband asleep on the children’s floor, that I had meant to sit quietly relaxing the muscle of my mind, which I do by first softening my tongue, which always seems in need of softening, no matter how many times I remember.

There is thunder, and when the rain stops I call up to the clouds reminding them to soften and spill. They roll on. The claret cup cactus is still in bloom and this morning I saw the yucca’s glorious stalks erupting from their center, the bell blossoms opening. I ate the petals as I walked.

My father came over and listened to my notes from the speech I heard last week by the famous journalist who explained almost everything I have wondered about the world today (she did not comment on Santa). When I was done with my my notes, Papa said, this world is a symphony–magnificent, holy. All you need to do, he told me, the only thing you need to do, is play your own single, small, pure note.

We sat together and our eyes filled with tears, there on the flagstone patio, under the fruit trees dropping tiny frost shriveled apricots around us, next to the bucket of bindweed pulled over the weekend, next to the iris patch with so many dark purple crowns, each one as open as it could be, some still coming, some long since spent.

Giddy Springtime



There were warm spells all winter, but this is indisputable, this surprise of blooming fruit trees, medians filled with crocuses, the juniper pollen billowing across the valley like smoke from a forest fire in the Jemez, and all night rains falling gentle as can be over the blossoming city.

There are baby chicks in the bathtub peep peeping and tomato seedlings to carry out every morning into the sun. There is a little girl who plucks the tiny roma sprouts and taps the dirt off the root threads and pops it in her mouth, and another girl turning seven in just days telling me long stories like the Goose Girl over dinner, which she calls Odious Beans.

In the midst of all this I am learning to meditate. For years I’ve thought to myself  it would be a good thing to do, especially if I ever got cancer or was a stressed out corporate executive. Since I was neither of these things (thanks be), I contented myself with reading books about mindful parenting, zen gardening, and writing with a wild mind. These things have a way of accumulating over the years, and let’s just say that when I heard about a class in Mindfulness Meditation and Stress Reduction for Parents my turn on the Zafu had come.

Did you know that it turns out the point of meditation is not to roll on waves of bliss while sitting in the presence of God after all, and that actually there is no point except to be aware of the breath. Or so says my teacher. In fact, one source I have seen calls the rolling on waves of bliss a side effect of relaxation and suggests you ignore such “odd sensations” and go back to following the breath. I can just say it’s a good thing I never read that particular yogi before beginning my practice! Nonetheless, it is lovely to be breathing and sitting still with or without waves of bliss, because it’s spring.

There is one pleasure I’m anticipating most of all: Peeling the row cover off my south wall garden to see what greens made it through the winter. With luck there will be speckled romaines, red oakleaf, rainbow chards, and kale. This garden hasn’t been watered, much less glimpsed, for months. But I know it’s there, rising in the long light and warmth of the days. I know this because I can see them pushing the row cover up, my little kales and chards and romaines.

I’m feeling a whole lot like those greens today. So much has been slow growing under cover for the winter, for my seven years mothering, for each of these good thirty-three years I’ve had. And the cover is lifting. What will be revealed?

I can almost feel the giddy wave of springtime bliss pulling me under, so I’ll rest now and watch the miracle of every breath coming and going, and surely there is something of God in that. That, and the greening trees.

Three Rivers

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We last passed this way a dozen years ago, our younger selves half-grown and beautiful and lost. Last time through, we quarreled and debated marriage, and in the morning continued on our desert loving way. We had a ’69 VW van. The Man of the Place didn’t know how to play the guitar yet (what on earth did he do instead? I can’t remember). Some things are the same. We’re still traveling together, after all, nowadays in a water cooled van, and with two little girls running the show from the backseat. Returning to this canyon was like a taking a very long road to step in an old footprint and to see the wholeness of the circle that has been traveled.

And because the land is so big, it’s history so long, I couldn’t help but pause and see how our story is a short one beside the volumes of fallen leaves, the years the sun has passed over the black rock butte covered in etchings. Take the land, erupting with lava for some thousand years. Take the people who lived here, then and now, their migrations and exchanges. Take all the losses of history, every tragic tale of conquest, every new home built on the foundations of the old. Take the day the first atom bomb was detonated in this very valley. Take the herd of twenty elk we saw in the foothills at dusk, the stars spinning through the clear night as they always have.

Camp made, our children ran to meet the stream and play beneath the tawny gold of ponderosas and oak trees. I saw then that each generation must find their way through history, must be brought to meet the waters of this year’s snowmelt, to take their steps on that spiralling road and mark the page where their story begins. Flip the pages back, if you will. The story is old, and still unfolding.


If you ever pass this way, or would like to from afar, do bring Miracles of Sainted Earth and Blood Desert as your guides.

After Candlemas


I heard yesterday morning about a tradition of hanging a prayer cloth from a tree for Brigid to bless as she passes by on her day. Candlemas was one of the busiest days I have seen this winter, but in the midst of rushing here and there I grabbed a bit of yellow calico from the scrap pile and paused long enough to unfurl a scrawled prayer across it. I hung my prayer flag in the peach tree, where the sun and wind can lift the words to the spirits, who I now and then remember need to be fed by our praise and thanks. My words were simple, for once, as they spiraled across the cloth, taking their time, but in the end asking just one simple thing:

May we be blessed, and through our lives, Bless.

First Egg, Revisited

“Discipline is very important. We are creative all day long and we need to have an appointment to get that out on the page.” –Mary “Everloving” Oliver


Perhaps it was my recent near-brush with gainful employment, narrowly escaped by some grace or other, but I have that new lease on life feeling, that bubbling exuberance to live fully that sometimes follows close calls.

Perhaps it is the first eggs that just appeared in the chicken nests–dirty and broken, certainly, but there. Life returning, productivity renewed.


With quiet January drawing to a close, my days are fallow no more. There is a window open before me. It looks out on the blue sky, the buds fattening (already!) on the fruit trees. I have heard birdsong at dawn for the first time in months. The sap is rising, and so must I. There is so much to be done, and suddenly a striving has returned. Bless these cycles, and all they bring.

And now if you’ll kindly excuse me, I have an appointment with the page. Onward ho, making hay as we go.

Quiet, Into the House Has Come

IMG_2172 IMG_2175My husband came in from a walk on the ridge behind our house one evening during the winter break. The sun had gone down. The girls were screeching and making messes, dinner was not just late, but lame. I had that feeling of tightly wound burden, with “something isn’t right, I should have done this differently, that would have been better,” sorts of thoughts visiting me. I’ve been shown the face I make when I feel like this, and it isn’t as lovely as I imagine myself to be.

The man of the place came in from the darkness, smiling with the freshness of the newly fallen night in his eyes. He stirred the pot I had on the stove and didn’t say anything about what simmered weakly in it. Just this: “We’ve got to love the life we’ve got.”

I had my own epiphany on the ridge on Solstice, a day that was perplexing with its myriad options, so much to do, so much meaning to make, so much pressure (from myself) to get it right. In the end we did, I think, but about 4:00 I left the house to climb the hill and watch the sun drop, and I can say I was wearing my unlovely expression of consternation. I lay down on the frozen ground, felt the light pouring through my closed eyelids. And remembered, There is nothing that must be done, everything is as it should be. 

Both of our our hilltop insights carried me through the subsequent weeks, and are carrying me forward now.

In these first days of the year, I am savoring the swept-clean newness. The invitation to clear not just the overfull cupboards and drawers, but the fullness of my days and life. This year will bring its wonders and discoveries, its challenges and transitions. For now, there is a pause. An invitation to savor stillness.

The author Dan Siegel writes that our awareness is like a great wheel. At the hub of the wheel, the center, is mindful presence, and from this hub an infinite number of spokes extend to the rim. Our attention tends to dwell out on the rim, moving from one spoke of concern to the next. Mindfulness and meditation are the practice of returning to the center.

These days, as I sink gratefully into my own meditation practice, it feels like there is a counterpart to this in the outer world, the wheel of the year that turns along its spokes, spiraling along back towards January. Which is feeling a bit like the hub to me. A place of quiet, of reflection and retreat. A return to presence.

Soon enough, we’ll be carried forward. I want freshness in my eyes as I go, kindness in my gaze. I want to love whatever is there in the pot, and to serve it in our old bowls at the table where we sit each day together.

Moving Gently Through the Days


In the Sonoran Desert last week we walked carefully through Saguaros to a beloved canyon where water runs through the desert. Do you have places besides your home where a particular landscape and a feeling of absolute belonging are intertwined? It happens to me every time in that hot country my husband hails from, and where we found one another. Relatives, thrift stores, palm trees and fragrant creosote bushes watered by rain also help.


Back home, the cottonwoods are shining bright. At the Leonora Curtin wetlands, named for our favorite old time ethnobotanist, there is a Land Arts installation up until Nov 9th (you should go). Can you see the map of the USA poking up through those reeds? We mapped our own lives on the trails there during our visit, walking in the bright sun, beneath the glowing trees, to the edge of the water. One of the pieces was about pligrimage, what we carry in our bundles, how we bless our children and our days. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.


This morning we rose into the still dark day, our home disordered from travel and time in the woods and world, the kids sick, and the to-do list blessedly empty of anything but one formidable task: Restore balance. As my husband readied himself to teach another round of Faust to 12th graders after a late night of grading, I said to him, “Let’s just move as gently as we can through the week, and see if we can catch up with ourselves at some point.”

He laughed (was it wryly?), and said, “Like we always do?”

Well, like we try to anyways. This season our community has had its spattering of births, unexpected deaths, weddings, divorces, reunions and celebrations in the midst of the ordinary unfolding of our lives. How does a pilgrim walk through her days? What gets carried, and where in the world is she going?


Not unrelated but somewhat tangentially, (for one never knows when the blogger will return to her post) the Santa Fe Harvest Swap was yesterday. I brought a big batch of goat milk soap, a handful of face creams, tea blends from my garden and the wild, and half a dozen Elderberry tinctures. Here is what came home:

In the freezer: 1/2 a pastured rooster, a jar of pastured chicken liver mousse (paté right?), pesto, & green chile sauce.

In the fridge: Tortillas, lard, lactofermented apple sauce, pink kraut, & dilly carrots, cultured butter, pickled beets, & fermented cod liver oil fertilizer (hmm, but was that lacto-fermented?).

In the pantry: Zaatar spice blend, beeswax birthday candles, two apple butters, apricot ginger jam, a pint of honey, dried apricots, watermelon lemon grass jelly (!), and my perennial favorite rosehip apple jelly.

In the medicine chest: Calendula salve and oil, herbal chest rub, arnica-St. John’s wort salve, and a jar of coconut deodorant.

In other words, not your average trip to the grocery store. It is really something to behold the collective abundance that these swaps celebrate; this is just a very incomplete sample of all that was there. It is quite an experience to show up with my bit of creativity and gleanings from the garden and land at large and be blessed with so much in exchange.

Is this a metaphor for life, friends? May the days be gentle with you as you walk through them.


 ps. of all the thoughtful things being written about autumn right now, this is my current favorite.

Letter to Sunshine Valley


Dear Claire,
The season must be full upon you
up in Sunshine, the valley cold, frost come and gone,
the aspens bright in those seams of the mountain
where aspens grow. Here in the city I lift my gaze
and take in the purple daisies which are already fading
and the chamisa which grows brighter still.
There are rumors of gold in our mountains
but I have yet to confirm them.

I’m going for apples this weekend, and hope
to fill a box or three because that is what I do and who I am:
the woman who gathers fruit. But the truth is
I don’t care so much about those things as I once did.
I’m writing poems again, and can’t be bothered
to hang laundry and peel roasted chile or make apple sauce,
though sooner or later I get up and do those things anyways
because that is what happens when you have done some good thing
enough times. It is in me and I am glad.
And what is a poem if not a clean swept floor,
a pot of apples simmering on a fall day?

I might not be noticing the leaves changing yet,
but in the lessening light I feel the fall reckoning
come roaring out of me. Like leaves on a tree
in October, down comes certainty, one belief
at a time. In the end, there I am, branches bare,
no longer who I thought I was, or sought to be.
It all gets held up to the light and if not discarded, exposed.
All those hanging threads and thin places;
it takes days to get through the pile.
In the end there is some scrap of cloth that is intact
and that is enough to go forward with
into these darkening days.

This is all just a long way to say
that your daughter is as lovely as the days are sunny,
and I’m so happy to see her in your arms.
Let each season carry you the way you carry her,
as motherhood shapes you and strips you and fills you anew.
After the apples get picked, we’ll make our way
to the mountains to see for ourselves the rain of gold,
and one of these days I’ll make it to your place, back home,
whatever that means, wherever that is.

Love Kyce

Song in the Key of D

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So much is forgotten in these ripe days of our summer together: emails and efficiency, grocery shopping, the world beyond our gate, where we went wrong. On the table are a few scraps of cloth, snips of thread. So you see, something is made by hand here and there, now and then. As much of a surprise as the sweet purple tomatoes from the garden I had been despairing of. On my piano I make something like music, and the girls call me the piano queen. I will miss them when school starts, miss these long days home where I sometimes wonder “Who are these beasties and what on earth can be done to get them to stop screaming?” I feed them the twelfth peach of the day, sweep the floor, stop fretting that we didn’t do enough jump-roping before first grade starts, let them bring home those pink little ponies from the neighbor’s yardsale. I wonder what it is I will do with myself when the hush of fall arrives.

On the road this summer, camping in the far northern reaches of this mountain range we live at the tail of, my husband and I sang together in the darkness of night. We’d forgotten all the song books, but his fingers knew the way across the guitar strings, and we knew enough lyrics to fill each night with music. Who can say whether those songs were a seed planted or a seed bursting forth. I can say only that it is good to remember that our gardens are wild places, in the end, and we do not really know what our faithfulness in tending them is for, or even how best to do it. 

I came home from that trip washed clean in the way that happens when we step outside the lines of our days. I looked at the clothes in my closet, the messages on my answering maching, the events on the calendar’s days, and wondered “Whose life is this?” It would be nice to know what it all is for, what comes next, the answer to every need. Instead, we find our way across the strings, and see what music will come of it.