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A perfect day at Muir Beach

Today I have breathed in long, cool draughts of what I want most: time. I walked so slowly through the gardens, so slowly that the local doe and her two fawns didn’t even lift their heads or bat their long lashes as I passed by them, so slowly that the tribe of quail continued pecking at the ground, did not flutter away as I moved among them. There is so much to see, smell, and touch.

Colors and curves, pistils and stamens, pollen and bees, here a tendril of bright purple sweet pea, there a bush of lavender next to a thicket of fragile saffron-colored petals quivering in the chill wind. Here a tree whose tiny pale pink blossoms smell to me like honey; there a tree with copper satin bark bound round it like ribbon and a shrine to Jizo at its base. Next to that is a stand of bamboo, and next to that are the makeshift tables full of small black plastic pots, kind Carolyn’s dominion.

My baby toes on both feet are blistered, which aids in slowing me down to this poet’s pace. This is the way M’e Mpho climbs hills in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho: one half-foot’s length at a time. Only her eyes are quick travelers, taking in, at one cut, a valley with two ancient villages whose families’ histories she knows by heart, a cliff where a boy once died of snakebite, the washing on M’e Malebohang’s line, and the gossip that can be made of it. I walk like an old woman with much joy in the time it takes me. I have no destination, though I know that when I get to Muir Beach I will have reached the western limits of this world.

Sitting in the Green Gulch library this morning, waiting while my laundry spun in the machine, I picked up The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry, edited by Andrew Schelling, and there I thumbed to Jane Hirshfield’s “Studying Wu Wei, Muir Beach.” In that poem Hirshfield tells a horse story. A pasture with four hourses, ringed with thistles and blackberries, lies between the gardens of Green Gulch and Muir Beach. I have passed those horses three times now. So here am I near Muir Beach, on my summer vacation, reading Jane Hirshfield’s poem about reading Wu Wei at Muir Beach. When I opened my email, there was a message from AE, sending me a poem by Jane Hirshfield. Life loops around and ties sweet bows around itself.

My friend Carolyn, who drove me from Oakland to this gulch last week, lives now in Kuwait. She said living in that part of the world is surreal, as there are street signs pointing to places we heard of in those “Bible Land” books in Sunday School libraries of our childhoods. Such places still exist, and people still meet, fall in love, eat olives, or fight the traffic in these places. Lands out of legends. California. Damascus. Muir Beach. Galilee.

Today after my slow rambles in the gardens, I sped up a bit to stroll toward the beach with Adriana, the Italian woman who at age 52 is the second-eldest laborer here. She told me stories of her life in search of a dream. She says she was the only “hippie” black sheep in her Italian family, the one who took yoga classes in her twenties, who danced through her thirties, who dared to smoke cigarettes, who tried a macro-biotic diet in her forties, and who discovered Zen. A Japanese woman in Adriana’s hometown of Torino warned her, “The Japan you are searching for has not existed for five hundred years.” But Adriana is not one to take another person’s word for it. She went to Taiwan and spent six years there, never finding a monastery but gaining the confidence to teach English. Teaching English to private students is how she now supports herself in Torino. Uproarious story: she told me, in her strong Italian accent, that among the Taiwanese she passed herself off as an American, from Austin, Texas! She never got to Japan (nor to Texas, for that matter), but this year she saved up and came to Green Gulch on her holidays. Now she has decided that the Japanese woman was right. We laughed together, sitting among the stones on Muir Beach. Here we are, two women who are old enough to know better, both looking for a world that hasn’t existed for five hundred years. Well, I don’t know about Adriana, but I am not searching for that any more. I do like this about Adriana, and about me, and about all the old women or old men like us who keep on surprising ourselves with our lives: we don’t give up looking for a life that fits us better than the one we have; we continue pursuing one quest after another; we don’t bore ourselves.

Back to that book I picked up in the library of the Wheelwright Center this morning, I linger over poems by Diane Di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sam Hamill, Jane Hirshfield, and a number of poets who are new to me. I caress their words with my eyes and my fingers, taking my time. There are names and words scattered among these poems that are as familiar to me as the stones in the bowl beside my comfortable chair at home, stones I have fingered in many weathers, stones that have been a comfort to me in hard times: Bodhidharma, bhajan, Monjushri, Wu Wei, Ryoken, Kali, Zendo, han, kinhin, dakini, bardo, dream time, Avalokiteshvara, Heart Sutra, Diamond Sutra, form, emptiness, 9 times, 108 times, koan, Basho, Kwan-yin. Once again I say these words aloud to myself, softly, in the lines of other people’s poems. I dawdle the day away at Muir Beach and near Muir Beach, in the chilly California sunshine of an August afternoon. This is a perfect day.

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2 responses to “A perfect day at Muir Beach”

  1. Alberto says:

    hi, Kendall!!!!
    I’m missing you and i feel less understood now here at Green Gulch farm. But Andreana is still here!!! take care

  2. admin says:

    I miss you, too, Alberto. Keep writing on your blog, and you will attract the spirits of people who understand and appreciate your imagination and your drive. Connections through the blog can be quite marvelous, almost magical.

  3. Paul says:

    Hi Kendall –
    I just read August 1-10. Your Thoreau family is following your blog with interest and discussing it amongst ourselves. Much love for you here.
    When you get to Portland, remember that Bob Schaibly (former minister of 1st Houston) is there and probably preaching still this month – he is 1st Portland’s summer minister. He’d be a good person to ask about how to connect to Portland’s world in the ways you’d like to. And say hi to him from me.

  4. Diane says:

    “who keep on surprising ourselves with our lives: we don’t give up looking for a life that fits us better than the one we have; we continue pursuing one quest after another; we don’t bore ourselves.”

    What perfect words Kendall! Following your journey with anticipation of your next amazing insight. Portland?


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