Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. –Norman Vincent Peale
It was an impromptu game, inspired by a piece of driftwood that was tossed on the beach by the rising tides. Using the ragged edge of the stick, I etched four numbers into the sand, as close to the water’s edge as possible. My goal? To capture images of the vanishing year before the churn washed it away.
Again and again, I played tag with the waves. running backward with my camera aimed low, until my clothes were soaked and my storage card was nearly full.
Ho Ho Ho! It wasn’t until much later, when I finally downloaded the images, that I realized I’d been etching the wrong year into the sand all along!
In recounting this story later, I wonder if this tourist might have something to say about us “crazy locals.”
But this is my story, and in this retelling, the main characters are the wonderfully creative kids from Arizona that I’d met a bit earlier in the day. When last I saw this pair, they were packing wet sand around the edges of a deep hole they’d dug—a fortress against the incoming tides.
When I headed back to my car, they flagged me down. The little girl sat back on her heels so I could admire their handiwork. They’d created for themselves a Sisyphean task, of course, but that wasn’t for me to judge.
I lavished praise on their creative efforts. “Would you like this stick?” I asked. “You never know…it might come in handy.”
By then, the little boy had returned to the job at hand: scooping and packing sand, and repositioning his body when the waves inched close enough to threaten his wall. “Nah, I’m good.”
The little girl hesitated.
I stretched the stick across my open palms—a magic wand now, drenched in seawater and sprinkled with glittery sand. “How about you?” I asked. “You could write your wishes in the sand and then watch the waves carry them away.”
Her face brightened, lit from within by the dreams she envisioned in her mind’s eye. “Ah,” she said, “I wondered what you were doing.” She scrambled to her feet, brushed the sand off her knees, and reached for the driftwood.
Her eyes sparkled. My heart glowed.
As I headed back to my car, she strode confidently to the ocean’s edge, like a newly crowned monarch with a scepter.
I scrambled over the sand berms, and when I eventually reached the boardwalk, I glanced back at my new friends one last time. The little boy was still hard at work, frenetically digging and forever rebuilding. No time for rest or reflection. He was too busy fortifying his crumbling structure against the inevitable.
But the little girl…ahhh. She was wriggling her toes in the wet sand–a princess in her own realm, wholly immersed in the moment. Time and again, she etched her name into the sand. Time and again, she whispered her wishes into the salty air, and then invited the breezes to carry them out to sea.
For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we each are free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world. –Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Happy Hanukkah to everyone who celebrates the Festival of Lights! May we find hope in this season of miracles, and be comforted by the presence of Light.
More than these greens tossed with toasted pecans,
I want to serve you the hymn I sang into the wooden bowl
as I blended the oil and white vinegar.
More than honey ice cream
beside the warm pie, I want to serve you the bliss in the apples’ flesh,
how it gathered the sun and carried its luminousness to this table.
More than the popovers, the risen ecstasy of wheat, milk and eggs,
I want to serve you the warmth that urged the tranformation to bread.
Blessings, I want to serve you full choruses of hallelujah, oh so wholly
here in this moment. Oh so holy here in this world.
This beautiful poem, Thanksgiving, was penned by Rosemerry Wahtola Trimmer. All photographs courtesy of my dear friend, Donna Sullivan.
I’m forever grateful for this opportunity to sing at Sunday Brunch with the Harlem Gospel Choir. I’m not a culinary expert by any means, nor am I a professional singer. But I do rattle around in the kitchen some, and I’m all about making a joyful noise!
I suspect that’s why this poem really resonates with me. It speaks to the savory-sweet truths about Thanksgiving. A tasty meal doesn’t require perfect recipes and the just-right serving dishes. It’s all about serving others–meeting your beloveds’ needs with compassion and grace. Abundance is sometimes equated with heaping plates and that uncomfortable, overstuffed feeling that follows. But in fact, a bountiful life is more accurately measured by our generosity of spirit. And here’s the essence of the poem, as I read it: When we prepare food with a song in our hearts, it nourishes everyone who gathers around our tables. And when we are “wholly here in the moment,” we give and receive a gracious plenty.
There’s an abandoned hummingbird nest in the giant fuchsia out front. Cupped inside, a pearlescent egg that never hatched.
I swallow hard whenever I see it, remind myself, “It’s nature’s way.” But for a brief moment yesterday, I thought about pruning the branch that holds it in place. Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. But I thought it might clear the space for possibilities.
But then again, our Thanksgiving guests might enjoy seeing this architectural wonder, equal parts spider silk and cottony magic. No longer camouflaged by leaves and flowers, It bears silent witness to the hatchlings it once housed, and to the fledglings who took to the skies during last year’s nesting season.
Left to the elements, the nest will eventually disintegrate. More likely, the fluff ‘n stuff will be recycled by mama hummingbirds-to-be. Like this one, who was sipping nectar in our backyard at sunrise.
Nesting season is almost upon us again–maybe as soon as next week, if we’re lucky!
On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful for the animal rehab specialist, animal services officer, and veterinary hospital that specializes in raptors–all of whom, in turn, tucked this Great Horned Owl under their compassionate wings.
Our neighbor discovered this magnificent creature at the threshold of his garage, bleeding slightly from a wound we couldn’t see. Why did it swoop down from the neighboring hillside and land on his asphalt driveway? I circled it slowly, giving it wide berth while using my zoom lens to assess his physical condition.
See the thatched feathers under its sleepy eyes? They look like ice crystals, don’t you think?
Although its wings weren’t injured, the owl didn’t even try to fly. It just swiveled its head from side, watching us with sleepy eyes as we called for help.
The animal services officer swaddled it in a blanket, carefully avoiding its dangerous talons as he crated it for the short ride to the vet.
Turns out, the Birds of Prey Center doesn’t give out specific information on their patients, but they referred me to this statement on their website, by way of reassurance: “Our intake birds are initially examined by a veterinarian and an individual course of treatment is prescribed (may include x-rays, surgery, and/or other medical therapy). Releasable birds are then kept in flight cages, where they can regain the necessary skills and strength to return to the wild.”
I received that as a very hopeful message. Even if the circumstances weren’t ideal, I felt privileged for the time I got to spend with this great horned owl, and for the rare opportunity to see its exquisite features up close. In its precarious state, it somehow sensed that it could entrusted us with its care. In turn, we honored its vulnerability and did what we could to ease its suffering. It’s in the best possible hands, now, in a facility that’s dedicated to its rehabilitation and release.
San Clemente is a sleepy little coastal community in Southern California– a surfer’s paradise made (in)famous in 1969 when then-President Richard Nixon purchased an exclusive property on an oceanfront bluff and dubbed it “The Western White House.” It’s a diverse community now, where McMansions stand adjacent to rambling cottages, and straight-laced folks share a peaceful co-existence with their more eccentric neighbors.
The beach alone is a draw for tourists. The quirky little enclaves call my name. That’s why I found myself driving down one of its charming little side streets last weekend, looking for an art exhibit that I’d only just recently heard about on Facebook. And suddenly, there it was: The Squirrel Project of Los Molinos. And hey, would you look at that? It even has its own hashtag!
Meet the Squirrels of Los Molinos Street, perennial guests on the party scene in San Clemente. They’re gathered now for a Halloween mixer, replete with a cadaver on a surgical slab, black crows supervising the grisly operation, and a vexed squirrel who’s decided to take the future into his own hands. Here, a creative hodgepodge–the outpourings of artist Diana Donaldson’s head and heart. But each scene is stitched together with the others, thematically speaking, thanks to the collaborative efforts of her sister. Should it scare us, that these scenes are inspired by her work at a nearby hospital?
Furry rodents-in-residents, running rampant in an art gallery?
A bit odd, you’re probably thinking. But then again, why not?
If you’re a creative sort, you know better than to question your own artistic muses. You know the risks that come of revealing their magic powers to someone else.
And still, I had to ask: “Why squirrels?”
Diana greeted my question with good humor, but she was careful in her answer. She bought her first squirrel mask in Austin, she said, roughly five years ago. It was an impulse buy, art for its own sake, but she’s since purchased several more. They speak to her, amuse her, inspire, and soothe her. As she listens to cable news–at once anguishing and angering, these days–Diana carves another fluffy-tailed rodent out of clay.
See the paint-spattered shirts, that sparkle in her eyes? Diana loves being an artist. She’s also a warm and engaging storyteller who enjoys leisurely conversations with scheduled guests and random passers-by.
In fact, she granted me an all-access, backstage pass to the studio space behind the diorama. Even better, she allowed me to film a quick tour for readers who might not be local.
Note the multimedia collection: a smattering of other artists’ works, intermixed with Diana and James’ creative endeavors. Note, too, the treasure trove of time-worn tools, art supplies and found objects, that fill the table space and more.
And squirrels, lots of squirrels…under foot, on pedestals, in her mind’s eye and under wraps.
“A lot of people don’t notice them when they pass by,” she once said about her beloved squirrels. “The people that do – they’re my tribe. They always get a kick out of it.”
It was Wednesday morning–mid-80s by 10:00 a.m, with searing Santa Ana winds expected in the canyons. No surprise then, our local beach was crowded–a teeming mixture of resort guests and local residents. I clambered over the rocks, snapping photos of the harbor seals and peering into the tide pools. Surfers jogged past me, wetsuits dripping, wholly absorbed by the music blasting through their ear buds.
It was on this very warm day that I caught my first glimpse of the grizzled man who wandered over the sand berms with an overstuffed bundle on his back. He dropped his cargo, carved out a shallow trench with his bare feet, and then unfurled his sleeping bag in the narrow space between the limestone cliffs and the incoming tides. Seagulls stood watch over him while he rested, same as they do with Freckles.
I turned my attention again to the hermit crabs and anemones. Hidden from view: rip currents. Rescue boats hugged the shoreline.
A flock of pigeons swooped in, picked through the man’s belongings and came away hungry. He dozed, snored, and eventually groaned himself into wakefulness. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, saw him struggle to his feet, chest heaving, and gather his belongings. Everyone else went about the business of having fun…or pretended not to notice.
There was something off about his breathing. Labored, loud, ragged wheezing–like an asthma attack, or worse. My intuition kicked in. I decided to follow him up the ramp, to watch over him from a respectful distance. He winced when his skin made contact with hot cement—naked toes that peeked through compression socks, the kind you wear when you’ve just had surgery. His sleeping bag dragged behind him, a rudderless sail. His tote bag pulled on his shoulder, a heavy anchor that slowed his progress even further.
Should I run up beside him, I wondered, maybe offer to carry something? I decided against both, based primarily on some very real concerns about safety–his, as well as mine. He might have a history of being attacked from behind, same as I do. And, well…you just never know.
Halfway up the hill, he stopped abruptly. He bent over double, wheezing and clawing at the collar of his t-shirt. That’s when I first saw the collection of hospital bracelets—red, yellow, white, CAUTION: AT RISK FOR FALLING—around his narrow wrists.
Forgive me, God, for my foolish hesitations.
I ran to his side. “Tell me how to help you.”
“I lost my inhaler,” he gasped. “I’ve gotta get to the hospital.”
My knees were shaking, but I answered in a steady voice that belied my nervousness. Just like new neighbors, I told myself, chatting over the back fence.
“Know how to get there?”
He wiped the sweat from his brow, scratched at the EKG patches that revealed themselves when he lifted his grimy t-shirt. “Yes ma’am,” he eventually said. “Shuttle goes right past it.”
It was then that I spotted the bloody bandage by his clavicle. My heart raced, fueled by a volatile mixture of fear and deep concern. “Stab wound,” he said, with a casual shrug that betrayed his physical condition.
He reached into his tote bag. No bus pass. He emptied his pockets. Nothing there but gum wrappers and lint.
I grabbed a wad of bills from my camera bag, tucked them into his palm and cradled his hand in mine. “Grab a little something on the way,” I said. “You’ll feel better for having eaten.”
At that point, his breathing had settled into a more consistent, if still irregular, pattern. “Thank you,” he said.
Awkwardness gave way to second-guessing. Should I have called an ambulance? Perhaps I should’ve taken a bigger risk, and offered him a ride…
Maybe he sensed my inner turmoil. I have no way of knowing, save for the fact that he flipped his wrist right then, and brushed a finger across the inked calligraphy on his wrist. “WWJD?” he said quietly. “You know what that means, right?”
Of course. It was the shorthand version of the Golden Rule, intertwined with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Lessons taught in Sunday School, which I’m still learning every day.
I nodded, just slightly. “What Would Jesus Do?” I said.
He practically jumped for joy when I answered. “Yep!” And then he outlined with his finger a faded red blotch, a punctuation mark at the end of the acronym. “And that’s a heart, can you tell?” He paused for a beat, as if to draw my attention to its deeper significance. “My heart…your heart…you dig?”
“Ha! I sure do.”
I don’t know whose smile was wider in that moment, and I have to say: I’m not honestly sure what Christ Himself would have done in those particular circumstances. But I feel pretty certain that I’d entertained an “angel unawares,” from whom I’d received a gift more valuable than I’d given.
“Take care of yourself,” I said, around the lump in my throat. “Get someone to check that bandage, okay?”
“Thanks, love, I will.”
Before we went our separate ways, I snapped another discrete photo (with his permission), so I could share this beautiful man’s story with you.
I don’t know that I’ll ever see him again, but I’ll always remember that chance encounter—a singular moment, in which two vulnerable people opened their hearts and the light came streaming through.