- The window of my soul opens,
and from the purity of the unseen world
the book of The Divine comes to me directly…
~ Rumi, The Window of the Soul
I LIVED for 22 years in a wallboard and scrap lumber cabin in Northern Arizona. Less than a mile from my back stoop there was a gated golf development. Over eighty per cent of the mansions stood empty year round. Their absentee owners did not look out their huge windows at the midnight sky. They did not sit on their back steps in a sweetly chill dawn to watch a sliver of moon drift to the western horizon. They did not walk out into a monsoon night to receive the double blessing of rain on their skin and lightning broken into diamond shards by dark pine boughs.
I was lucky. I lived both in my tiny home and on its 49-square-foot back deck. From as soon as possible in the Spring till as late as I could push it in Winter, the deck and stoop were my dining room, writing space, temple; my bird, spider, and elk viewing platform. And they were my celestial observatory.
I did not own a telescope. I made do with 50-year-old binoculars. I had once been a city-dweller under skies never dark, my children and I once homeless. So, from the cabin’s deck, I blessed my neighbors fighting for Dark Skies, and was content with what revealed itself to my naked eyes. Here are notes from that time:
- I walk out of the cabin. That is an act of alchemy. I have believed for years that the huge-windowed mansions are built in an effort to recapture for the owner the sense of Bigness they experienced on their first moment in the western wildness — with the guarantee of none of the risk that goes with walking in wilderness.
- I walk out not into wilderness but onto a deck twenty feet away from a telephone. I sit not on an exposed basalt ledge, but in an old pine rocking chair. The only animals that prowl around me are five thoroughly domestic cats. And, I sit under the same hugeness that arches over mountaintops, and cups in a glittering bowl deserts echoing with pure silence.
- Sometimes I turn on my headlamp and make notes; most of the time I simply watch. I put what I see into my holy middle. Later I sleep with what I contain and wake to my fingers aching with words: Parchment moon. Ribbon of molten quartz. New moon black over black trees.
I ached with more than words the morning when I sat in the rocker and stretched my arms out to shreds of hope. “I join you in this work,” I whispered. “We will contain what must go on.” I had trance-walked out to the deck with my son’s phone call howling in my mind: “Mom, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. It’s not a movie. It really happened.”
I had put down the phone and known there was only one place I needed to be for the next…I didn’t know how long. I sat in the cool September light. I saw how morning gleamed in the strands of the spider web that stretched from lupine to lupine. I considered that I had sat with just that light and shimmer 24 hours earlier and I wondered if I would occupy that radiance in a new morning to come. I could not find an answer. I whispered again, “We will contain what must go on.”
Only a little less than six years later, I took myself out to the back stoop to watch the elegant progress of a full eclipse of the moon. There was a faint pink-gold disc above the ragged pines. I wrote apricot in my notes and returned to my bed. Hours later I jolted awake. The moon hung further to the west, the exact color of the translucent membrane I had once seen stretched over the rib cage of a dead fawn. I wrote without my headlamp, raised my head and, in that instant, a fat meteor arced slowly from west to east.
On many of the nights that flowed between September 11, 2001 and August 28, 2007, I walked out to the back deck, to the base of the two-trunked pine that is my southern altar, to the heart of the little meadow that lay between my Pine Dell neighbors and me. I watched Orion hunt Lepur, the star-giant doomed to never catch the glittering rabbit crouched at his feet. I named the Pleiades to my self, knowing a few of the seven sisters would become women in my newest novel.
I stepped down to the wet grass that sparkled in the light of a monsoon full moon. I lay down, watched the stars from a bed of stars — and I remembered so many years ago tucking my children into their blankets in the back of our car. We were not camping. We had nowhere else to go.
I turned my head and saw the soft glow of the candle in my bedroom window. I thought of my children’s homes and knew they were held safe in them. I turned my gaze back to the sky and considered our great good luck in the double shelter of roof and sky.
Later, I sat in the rocker a while before I went into my warm bed. I imagined that a spider lived in the low corner of a huge window in a huge empty mansion. Because the heavy curtains were never opened, the spider lived her life unbothered by any humans, even the person who came every two months to clean a house in which no-one made a mess. The spider rested at the edge of her web. She knew that there were insects that would find their way to her. She waited for them — and every night she watched as the moon moved through its immutable cycle of shadow and silver.
[Editor’s note: This was adapted from a feature that ran in a 2007 edition of Mountain Living, a monthly publication in Flagstaff, Arizona.]
Feature photo: Coso Blues