Afternoon Pause

It’s a typical late-Texas summer on an early, weekday afternoon where leaves hang completely still from the treetops. The chickens have dug small holes outside of their coop in which to rest (the dirt beneath the surface being much cooler than anywhere else they may find) while the ducks drift gently in their pond with their heads tucked into their feathers. Little naps. Flapping bugs hop through the grass—pops of glittery movement in an otherwise motionless yard.

I’ve been sitting on the floor for some time gazing aimlessly out the window with gratitude for a working a/c in my house. I keep wondering if the ducks will wake or if the chickens will grab a skipping bug as it passes. I wonder if the donkeys will emerge from the barn but even they’ve foregone grazing under this afternoon sun and opted, instead, for the shade and coolness of their stalls. I suppose even I’ve been frozen for a while—perhaps time on this afternoon has simply paused.

I take a long, slow breath and as I exhale, I lay back and place my hands over my heart. I stare at the ceiling fan above and try to focus on one blade and follow it around and around, but I keep losing track. I can feel the beat of my heart in my hands. It’s wonky. It’s always wonky in heat like this. So I breathe deeper and more slowly, hoping that will calm her down. Ba dum, ba dum, baaaa dum dum. Ba dum, ba dum, baaa dum di dum dum. 

I‘ve learned to take advantage of quiet, still moments like these in an effort to find the same kind of calmness within my brain and being by trying to visualize various things depending on what I need or what’s going on. I’ve described some of these images before—things like purposefully pushing boulders down mountains in an effort to establish new grooves in the thought process. Streams of light that swirl into my body as I inhale and carry out the dark as I exhale. Muscles relaxing and releasing over the bones that support them, even the tiny ones around my eyes and ears. Lately I’ve been walking down a long hallway, slamming doors of busy thoughts as I pass while focusing on the dark end which I can’t quite make out yet. 

But anxiety is several doors pouring open at once, their insides tumbling and scattering all over the floor. Before you can even think about receiving the satisfaction of slamming the door shut, you must shuffle all the pieces back into their places, careful that you’re picking up the right stuff and not accidentally mixing up this door’s thoughts with the contents from the door across the hall that just spilled open, too. And when you’ve finally, meticulously stacked all the screaming thoughts back into their boxes and arranged them just so, two more doors with even louder and more fragile thoughts burst open. 

It’s then that I lay down in the growing pile of crashing thoughts and chatter and close my eyes into an even smaller, darker hallway with smaller, more finicky doors—a sort of inception of my own coping mechanisms. 

Over and over I do this until the darkness swallows me.

Dizzy, I open my eyes quickly. The room is bright with afternoon sun. The ceiling fan spins around and around and again, I try and find one blade, but can’t. I take in a deep breath and stand as I exhale. The ducks are splashing in the pond. The chickens are pecking through the grass. The donkeys are out in the pasture, heads down and tails flicking. 

As I wander back to my office, I wonder how many versions of me might still be laying in piles of thoughts with their eyes closed? I wonder if there even exists a hallway that can be silenced? Or maybe that’s not the point? 

Thoughts for the next pause, I suppose. For now, the afternoon is alive once more and so too is my need to return to it, spilled contents and all.

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The Remington

Moments ago, I began writing a new blog post describing a late night scene from around midnight last night—moon high and air still—when I wondered why I go outside so late so often? Many of my posts have started off with something along the lines of, “It was hovering around midnight when…”

I thought on it for a bit and I think I figured out why I find myself out in the pasture with the donkeys most nights when the only sounds are crickets and distant coyotes:

It seems to me that when I finally settle into that sweet spot in bed where the blanket is tucked up under my neck with just the right amount of tension and my right, lower leg and foot are sticking out of the covers at just the right angle…when the height of the pillow is neither too high nor too low…when the temperature in the house has finally settled at that perfect 72 degrees…that’s where my ole’ pal anxiety wakes up.

“Psssst. Hey. Hey you. Did you lock the doors?
…I don’t think you turned off the stove top…
…Is Little Foot breathing?
…I bet you forgot to turn off the hose that was refilling the donkey’s trough earlier and now your entire property is flooded…
…What did so-and-so mean in that cryptic text message earlier?”

…and so on.

Fight as I might, reassuring myself that yes, I did and checked and figured out (or let go of) all of those things, anxiety just won’t sleep unless I check again. Even my anxiety is anxious. As such, most nights I wander out into the pasture in my jammies and my boots to do one last check on the hoses, the chickens, and the donkeys. The donkeys have come to expect my late night visits—their eager ears perked at their gates when I inevitably show up with a flashlight.

So last night, I stood outside for sometime in the company of my sweet donkeys three as I stared up into a clear sky. It was a half moon and I studied her perfect halfness until she began to look like a cream colored button poking out of a black sky. The stars wandered in and out of focus about her and after I cleaned the smudges from my glasses with my shirt, I spotted a wandering satellite gliding across the sky.

After some time, I bid my donkeys sweet dreams and came back into the house, my anxiety mostly satisfied with my having triple-checked.

Wide awake at this point, I decided to tinker with my new, 80-year old Remington typewriter that was so graciously gifted to me by King Ranch on my birthday over the weekend. It is a beaut, this typewriter: bright red with yellow keys that have years and years of stories stuck beneath them.

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I unlocked its case, set it on the kitchen table, slid in a piece of paper and began to press down what my mind had not yet finished seeing from the outside. I click-clacked over the keys, careful to line up the margins with every line break and to try to spell every word correctly the first time and sometime later, my mind had fully transferred her thoughts onto paper.

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I studied my new poem for a proud moment before placing the cover back on the Remington and heading back to bed. Once resettled, (blanket tucked, leg out, pillow perfect) all I could imagine was the way the keys felt beneath my fingers. Click-clack, click-clack, sliiiiide. Click-clack, click-clack, sliiiiide. The keys are surprisingly heavy, giving my fingertips a challenge. I love that the Remington isn’t sensitive; I’ve got enough fragility elsewhere in my life. The Remington is strong and steady, demanding of my awareness. 

I slept so well last night. I slept heavily and deeply: my dreams wandering down rivers and through trees and I seem to remember a blue backpack and wings.

I won’t jinx it, but perhaps my anxiety who has anxiety has found a new manager named Remington.

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Lightning Shows

Last night leading up to midnight, I spent the better part of an hour out in the shed with the donkeys watching the sky. Our little area of Texas was having what I thought at the time was a heat lightning storm—something we cherish down here in the south. Lightning pulses behind heavy clouds in a humid sky, sometimes reaching out in bolts and grand, illuminating flashes during these storms. They only seem to happen when we’ve spent several days with high temperatures hovering around 100 degrees.

While I was out there, I got to wondering what causes heat lightning so when I came inside some time later, sweaty and draped in small spider webs I’d picked up on my walk back, I Googled heat lightning only to find out that heat lightning doesn’t exist. We’ve made up that phenomenon! That information can be found here: What is Heat Lightning?

I love the weather channel.

Even so, these lightning shows are stunning to behold. Their never ending flashes become meditative after a while, especially without the anticipation of thunder. I put these lightning events on the same level as a good fire whereby you can sit for hours staring into its ever changing light and there, no two people will regard them in the same way.

The best stories are told around fires. The best thoughts are conjured during lightning storms.

I thought about how, way back when I first moved here to the ranch and the months following, I was so lost. If you’ve only recently started following this here ranch life adventure, then you may not know that donkeys found me…not the other way around. King Ranch and I had bought a property and said property came with a donkey. I thought about how when we moved here, Little Foot was a mere 4 month old infant: tiny and fragile and I was a 4 month old mother with no idea what I was doing. We didn’t know a single person within 250 miles and even the nearest grocery store was a half-hour drive.

The lightning continually flashed across the sky, highlighting the shapes of the clouds and reflecting off the large eyes of my three donkeys who watched the sky with me intently. I thought about how many times I wanted to run away—back home to Houston where I knew people, where I had a support system. I missed my parents and my friends and my local watering holes. And although Houston is so congested and humid all the time, I missed her familiarity.

But Houston didn’t have my donkeys. I watched the way their ears shifted and twitched with little sounds that flicked about. I thought about how now, being two and a half years into this ranch life, Little Foot has had the opportunity to grow up with dirt under his fingernails and donkeys at his side. They’re very protective of him. I remember when Little Foot was just learning to walk, how Bunny and Tee would follow closely behind him, their noses right behind his little, wobbly back. Even now, when he’s out there with me running and jumping, they’re always by his side.

The lightning rolled on—a pulsing, electrical heartbeat stretching across the sky. I got the sense that the snaking and slithering bolts were beginning to reach down into my own chest, wrapping their light around and into the chambers of my beating and tender heart. It’s been over two years since we moved here and in many ways, I feel as lost as I did then—like I’m constantly searching for something but just can’t find it. I’ve described to King Ranch lately that it’s like I’m in a biplane circling the same, cloudy destination but can’t land because I can’t see it yet.

Bunny was leaning on me by this point and I suspect it’s because she felt my apprehension. She always does this: leans her weight into me when I’m thinking too hard. Maybe it’s her way of telling me to slow down which, I feel like a lot of people have been telling me to do recently. And I know I need to but I struggle because something….something….is tugging at my insides. I just don’t know what.

More clouds appeared and the bolts became harder and harder to see, only dull flashes pulsed in the distance and so I decided to abandon my post and go inside to research heat lightning. When I discovered that it’s a made up concept, I wondered to myself if that invisible landing spot which I’ve been circling is a figment of my imagination. Perhaps like the “heat lightning” being far-travelling lightning from a far away storm, my own apprehensions are far-travelling anxieties from a far away shift in my own recent past…residual stress from everything in my life changing in the past two and a half years.

Or maybe, indeed, change and shifts are somewhere on my own horizon. By now, I’ve learned that there’s a lot to be said for the feelings that poke and prod in your gut—that intuition is a real thing, if given a chance.

Either way, there is wisdom in the shifting skies. If it’s been a while, you should sit outside and look up for a while. It reminds you how vast the universe is and a reminder that the same vastness is inside you. Just as there are storms and heat and fierce winds and mysteries in the skies, so too are there in you. They’re worth beholding from time to time.

So are donkeys. They’re always worth beholding 🙂

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When Trees Talk

The new year, whose force of reflection and goal-setting is so proverbial, has caught me in its clutches as I sit, staring out the large window in my living room with tears streaming down my face. A cold front is pushing through as I type this—it’s lashing through the trees and sending my windchimes into resounding choruses while gray-slated clouds race each other across the sky. I watch as the leaves on the magnolia trees flicker in the wind—they flip and flop so quickly from waxy side to dull side that they’re twinkling. The bare branches of the pecan trees wave back and forth like long, skeletal fingers trying to get my attention as I’m struggling to scramble up the sides of this muddy-mind pit in which I’ve fallen.

I suspect I’m here because I don’t do well in the hype around new years: all of its pressure to start again and set goals and review where you’ve been and where you’re going. Not to mention that I loathe fireworks and much like my donkeys, feel like I spend several days after 12:00AM, January 1st trying to recover from the stress of the “celebratory” explosions. Why do we blow things up to welcome a new year, anyway?

I do advocate learning from the past and responsibly preparing for the future, but as a person living with anxiety, it’s easy for me to get lost in the mistakes of the past and in the uncertainties of the future to the point where I lose sight of what’s unfolding in front of me right now: what’s occurring in my present moment. I worry endlessly about all those things that I cannot, despite my efforts, control.

An anxious mind struggles to slow down: it’s not defaulted to normal speed. An anxious mind, as Doctor Who said once about the essence of time, is “…more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff…” only, instead of “time-y wimey,” it’s “what-iffy, but why-oh-why-ey” stuff. Further, the constant feed of resolutions and deals and changes everywhere buries the anxious mind in layers upon layers of memos in which I know I’ll never, EVER have a chance to respond.

My anxious mind can’t see which way is up or down right now so I’m staring and crying and now typing in hopes that I’ll land on some sort of an answer or epiphany as to how the heck one can calm down while they’re this deep in the ground as the mud is sliding down with more and more and more horsepower (or, more accurately, donkey power.)

The trees are still waving their bony branches. I’m watching intently and thinking of waving back when I realize that there’s something profound here. I’m remembering reading once from a Zen story, something about someone pointing at the moon and you looking at where they’re pointing is not actually the moon or the moon’s location, but it’s just you gazing past their finger to see the moon. So no matter how accurately someone else points at the moon, you’ll only ever see their finger hovering over it (or something like that). The point being that it is the practice and the patience of your own journey that will land you on the moon one day, and maybe that’s what my pecan trees are doing right now. They’re waving at me, encouraging me to slow the eff down and look at them. Right now, they’re dancing. By God, they’re dancing! Look at them go!

Before it gets too chilly out there, I’ll need to go out and visit with the donkeys. I’ll shuffle them into their shelters with fresh hay and water and give them each some snuggles. I do hope that all of you have a wonderful new year, but more importantly, I hope you’re all having a wonderful right now. At the end of it all, life is made of right now’s and so new year or not, you always have the opportunity to begin again. Every breath and every moment is new and not every breath or every moment needs fireworks to be meaningful.

…and if it were my world, fireworks would be left to the professionals always…not in neighborhoods to terrorize poor animals who don’t understand that the wild explosions aren’t the world ending around them. I really do hate fireworks.

When Trees Talk