Friday, January 1, 2010


(I offer Circling to the unknown reader who once underlined sentences in my book, Bonelight: Ruin and Grace in the New Southwest and posed a haunting question in the margin of the essay Compromise: Ghost Dance of the New West? Should chance bring you to this blog, please get in touch with me. My gmail is

We circle around
We circle around
We circle around
The boundaries of the earth.

Wearing our long wing feathers
As we fly
Wearing our long wing feathers
As we fly

We circle around

---1986, a song from sacred land work

There is a full Blue Moon and partial eclipse tonight. Today is the last day of a year that, for some, has been akin to being extruded through a basalt tube that is only 2 inches wider than the body. If you read this, you have made it through. Perhaps unscathed, perhaps not. It’s a good bet that you’ve learned more than a little about how some things circle out and return---and some circle out and are gone.
Winter Solstice I surrendered to that which has left in these last twelve moons. I had imagined that I would make my good-bye on the wooden bridge over the Deschutes River. I envisioned a somber ceremony, a quiet sadness that accompanies releasing beloveds become ghosts. No-one had died. No town had been bombed into molecules. And yet there is no possibility of reclamation of that which is gone: three once-dearest friends; my story of the one I had believed to be the One; a town I believed would be my real home forever; the last shreds of not being old.
The ceremony was not what I had in mind. A mallard had other plans.
That morning, I wrote messages to my beloved dead on scraps of yellow notebook paper. Fifteen minutes before a pale sun dropped below the horizon, I stuffed the notes in my jacket pocket and left the house.
I walked down Broadway past little houses catching last light in their windows; took the narrow dirt path to Idaho Street and saw the river gleaming a few blocks ahead. I picked up my pace. You gotta move when you’re racing the sun.
I reached the bridge with a few minutes to spare. Mallards and Canada geese huddled on the shoreline. I turned to the west and thanked the sun for the day. I thanked the 12 moons for a year filled with healing and grace. “And damn hard work,” I muttered.
I turned again to the east side of the bridge and looked down at the black and frosted water. A flock of mallards moved toward me from the northern shore.
I took the first note from my pocket: Dear X, I am deeply sad our friendship ended. I wadded the paper into a ball and dropped it into the river. The lead mallard sped up and gobbled the note. Before I could say, “Sorry pal, it’s not food,” he shook his head and spit it out. And waited for something tastier.
I took the last five notes one by one – their contents are unremarkable and perhaps the most bone-bare words I’ve written – wadded them up and dropped them in the river. The mallard snatched each one, shook his head and spit it out. I was laughing by the time I read: “Flagstaff, every day, I miss who you were.” I had no tears. Clear-eyed, I watched the notes drift down-river. The mallards hung around for a few minutes, then swam back to shore.

We circle around…

I often buy used copies of my books to give away. When I opened the old Bonelight a few days ago, I found that the reader had circled and starred a few sentences in the essays I'd written between 1994 and 2001 - and asked a hard question. I was startled by what the reader had unwitting sent forward to me. The words were what I need now:
* Here is, perhaps, the only question that counts: how do we love?
* ”I love you,” he had shouted. “I love you, Mary!”
So what? I think. All of it, so what?

* I knew that the inheritance we are squandering in casinos is not just money.
Those of us hunkered in front of our machines, bent over the craps table, hunched over a losing hand are giving away our time, our knowledge and our stories. What we might once have passed on to our children, our children’s children remains locked in our hearts and minds. We gather in casinos, in gated communities, in exclusive golf clubs and leave the younger generations to piece together what they can.

* The Buddhists tell us that joy lies in limitations. We Americans are taught the opposite. More is better. Go for it all.
* I prayed in the only way I know. Talking to a Great Friend, then listening. In silence, I understood that vengeance can never be a moral act.

The reader wrote one question:
11/13/02: So with kids, how can we show them a better way, the Way, once they become addicted to stuff, to over-indulgence and greed?

Dear reader, I wonder if in seven years you have found answers to your question. And, do you look back on that mid-November in 2002 and long for what now seems like a simpler world? Do you look at your children, now seven years older, and see in their eyes at least a few answers to your questions? I would love to hear from you. Mary Now