Saturday, April 30, 2016

The last day of April

Lest we forget, when April arrives, "with his shoures soote," I read poetry. Because it is the "cruellest month, breeding / lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / memory and desire..." I know I say that every year, but it seriously strikes me like clockwork: the strange and consuming desire to read poetry this glorious, lush, dynamic month.

This April was the first time I got to share my love of poetry with a class of college English students. Mostly they just stared at me, But a few of them got it; I could tell. "Much maddest is divinest sense," I told them. Don't worry if anyone thinks you're crazy. Read Thoreau and study ants. Read Mary Oliver and study grasshoppers. "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" I ask them, and I think they hear me; her words are not hard to understand. They are writing research papers about rebels. I guess I've made my point pretty clear. Oftentimes I leave class with thoughts racing through my mind, invigorated.

This April has been particularly dazzling because we've had thunderstorms. Real thunderstorms. Three evening displays in the last week alone, coming in just after dusk. I feel like I live in a different region; this stuff just doesn't happen here. Last Sunday when the girls were still awake we bundled up and went out under the patio cover to watch the jaggedy violet lightning bolts streaking sideways across the sky just beyond our oak tree. Polly would cling tighter to me when the thunder crashed, but we all looked up and out and went "AHHHH!"The sky was dark and light at once. The rain turned to hail and back to pouring rain. We've had gracious, greening, enlivening rain on and off all month, here in our land of little rain. It's been true spring.

We've had naked babies and splashing water this April, though, too. We've already had hot sun, sundresses, bare legs and barefeet and long warm evenings with screen doors only. We've had mosquitoes, cold beer, and picnics.

Also, we've had long frustrating afternoons where I try to read student papers and grade their quizzes before I have to leave at 5:30, which is the precise minute Darin walks in the door. Usually around 3 pm when I'm starting to panic and my girls are being needy, my dad walks through the back gate and saves the day. "Papa! You're here! Can you swing Polly? Can you hang out with them on the trampoline? Can you go fill this water bottle for them? I just need to focus!" And he does what I ask.
It's all so new to me and I work as I go. I figure it out and I think about what I'm going to do in class just hours before it happens; I plan it out and get my mind into it and try to figure out what they need. I never thought about the fact that teachers don't have some kind of lesson book that tells them everything they need to know and explain and do in class. I have not found a magical resource of composition activities appropriate and helpful for college students, along with texts they should tackle and pertinent lesson plans. I have to create my class as I go, completely from scratch. It's empowering but also nerve-wracking. The students are paying for their education, and I am being paid by the administration. I want to do right by everyone. I have to help them write better. I can't just rhapsodize about poetry all day.

Still, I am not serious. I am not dogged or determined or rigid by any stretch. I approach both my classes like I approach everything in life: a little bit capricious, but cheerful and confident. I try to be smart. I try to keep my intellectual brain turned on and my mama brain turned off, but really they are one. I have learned so much about young people. And yes, they are completely, sadly, utterly addicted to their phones.

There's too much I could say about that, so instead I'll say: poetry. You hear the phrase: be in the moment. Be here now. BE HERE NOW. That kind of rootedness really has so little to do with the moments that we find on IG, on snapchat, twitter, or facebook. Truly being here now is at odds with those presentations of the here and now, and yet, just like our journals and our scrapbooks and our all our documentation as memory keepers, we do it anyway, and we find more, newer ways to record our mundane details. Do these technological versions of record keeping take us away, more and more, from the real? I wonder that sometimes. In the old days, we immersed ourselves in collages in our journals, with pressed flowers, snippets of poems, drawings and prose. Hand written, time consuming, photographs from a film canister printed in three or four days by a processing department somewhere. You never know what you're going to get. I sometimes feel a massive shift in me. I am a person who fights against regret; I consider myself extremely adaptable, and yet i feel remorse. I miss the 90's. I miss leaving notes on my friends' cars with little sprigs of flowers, in the same parking lot where I now park my minivan to walk to a room where I will be the teacher. I miss not knowing what anyone was thinking, or who they were thinking about. I miss the mystery.

I am wary of connection through technology, and yet I've connected in ways I never dreamt possible. I guess, like my teaching, like mothering, it's a learning curve. There are always unexpected possibilities, and there are also ways that feel instinctively wrong. Sometimes I wonder if I should keep a public blog like this. I want to crawl into the sweet, simple past and be private: keep my memories in scrapbooks only, keep my family's names unknown. I wonder why I ever started this blog? I guess it coincided with my growing strictly-digital photography; I couldn't have all those pictures just sitting in folders on my computer. I needed to post them somewhere with their stories. This blog has been my record of my very messy, silly, sentimental life.

Poem Left in Sourdough Mountain Lookout

I the poet Gary Snyder
Stayed six weeks in fifty-three
On the ridge and on this rock
& saw what every Lookout sees,
Saw these mountains shift about
& end up on the ocean floor
Saw the wind and waters break
The branched deer, the Eagle's eye,
 & when pray tell, shall Lookouts die?

I hope we can all look at the world with the eyes of a poet. I hope I can be a lookout without distraction, clear eyed and strong. I hope our brains can still focus (for generations to come) on the words and lines and pages of a book, a real true book that we hold in our hands, open and offering. I hope I will be broken open every April from now until my last. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Beatty Clan Spring Desert Road Trip, Part Three: Anza Borrego Desert

It felt like coming home. We drove into the little town of Borrego Springs over a long, bleached, dusty, roller coaster road. Everything about it felt right to us: the big green center square, the hand painted signs, the rusty metal, the taquerias, the ice cream parlors, the cacti and the stucco benches and the rocky canyons awash with delicate blooms. The knowledge that all through those rocky hills, bighorn sheep make their way, like a blessing to the land and the people. We are here; we know life. 

"Desert bighorns are gregarious herbivores with clear, predictable, edgy social rituals. Their loyalty to the group into which they were born, and to their natal home range, is extreme. There is even a word for this: philopatry." 
- Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone

Sounds kind of familiar.

No wonder.
We found our way to the pale and inviting openness that is Borrego Palm Canyon Campground around dusk time, after our adventures leaving Joshua Tree National Park out its southern end. We had come through weird bright green agricultural lands and then the funny little town of Mecca, entering Anza Borrego by way of the Borrego Salton Seaway, a long and undulating dusty desert road where four wheelers congregate. It feels like you're in a foreign land; always with a view of our prize in sight:the sprawling, sunbleached, wildflower strewn, mountain-guarded Anza Borrego State Park.

As soon as we arrived at our group campsite, a huge space with room for twice our tents or more, dotted with fragrant indigo bush and creosote, we truly knew we were home. We basically tumbled out of our vehicles in wild leaps, whooping and hollering and heading straight for the rustic ramada in the center, jumped up on the tables, swinging up our babies into the air, and had a dance party of joy!

 It's always so fun to pick our sites and lay out our little village.

All, of course, while the little ones play. Play, play and play and play. Dirty nails and torn up knees and ratty hair and buried toys, some of whom will probably never be seen again, and that's fine with us. Desert trinkets, always washed by time and sun.

Night comes with sparkles out there. Addie and Art made their famous browned butter mizithra pasta (a la Old Spaghetti Factory, if you're familiar) and everyone chowed down, heaping noodles and asparagus on our plastic plates like the world was coming to an end. And then the little ones all wore tutus and we played the blues and we played Justin Bieber and we danced and danced some more. And later, after all the babies went to bed, we stayed up too late and Matt made us the most delicious, perfect gin sours. We talked and laughed and shared stories until we got a mean talking-to (yes! again!) this time by a surly fellow camper who certainly didn't appreciate our enthusiasm and added gruffly as she turned on her heel, "And for godssake, turn the lights off!" I guess not everyone admires our twinkly white lights, despite the fact that we thought it made our campsite the cutest ever. (It was pretty much a full moon so our tiny lights were doing nothing to hide the stars, as seen by darin's many long-exposures taken from our site).

The naysayers will never dampen our spirits. We wake up with the whole beautiful, embracing desert before us opening her blossoming arms. 

"I want to rise up and bite the desert to bits. I want to understand what these wild creatures, this canyon and this river, this spring day in the high-crowned desert, flooded with peach-colored light, are trying to express, for surely it is in some way akin to what we long to say in our own singing.
- Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone

I think I will never forget the feeling of these mornings, these particular mornings in the desert, when our babies were two and always babbling and running and finding each other and tumbling and laughing. When we were drinking coffee quick as we could and making plans, but always a little scatter brained by the sweet smell of indigo and the fluttering shadow of life just beyond us, just bigger than us, the tarantula and the scorpion who get a wide birth, the nonchalant bighorn sheep in their familiar herd leading their idiosyncratic lives, the chuckwalla in the sun, silently laughing. 

Darin and I chose to leave the campsite early that morning and head to a clinic in Borrego Springs to have his ankles checked out. A nurse practitioner there was kind but not too alarmed and told him to just get home to his own doctor as soon as possible, so we pressed on. Everyone else met us in town near the Center Market. We got picnic snacks and found the perfect cactus garden palapa to reconvene. 

Joey had promised Toot ice cream because he "hurt her feelings" the day before when trying to stop her from walking out in front of a moving vehicle. Haha! So he really did buy each of the three littlest girls an ice cream cone and most of the rest of us followed suit. We ate them at the fountain in the center of this little plaza while the little kids splashed their hands and practically dove in and the adults tried to plan our day. It was unorganized, which is kind of our norm, but memorable and totally refreshing.

A photo posted by amy (@sunbeanmama) on

We headed up the road slowly to stop frequently and check out the Anza Borrego "sky art." These are huge metal sculptures made by artist Ricardo Brecedo, on private land called Galleta Meadows Estates. The owner has opened up the land for respectful public use, and the sculptures draw people in from all around the country, both out of curiosity and pure imaginative fascination. Needless to say, we loved the great fantastical dinosaur-monsters, especially the mama-baby pair.

It was too hot to do the three mile hike to the oasis, so we hung out in camp for a while that afternoon, waiting for everyone to come back together. It was blissful. We had chips and salsa, and I got out some paintbooks I had brought and the kids went wild. I just loved how all seven of the cousins would gravitate together, even the bigger ones, to just sit and chill and do their thing and be close together. 

Look how patient and concerned Polly and Scout are while they wait their turn for the paintbrush. If I remember correctly (and if I know my toot) it was a pretty long wait. 

On a morning run up the trail early that day, Matt and Amy had seen the whole herd of bighorn sheep gently making their way across the ravine. It was a humbling, beautiful sight, and one that we all envied. So Addie decided to brave the sun (which doesn't bother her much) and take a quick afternoon hike into the canyon to try to spot the bighorns, with Amy as her guide. And spot them they did! I love the way Addie told me the story: as soon as they first glimpsed the quiet animals there grazing, big and majestic and sweet and free in the shady canyon, Amy and Ade felt into each other's arms, sobbing with joy. I'm almost jealous, but just like everything in life; I feel my sister's experience so deeply that I almost feel like I shared it. I knew the presence of the bighorn sheep deeply during my time in Anza Borrego. If my husband hadn't been laid up and if my children were a little older, I would have joined the ladies on that hike. For now, the sheep are invisible haunting creatures of my dreams.

As soon as they got back: group photo time! I was annoyingly motivated to make it happen. And I don't regret it.

I get a burst of energy from looking at this picture, my closest people, my tribe. There is so much pure love here; I am incredibly lucky. Best of all: we will continue to make memories together and to be inspired and to encounter the world with spirit and joy and reverence for all time. Our babies are learning our ways. 

Pops and us five Beatty sibs.

A photo posted by amy (@sunbeanmama) on

Even big kids lapsit. This is why I love a group site. This precise feeling.

Some of us headed down the road a spur for a quick jaunt up into Little Surprise Canyon. We took the fork to the right up a rocky crevasse. Darin had stayed at camp, so Matt had Lucy on his back since she had a new scratch on her knee and needed to be babied a bit; I had Polly. It was fun to hike this way, both of them full of wonder and wanting to see everything up close. We saw big beetles mating, awkwardly, almost falling off their branches."Someone glued them together!" Orion shouted.


We saw Desert Star and Wild Heliotrope and Gold Poppy. I was squatting over and over to see their glad faces.

Interesting rocks of all sorts, and probably fossils too!

Teddybear Cholla.

Addie and Art said good-bye to us here, which was a pretty perfect way to do so. Loretta taking off from this dusty parking area, the sun just starting to sink behind the San Jacinto Mountains, the kids running behind to wave and wave; it was epic.

Back at camp, Joey and Em were whipping up delicious Mexican food for us all to share. Em's guacamole was gone before dinner was even served, which is not at all surprising. After a cozy dinner, we had a fairly early night, as the next morning would bring breaking down camp and leave-taking.

Last morning explorations and storytellings with Matt. 

If we hadn't have faced such such a long drive home, it would have been more leisurely. As it is we did not leave before 10:00 a.m. It was so, so hard to say good-bye to all these radiant spirits whose voices and fun ways leave echo imprints in my soul for days to come. 

Hugs all around. Even for the sweet, sweet boys, and even from Polly.

And that was that. It's so abrupt and final, the moment we drive away! The first part of our little road trip home was gorgeous, coming over those mountains and suddenly into the green pastures and wooded places I knew as a kid. But then, you can't avoid the outskirts of LA, driving through the Inland Empire on highways I've never before traversed. Traffic was awful; it was the day before Easter, everything felt clustered, close, suffocating, concrete. After we passed through Pasadena and finally through Santa Clarita, though, we entered the Grapevine and got a surprise: poppies and lupine in full blooming color. The most brilliant orange hillsides I've ever seen. The rest of the normally desolate drive up I5 proceeded to be surprisingly refreshing: cool and green and alive. Even the depressing cattle of Harris Ranch seemed a bit vivified. I sing my ode to California when a drought surrenders. I know that's hopeful, and that it will take years to undo the damage of our past years of drought, but it felt good to be driving through this green and growing place. 

But most of all, my heart missed the desert. I woke up the next morning confused: where are the birds? Where is the hot, wakening sun? It is so different to live within walls. I know I wrote this last year, but making coffee is too easy, going to the bathroom is too close. Where is my walk past crows and lizards and ocotillo? The food stays too cold in the refrigerator, the stove turns right on. Everything is sadly, quickly, utterly convenient. So much is missing.

Luckily, I know our trips will happen again and again and I will have new tales to tell. 

"Humans are creatures in search of exaltation. We crave, someone once said, the occasions when jolts from the universe fly open. This jolt, in this desert with these animals, is a belonging so overwhelming, it can put deep cracks in your heart."  - Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone