PINWHEELS AND PINE NEEDLES: TWO WRITING EXERCISES
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
The two writing prompts below are from Sylvia Linsteadt's workshop, Aphrodite's Song.
Honey Sweet Breezes: A recollection of some walks
Our spot here in the Great Central Valley is aligned directly east of the delta, the bay, the ocean. The coast range doesn't block the breezes that come over those waters and cool our late evenings to early mornings sometimes 40 degrees cooler than our hot, sun-blistered days.
Tonight is one of those Sacramento nights with no breeze and the perfect temperature. It's so perfect the air feels like a skin. You seamlessly move from indoors to out; you almost can't feel the weather because it's made for you; you're a part of it; a part of everything on this perfect night.
Thinking back to another time, another walk, in the midwest on a late morning in summer. Here you could absolutely feel the weather. It was hot and humid, so much so that no one else was outside.
I walk a silent trail and cross bright green, cut grass. Everything back home in California is golden by this time of summer.
The scent of pines that line this grassy field and enclose the forested trail I just emerged from is like bath around me.
My first born, not yet a year, is on my chest in a carrier. The heavy, warm weight of him over my heart is honey sweet.
Another summer, back in California. A week day, also hot. I get the trail to myself again. Hat strategically shading the early afternoon sun. This time I have the honey-sweet weight of my second son in the carrier, just two months old. I'm walking down to the beach to pick up my first son from his play group. It's a long walk. A rabbit is at the head of the trail and peals off down a well-worn tunnel through the brambles. I walk slow, senses deepening. Far ahead a regal, white and very tall egret stalks, crossing the trail I'm walking down.
The sweet weight of baby-on-chest: precious, fleeting and the best feeling. Long summer days in short, beautiful years.
Offering Vessel: An imagined story
Grandfather sends us pine needle tea from the midwest and tells us how much more vitamin C it has than lemons.
We boil water in a heavy ceramic pot. The pine needles are sifted into an ancient clay vessel. Large and apple-shaped but for it's perfect spout. Sturdy handles looped on either side like perked up ears. Four bright red and orange pin wheels dance around the charcoal-colored pitcher.
Last wisps of this day's sun color the midsummer sky as we pour the boiled water over the pine needles, filling this vessel.
We leave the vessel overnight, under the moon's glow, to steep the pine needles and the years of stories it holds.
Wake before dawn. Wrap our food in a soft, purple wool cloth, a plaid from Scotland. An Aunt, well loved and remembered, had collected this cloth while traveling. Husband's, mother's sister.
Tuck this bundle into the backpack. Tiny ceramic mugs for tea, wrapped in cloth and tucked on top of the food. One of which was a wedding gift from another aunt. Living far away; a constant in my childhood, now distant after some dispute with my parents. Father's sister.
Clasp necklace on; not a necklace I would have chosen for myself but precious now. Gifted by another Aunt. Mother's sister. Also gone now.
Finally I sweep dried rose petals from a winnowing basket and add them to those already in a deep wooden bowl that will be left here on the table. This a gift from my Mother's other sister. The one I have known well as an adult. My stomach drops at the thought of her. Her sudden passing still seems like it can't be real. Maybe there has been a mistake. My stomach drops again. Our family's matriarch, the one who could weave a net big enough to hold us all and strong enough to hold all parts of each of us.
We leave with the pinwheel-decorated vessel of tea. Thinking of Aunts. Wondering about sisters. My mother had two; father has one. Husband's mother had three, two still here. I have a brother. A husband. Two sons. No sisters. Fewer Aunts now. My stomach drops again.
The sun is barely risen and it's already hot. The ground cover is golden, the canopy of live oaks, dark green.
Shade is dappled and every bit is appreciated. We catch a glimpse of still water at the bottom of the ravine.
It's been so dry this must be run-off from the irrigation of the nearby ballfields and suburban homes.
This ravine and acreage has been preserved from the steamroller of suburban development possibly because it's so close to the well-protected grinding rocks.
The granite just near here is marked by deep bowls - pestels- where the Nisenan people ground their acorns.
Probably a hundred holes. Divots as deep as my Vitamix pitcher in some cases; the pitcher in which I've ground acorns. How many vitamix batches would I have to make to make one divot that size. In granite.
We're not walking towards the grinding stones now. We're seeking a will that is at once cavernous and giraffe-like. This willow has thick and sprawling feet claiming land back from the path of the creek at the bottom of this ravine. Spider webs populate every crevice. Birds flit at all levels.
Akimbo vertical branches burst above the oak canopy and dance in the substantial warm wind. Maybe like giraffes bobbing their heads at the tops of long necks.
We don't know this willow's age but since have learned that willows can have similar lifespans to humans.
The three Aunts we've lost over the past four years could have lived less years each than this willow. Colon cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Heart Surgery gone terribly wrong. Born 196x, 195x, 195x. Gone 2018, 2019, 2022. Was this willow just a tiny stick in the 1950s?
The first time we met this willow was earlier this season. The last aunt was still alive and we weren't thinking about Aunts. This lovely Auntie of a tree gave us one word: Practice.
Now we are back. We practice listening, loving, grieving, being a part of it all.
We spread our blanket in the shade of the willow. Pour tea into the ceramic cups. We drink. We pour the remaining tea at the feet of this willow. Every bit the temple for this offering. We name our three recently-passed Aunts to this willow, each name seeps into the soft, wet soil with out tears. Each name disappears as the very high tops of this tree sweep back and forth across the peak of blue sky. A towhee on the opposite bank pauses in her constant scratching and movement and listens to us call three names.