dreaming in the shadows of the Sleeping Maiden

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Mt. Tamalpais, July 31, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from Bon Air Landing, Greenbrae

Earlier today I was out riding my bike along the path by the Corte Madera Creek. This was my first ride in the new training program I set for myself. I planned to get out early, but by the time I took care of chores, it was close to noon. At this time on the path those who would be out would be either the very young or the very old int he company of their respective caretakers. The “adults” would be at work, presumably.

As I went about the business of my loops, I biked by kids who were happily and chattily meandering in small circles on the path. I biked by other kids still, much younger and quieter in strollers pushed by mothers or nannies, some talking loudly into tiny mikes clipped to their ears.

Among the geriatric set I passed, some were holding on to leashed pooches ambling this way and that, depending on the whims of their pets. Others, fully hatted and buttoned up and gloved with barely an inch of skin exposed, gripped Nordic poles and made strides through a snowy bank of the imagination, as if each step were a tiny catapult that could spring them forward and free of the infirmities gathering force with the passing of years behind them.

As I rode along back and forth, with the wind hindering and then helping me along, I thought of what it would be like to be young again. Not because I feel so terribly old, but because I wish I would have gotten myself on a bike a long time ago. For a moment, I envied all the young kids out there for the rides they’ll have, the ones I’ll never get to take. Or rather, the ones I’ll never have the chance now to call up in memory.

This was my Faustian moment on the bike, right around the bend in the creek, but there was no Mephistopheles rounding the corner from the other direction on a Binachi, showing off a devilish map of ripped muscles under shiny spandex.

Instead of the sinister specter of Mephistopheles, what came around the bend at that moment was an old woman in a wheelchair. Her dress, though bright and clean and ironed, was old too; it must have been something she wore perhaps 20 30 years ago. The chunky turquoise necklaces draped around her neck, lit up her face, while they seemed to weigh down her fragile frame. When she saw me, she smiled and reached out with one hand, finger pointed, as if she were about to accuse me of something or maybe bless me. She said something, but what, I didn’t hear as I rode past her. A barbed fear in the pit of my stomach had powered my feet as they bore down on the pedals and I rode on as if I had seen a ghost. A familiar ghost: me, down the line of years, asking for an account of what had I done with all that was given to me. Like this day in its full beauty of summer…

Yes, start where you are, even if that place is between envy and fear.

Mt. Tamalpais, July 30, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed through vines along a fence

I almost let the sun go down on this day without a picture of Mt. Tam or a post expounding on some tenuous connection to that image. Not that I mean to misquote Elton John’s lyrics, here with that reference to the sun going down – especially not in the light of what happened to Jonah Lehrer in the light of his making up quotes from Bob Dylan in his highly praised and celebrated book on the imagination and creativity (ironic given the topic and title, isn’t it?).

It’s odd how after almost 7 months of posting daily, of having made a habit of it, today it almost slipped my mind completely. Then again, today I found myself lost in the idea of “start where you are.”¹ More than just the idea. I tried to make it the focus of my experiences throughout the day. Some moments brought an opening, as if in the heart. Others remained closed, like buds with their petals clinging inward and holding on to each other. Then, there were the moments that came to me already shriveled from too much sun on the vine.

All along though, throughout the day, the mountain has been there, even if out of focus, even if draped in haze. Solidly there in its blessed indifference to the flowerings and seedings of my moments through this day.


1. Reference to Pema Chödrön and her book Start Where You Are

Mt. Tamalpais, July 29, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Kentfield

If had been wishing for that cocoon of suspended space that is often at the heart of the silence that is usually called “blessed,” today brought a gentle patch of it. Though the morning, from what I remember, was gray and chilly, the rest of the day kept getting warmer, even as the usual sounds of the neighborhoods seemed to become increasingly muffled as the day went on. As if the sole purpose of this Sunday unfolding was to eclipse sound with light.

Late in the afternoon I took a bike ride along the path by the Corte Madera Creek. This was the only hour of the day during which I did not have that sense of suspension, as if floating above the din of the world. I was hoping that the ride would shake out of me the words that could paint a picture of that feeling, a picture that could complement a photo of Mt. Tam seemingly enjoying her solitude … but it wasn’t going to happen. My imagination, too, was suspended and muffled in the dusty hammock of the late July Sunday afternoon.

Then, when I turned to books for inspiration, I found that Jane Hirshfield has already written what I wanted to say here today:

Dog and Bear

The air this morning,
blowing between fog and drizzle,

is like a white dog in the snow
who scents a white bear in the snow
who is not there.

Deeper than seeing.,
deeper than hearing,
they stand and glare, one at the other.

So many listen lost, in every weather.

The mind has mountains,
Hopkins wrote, against his sadness.

The dog and the bear at bay, that day.

[from The Place That Inhabits Us: Poems of the San Francisco Bay Watershed – selected by Sixteen Rivers Press]

Mt. Tamalpais, July 28, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed in moonlight shortly after midnight

Late into the evening last night a few of us still up and at our computers and on Twitter were carrying on, quite in a rapid exchange too, about the fraying effects of a slightly uncomfortable social fatigue that has bedeviled us after a month filled with plenty of interactions with “tweeps” and others in general in “real life.” The interactions, we agreed, have been amazingly inspiring and amply regenerative for the creative spirit, but as Tamara Holland wrote in her post on her Bean up The Nose blog, there comes a time when even in the midst of such rich fun we have to go with our own rhythms. And sometimes, those rhythms can only be heard when the conversation halts and the silence throws the door open to the world beyond the dazzle of the immediate to the vaster lands of the ‘here and now.’

It’s for those moments that I tried to capture the mountain in this photo. I stood in the breeze, not long after midnight, watching the moon hang in the sky as if a little fatigued itself, but when I looked at my watch, I realized, that even though the night was rolling in, the day, this new day was so young that it hadn’t even open its eyes or took that first big breath yet.

Mt. Tamalpais, July 27, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from Niven Park in Greenbrae on a windy afternoon

It looks warm enough in the park in this picture, doesn’t it? Sunny and expansive and green and bright and even hot … almost parched, given the yellow patches in the grass. But the fact is that the wind, invisible as it may be in the stillness of the frame, is relentless. Like a puppy that won’t drop the stick, it rushes through any open space it is given and then takes hold of whatever isn’t weighed down and shakes it from side to side without letting go of it.

I gave up on my planned walk, since I could barely see in front of me with my hair flying in my eyes, whipped by the wind as it was.  I trudged over the shopping center, where I bought an ice cream cone form Ben & Jerry’s and sat down outside at one of the tables. At the table behind me, three elderly people were talking in Italian. A rapid exchange of words, from which I could only cull anch’io [means: me too].

I spent many years learning Italian. Even went to Italy a couple of times. And all I have left, as I am sitting here, is “anch’io.” The winds of many years have snatched those words from me, taking with them what was my own private Italy.

I used to think that being fluent in another language was akin to having a passport into another world. Or rather, a way to travel and discover new worlds, without having to leave home. For me, the words (and especially the idioms) of another language were like wings that could give flight to the fancy of the imagination through which the familiar could be made new again. The world made, if not bigger, at least that much deeper through the filtering lens of another language.

Looks like I lost the feathers from those wings… and the winds of late are not helping much in the way of the imagination taking flight again. It’s a pity, because even here in the all-too familiar shadow of the mountain, there are hidden places, just waiting to be discovered in the light of words, be they Italian or English.

Mt. Tamalpais, July 26, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed in a blue sky

Some days are over even before they start. I hope this day is not one of those days. Earlier, when I took this photo of Mt. Tam, the sky was a brilliant blue, barely marred by the fringe of fog and tattered wisps of clouds. Across the horizon, a plane was flying high, though it is impossible to make it out in the photo.

In the last hour, the clouds have come into stronger relief, gathering closer to each other at the edges, knitting themselves into doilies scattered across the sky. The sun seems to be fading and taking with it the brilliance of the blue sky.

It’s as if the day has been bleached of its proper season. But if the world outside has gone lackluster, I can still play with the paint box of my imagination and so bring it back into a sharper relief of color and light.

Weathering the weather is the most mundanely automatic task, as it is also one of the bravest mindful tasks. The weather is given, but it’s what we don’t give to the weather in argument or feeling that keeps the color bright and the light brilliant over those vast inner landscapes where thoughts and feelings yield their crops.

Well, OK … here’s what I am trying to say, this time in plain English: Don’t let the weather get to you. It will shrink your world. But if the weather does get you, and lest you become boring talking about its minutiae, try to make a colorful blog post about it all and so mark another day of posting in this project….

Mt. Tamalpais, July 25, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from Hal Brown Park, Greenbrae

Just outside the frame of this picture and a little deeper inside the park, a couple of people are going through some drill or other under the watchful eye of a very buff young woman, who must be their personal trainer. One of these people is draped over a Swiss ball, taking what seems like an afternoon between crunches. The other one is lunging forward rapidly and with great gusto. I take furtive looks at them, trying hard not to give the impression that I am some paparazzo in hot pursuit of Marin’s buffed and beautiful set. What I am after is that perfect view of Mt. Tamalpais, or at least one that I haven’t photographed over and over yet, and this group’s little al fresco gym is getting in the way of that.

And yet, if someone else were to walk by us, they could easily mistake me for one of them, since, like them, I am also wearing spandex and a chunky sports watch that doubles as a heart rate monitor. I am on my way to the gym, to spin class to be precise. Ironic, isn’t it, that they should take their gym routine outdoors, while I am heading inside to pedal away to nowhere….

Mt. Tamalpais, July 24, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from San Anselmo Ave. in San Anselmo

Around lunchtime, I went over to 3 Ring Cycles in San Anselmo to get some help with fixing my spin/biking shoes. As always, Brad and Lindsay, the owners, were there and working hard, keeping this local hub for cyclists not only well stocked with goods, but also lively with plenty of advice and encouragement for cyclists of all ages and abilities.

After I spent some time talking with them, I walked around San Anselmo, considering stopping for lunch, but my appetite wasn’t quite ready for a meal. I sat down on one of the many benches along San Anselmo Avenue, soaking up some sunshine after these wild days of wind we’ve been having lately. For a while, I watched a good number of cyclists ride by. Many of them, mostly those in the middle-aged male category, seemed to be wearing yellow jerseys and going a little faster than I would deem safe along the avenue. But maybe I was just imagining this, not surprisingly in the wake of Bradley Wiggins’ win of the Tour de France.

Just as I was getting back into my car, I noticed the peaks of Mt. Tam playing peek-a-boo over the roofline of the San Anselmo Town Hall. And it’s a good thing I did, because otherwise there would be no new angle from which to view it today. I am settled in for the rest of the day and night, trying to catch up on some rest.

Mt. Tamalpais, July 23, 2012

Mt. Tam with morning fog

The bank of fog, bailed out from summer’s earlier run on it, was dispensing plenty of wind through the night and day today as it moved its massive layers ever so slowly, but with plenty of force, from offshore.

I kept waking up through the night to sounds I usually hear in the fall or winter. Trees, as if bumping into each other, driven by the wind. Electrical lines, lashes in the wind’s grip, hitting the sides and roof of the house. Walls creaking and groaning and floorboards sighing as the house itself seemed to shift around. It was not a restful night.

In the morning, spin class took me to more unsettled territory. I saddled up, started spinning, then noticed that I needed to adjust my seat some more. But I couldn’t dismount because the left pedal wouldn’t relent its grip on the left cleat. Had to slide my foot out of the shoe to finally get off the bike. Meanwhile, the class was just warming up. I got out the tools I carry with me (yes, I carry a few wrenches), tried to pry the shoe free of the pedal, but no luck. I fiddled some more, until the shoe came away, but with the cleat firmly stuck in the teeth of the mount on the pedal.

The rest of the class was heading “uphill” already by the time I went to the club’s front desk asking for help and getting none, so when I returned to the spin room I started to pack up my gear. At this point, the instructor came over and said “just get on another bike and strap your feet in,” and off she went to talk to the desk people herself. A couple of other people in class immediately got off their bikes to help me set up on a new bike, and within minutes we were all “rolling” again. But the feeling of helplessness was  still stuck in me, as was my left shoe in the pedal of the bike on which the teacher-summoned mechanic was working away. I felt close to crying for some silly reason. I swallowed hard and kept my eyes on the bike’s computer, only to notice that my usually reliable heart rate monitor started to act erratically, showing heartbeats of 226 per minute. Sure, I was working hard, but hardly so far at the edge of possibility.

So then, there was only one thing left to do: take off the monitor, fling it behind the bike, and then keep on pedaling. The only beat of concern from then on was to be the beat of the music. And pedal away I did to that beat, without the support of cleats or the feedback of displays reassuring me that I was getting “somewhere” while staying in the proper range. And by the end of the class, the lump in my throat had dislodged and I felt that the workout hasn’t worked me out by sweating demanding stats at me. That is, I did not know what my average or maximum heart rate was, or how many miles I covered, or how hard I pushed….

The whole quantified self thing, my recording of foods, activities and measurements related to those activities has been getting out of hand a little lately. As if the act of measuring had become more important than the ‘acts’ being measured… I am so grateful to the spin instructor who wouldn’t let me leave the class because I had a dysfunctional shoe. A consummate coach, she recognized that the screw that got stuck wasn’t just in the sole of the shoe but also in the soul of the person wearing it.

Sometimes you do have to make molehills out of mountains. Especially the ones that loom ever so large only in the outline of their shadows.

Mt. Tamalpais, July 22, 2012

Mt. Tam glimpsed from the Corte Madera Creek, Drake’s Landing, Greenbrae

We took the dog for a short walk along the Corte Madera Creek midmorning. The wind was having a romp of sorts, cooling temperatures randomly as it blew changing directions on a whim.

I was exhausted already, which meant that there were going to be no other opportunities to go looking for novel angles of the mountain today to showcase in a post.  But that’s just the thing about walking along the path here with the mountain so plainly in view: there is always a great shot to be had.

This one presented itself as the problem that makes mountain out of molehills … or boulders with their forests of lichen. From here the issue of keeping things in scale is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?