There are 4 other parts on this blog, but this stands alone fine, too
After a whirlwind of activities with Molly---street singing-in the New Year, a shopping adventure with Molly’s neighbor Janice, her own delicious birthday dinner at the Spaghetti Factory, a ferry trip out onto the bay with her favorite place to shop on the West Coast, the forest-like bird sanctuary you could walk through at the Zoo, with all its bird calls from Africa and pictures of tiny brightness, and a long visit winding around the halls of the reptile house before closing---at last, the day came around when Molly was off all day and they could sail off the coast to see the grey whales, rushing to mating grounds across the splendidly warm waters of the Pacific.
The pains of her once-fractured leg---when would this injury ever leave? Her husband's Aunt Anne, who heals people out of her home, says an emotional connection exists with every lingering injury. Funny she should think of this now. The horse threw her as a girl, what did the fender-bender on the way home this summer have to do with that?---still hobble her walk, but the sunshine, the fresh air, the seaside setting call her to try.
“If I listened to ‘em back there,” Sarah says to Molly of some less adventurous friends, ”Huh! Why, they would have me be an invalid! I’d never go do anything, if I were so careful as everyone back there insists I should be!”
Molly recognizes a German accent from a pretty traveler as they wait for the whale expedition boat to dock. With warm rays and sea breezes, Sarah's travels through heartache and snow drifts leads her to her destination with the great behemoths of the sea.
They pass the naval base from nine o’clock position; a number of houses you could very quickly count inform the cliff, coming up at two.
At ten o’clock they actually spot a Los Angeles class submarine surfacing. The small submarine’s sonar will not shy away the multitude to come, starting in the very next mile. That mile surpasses the distance out of the bay, and contains some few hundred yards from their eyes the lighthouse that had guided so many vessels safely into the bay, stately upon the hill overlooking the Baja Peninsula horizon.
How will the whales appear? The guide relates the whales' journey---predicated by the females, either, mating or returning the next year to give birth near this location---from arctic climates to the coast of California and Mexico. The yearling whales travel alongside adults; along the way, the females find many courtship rituals. Everyone is asked to look for spouts, as the whales came to surface to breath. The whales take in a fresh breath, and with a whip of their tail---the fluke---break the surface, prepare to dive again.
The desert beckons...the desert calls Meaghan's spirit home.
So lost, in the promises of love, in the striving to make some mark upon this world, here she seeks a proper relationship with her own self. As the winds stir the sandy surface, Meaghan thinks about the winter storm further north, once her home for a time: how one sees the effects from causes past or distant. The way she fell for Collin---obsessed over him---in the absence of satisfaction with her hometown life, somehow long since shed of an illusions of home---her brightest source of energy, her sexual fire, her fellow adventure spirit, filled with thoughts of future enterprise, learning French, learning to ballroom dance---everything had hinged upon those brief shining weeks together, not just in spirit or online or via text, but holding hands, talking, loving, breathing shared air. The air seemed to run out in the space of his life; he feared the intoxication of complacency, while remaining stranded, shirking responsibility for the rush of affection. One night, things couldn't be resolved, and then...nothing.
Only: there could be no "nothing," however angry and confused she felt. The winds promise to pull over like a tumbleweed; the time for quiet contemplation seems determined to forsake the cactus-speckled landscape.
There could be no “nothing,” and if she couldn’t carry on with her mother or find a job or even overcome the fear of employment’s futility, with a couple of guaranteed days of excruciating pain destined to be hers, to clash with expectations...promises to help her heal, almost laid right into her clutching fingers, flew away in jeopardy, like the shifting, stalking dunes, removed from their complacency in the sun. Fight or flight: the stress had been there, every day, with maybe the escapism of songs, a drive, a party, ardent yet ill-advised would-be paramours, or a friendship she felt she should keep at an arm’s length, despite what had been.
How she longs to make a stand; create a time for which she could reminisce, instead of rumination of what went wrong. "There's only the future for knowing which road I've chosen---or gotten off on---by the sight of it coming beneath my wheels before me," she thinks. "I can't look back upon what I have yet and know which thing---what love, what preoccupation, what OCC-upation, what interest, what loss, will endure...and which ones were just...happenstance...or...whatever the word is..."
"Oh, it's fluke! I got its fluke that time, really good!" exclaims her Pacific coasting sister, unaware by the whimsy of space of her deserting sister's observations. Molly leaps in place, accenting her success: "they're going to LOVE this back there!"
Sarah eagerly shuffles over from one side of the boat to the next, following the migration. For a time, there is no way to miss activity, no matter which side one chooses. Not one person aboard the expedition remains seated, nonetheless.
Her beautiful, strong husband, her contrary yet loving sister---Meaghan, in need of her own way, however much safety and freedom to be herself she offered her---all those losses, which can only be regained in spirit, are set aside this afternoon for a new memory. At least, though they travel apart, still they share the world, and where there is love, there is room for mothers and daughters to each find their own discoveries, and share across the space of a heart. For a moment, she forsakes thought for the embrace of nature on every side, her first day ever upon the Pacific.
The abundance of whales, the narrator remarks, is surprisingly high at this point in the season; one after the next, ships ahead call, captains divvy up sightings, and the expedition runs careful rings around the courting, the travelers, the unexpected blowholes appearing in the California sun, warming the day with little trace of winter.
Molly takes picture after picture in triumph, sometimes unsure if what she sees is captured, knowing the sea breeze and arcs of birds and atmosphere can only be hinted, only conveyed by understanding. She and her mother find themselves sharing a pack a sun dried fruit, as two whales twist around each other, a funneling tidal pull of their shared tryst so near beside them, the captain must respectfully move aside for their safety.
Meaghan’s natural response to head for the protection of her car brings with her another call of instinct. Casually, she looks down at her feet; the stones she has stepped over contain a visiting Banded Rock Rattle Snake, directly beneath the step she pulls back from gravity. Its mottled colors, tinged with lavender, suit the striped serpent, leaving its basking place.
Memories of an hour watching Jeff Corwin reward knowledge of the poison before her. It seemed he'd been using the terrain in a challenge to guess the state he was in--"nice irony, Life!" she thinks, smiling.
"You're going to have to find some other little reptile or rodent, my friend," she says aloud with a laugh. "I need my life!"
The dimming light between her and her car seems enough to see her way out of the sandstorm.
Meaghan finds it strange: by the time she's put on Mike Cooley again in her car, the sandstorm subsides considerably, setting a restful ambiance---perfect for slowing her pulse, in the wake of her serpentine encounter.
She relishes that moment: a kind of joy in her uncertainty, so different than the changeless mire that had marked her days since Collin...
Perhaps there’d been some noble intention in the parting; though she protested greatly that she would not need him so, could live separately, independently of his procrastinated business concerns. Perhaps he’d felt it was not fair to ask her to wait, and take whatever he could spare, when she tended to be tightly involved, giving and needing, she admits, attention. Were that her ideal life bustled already, rather than the dead-end promise of her hometown, perhaps she would have had the control, the need to stand separately. Indeed, for the first time ever, it had been the MAN who initiated the break-up, not Meaghan, adding to her sense of powerlessness.
But was that the life she wanted...anyway? Could she really live separately, central yet off to the side of his life, and he, to hers---especially when her own needed a fundamental fulfillment? She thought she could wait forever, at least the few months minimum until his plans came together...but is that commitment fair, to either of them? Strange are promises for Love.
Photo courtesy Sabrina Lam Hall
In absence of the winter rain, now shines an apparition of surpassing beauty: a rainbow, with the reflection of its being on the other side, crosses the sky above. Meaghan sheds a tear, cool, trickling across a lightly dusted cheek.
Sarah finds herself, absorbed in the elusive moment; in her heart, in the presence of these gentle behemoths, everyone she loves is with her. The joy, the curiosity, the captivated imagination conspired with Southern California welcome her to accept a full range of emotional experience. The dolphins, in their nearby school, leap in the boat's wake. Amidst all this excitement, Sarah takes an essence with her, with which she might practice a kind of stillness and calm.
In her mind, now, are peaceful waters, on a day of the sort one might imagine in Heaven itself.
Meaghan celebrates her epiphanies by working with Santos to put together a few pieces of wood saved for a cold day's contemplation.
She lights a fire from the old years' growth to light the promise of a new spring, decorated with heaven horizons.
Photo courtesy Sabrina Lam Hall
She considers the bonfire, as though it is a pyre for her father, descended from Viking blood, nurtured in Normandy ( a lineage discovery that had come relatively recently in life). Her cares, her way of life, all the past, she places upon it, to ascend the sky in transforming light. A distant coyote howl bids the smoke fare-thee-well. Now is a time for a new creature, a phoenix to rise.
Molly sits down beside Sarah below deck, as the departing sun shines across sea lions, gathered by the dozens on the buoys that warden the harbor. She watches the naturalist volunteers demonstrate baleen and whale feeding, while glistening divers hop with only a little grace from their floating perches in the window.
A need to be artistic, a grip on something in the chaos, leads Meaghan to unpack her pad, her pencils, her charcoal, her inspiration, for the first time in many a moon. Now she draws her father, reminded he is with her in some way resonant in her feelings, beyond the need for her sympathies or grief. His presence comes closely, as sure as the fire burning before her, or the light from the porch, tilted thoughtfully over her shoulder.
Next she makes a picture of Kaya, based on a photograph in her wallet---"this'll serve as a nice present to Brian, too." She places Molly beside Kaya, from memory, a feat she's not attempted in longer than she can remember. She has to re-center the line several times in her sketching, and then, give the eyes the perfect distance apart. She remembers the happiness that came with recognition of her late-blooming talent in high school, and recalls her artistic friend, Debra, a painter in her own right. She cracks open her fortune cookie gift. "Don't be afraid to fail; try new experiences," it reads. "In bed!" she exclaims, laughing and passing the cookie to Tanija.
Sarah opts for a pedicab ride to ease her aching feat, as she rolls away from the embarcadero smelling the ocean, feeling the twilight breeze through her long sleeves. She notices the shooting leg pains seem like a memory, like the pains of someone else. She realizes she wants to see Anne when she gets back to her side of Lookout Mountain, ponders something Anne said over the phone, surprised by the lucidity of her recall:
Just for today I will give thanks for my many blessings.
Just for today I will not worry.
Just for today I will not be angry.
Just for today I will do my work honestly.
Just for today I will be kind to my neighbor and every living thing
Maybe together they can take something from the gift of this time: the whales and their children, their journey, its incredible length...and the mother's milk, gallons of it made beneath the blubber of the sea travelers, to nourish the pups along the way.
The lucent windshield of Meaghan's faithful car bears the reflection of the last fires' embers. She thinks of hitting a junkyard and replacing the cracked little rear view mirror--will it outlast her poor Plymouth? Another reason to live within the bus routes. Her Jack Russell, Feather, yawns contentedly at her feet. "I can live with that one being cracked," she says to Santos, "I mostly need my view ahead; I tend to look for myself, anyway. She holds her newly minted sketches at arms' length, still toying with a correction or two later.
"For a change," she muses, "time evaporated, but it left me with something to take to my future." Meaghan feels a plentiful ease, and wonders: has she tapped within herself to begin teaching her body a new way? She feels a certainty, she will be healed; perhaps that end result, that cure, finds its foundation in this moment. Her cell beeps with an incoming call the minute she calls her mother.
A HEALING STORY, AS PROMISED TO BARBARA MOORE, a healer