Change of scene

sunflowers

I have been working hard all week, packing boxes for the local Humane Society thrift shop. My sister suggested weekends were for fun, too, so yesterday I drove north to visit the sunflowers of Northern Arizona.

These sunflowers provide  stability for me. For fifty years, they have always bloomed out on Fort Valley Road north of Flagstaff. Every fall, fields and fields of sunflowers framing the mountains in the distance, under the monsoon clouds.

Perhaps someday these fields will give way to the growth of the town northward, but right now, this instant, as they have for the past half-century, they provide beauty that is without price and at the same time, totally free for the taking.

Gifts abide all around us, if we just look for them.

Rain

English: az monsoon clouds

Rain in the desert is a different thing.

Our monsoon season starts in July. Not like an East Indian monsoon, where the rain rains buckets at a time, but a gradual build up of high thunderclouds that eventually rain when they feel like it. A lot of stern and drang, thunder and lightning, teasing sprinkles which sometimes transform into a gully-washer that fills the channels by the street, and sometimes just passes over with a sniff, saying, “Not today.”

The storm this morning was different, though. A gentle soaking rain, sometimes heavy, accompanied by ground fog so thick I cannot see my beloved red rocks. I have all the doors open and I am feeling the rain. Letting my pores soak in the humidity, hearing it stream from all the gutters into self-made lakes spreading across the ground because the earth is so full it won’t accept any more.

A hovering Rufous Hummingbird on Saltspring Island

Each hummingbird feeder I have (one on each side of the house) has one resident hummer who just sits there, hunkered down, waiting for the rain to stop. This time of year they are mostly rufous, those beautiful copper-colored feisty birds that aggressively chase everyone off. In another two weeks they’ll be gone and our resident Anna’s will take over again for the fall and winter.

My mood is of quiet acceptance. Nothing I need to do, nowhere I need to go. Just being present to what the moment is.

Letting go

pianoWhen I was a little girl, my family had an old upright piano, black. We lived in a small house, so the only place available for it was in the baby’s room. That meant whenever he was taking a nap I couldn’t practice.

My mother engaged a piano teacher who came promptly on Wednesday afternoons to give me a lesson. We didn’t have a lot of money, so it was impressed upon me that learning was important.  My mother, when she had a moment, would also sit down at the piano and play the old wartime songs from the 40s. I still have her tattered songbook.

I’d like to say I became an accomplished pianist, but instead I flunked. I think I was the only kid of nine–at least I felt like it–to get fired by a piano teacher.

Fast forward to my early 30s. My mother-in-law had a spinet, maple finish. A traditional housewife, she’d sit down to it in the afternoons, after the wash was done, the house cleaned, before it was time to start dinner, and she’d play old country hymns. I loved to hear her play.

When the opportunity arose, we bought a piano, a concert grand this time, because money was flowing. My daughter took lessons, and became amazingly good. Soon she was playing Beethoven Sonatas with gusto. I loved to hear her play. Sometimes I’d take lessons, too. But a heavy career prevented the good practice needed to advance and I never did.

When my daughter left for school, the piano was sold and the proceeds used to start a new company. A good investment, surely, in our future. But I cried when it left our house.

Fast forward to now. Single. In a house separated from neighbors by a wide margin. No way I’d interrupt anyone’s conversation, even if I played loudly and badly. Semi-retired so time to play. I took the plunge and bought a new piano, a studio upright this time, walnut finish.

I moved the piano five times! I heard other people play it. But I never played it much myself. I had an abortive attempt at lessons and quit when the teacher  shook her head and said, “Well it is nice that you know how to read music.” At least she didn’t rap my knuckles.

It was time to let go. But more than letting go of the piano, in a way it was letting go of a part of my mother, and of my mother-in-law, and of my daughter playing so brilliantly as a little girl. Letting go of the dream of someday, some way, playing casually, fearlessly, enjoying the music. I had to acknowledge it wasn’t going to happen, at least not in this lifetime.

I put an ad in Craigslist, and after a few abortive responses, a gentleman came to visit it. He brought his young son. And the two of them, each in his own way, sat down and played the piano. It came to life! I heard what the keyboard had been hungry for all these years.

guitarI took the proceeds from the sale and bought a good classical guitar.  The guitar is Canadian, with a cedar top and rosewood sides and back. It is hand-made with nylon strings,  a very personal instrument. I cradle it and it hums.

I signed up for online lessons, and am learning to take short, frequent practice times while the fingers toughen up and develop the needed callouses.  I know if I play with a pick the sound is more bright, but I like the softer, more visceral sensation of playing it with my own fingers.

I am learning to be patient with myself. In the first week I learned three chords! That was enough. I have the rest of my life to welcome this new companion into my life.

It was hard letting go. And yet, since I have been willing to do so, the music I always knew was within my soul rises to the surface each morning as I sit down to play. And I am content.