Monday, October 20, 2008

On Jogging

"I'm going to jog on the beach," I announce, leaving the house at 6 pm this Sunday evening.

Actually, I don't give a hoot about jogging.

My real goals are solitude, beauty, and the presence of God.

I'd like to go sit on a mountain top for an hour, but starting from sea level in Santa Monica, I can't do that and be back in time to serve dinner at 8 pm.

I used to go sit on the beach, but I'd feel guilty as the joggers whizzed past, so I've joined them.

I avoid the sidewalk crowded with bikes, runners, and walkers. On the sand, dodging waves, I'm alone except for a few others I pass.

I've had a lot of human interaction today, driving to Claremont with three other women, participating in a women's liturgy, and driving my friends back, then talking to my husband and two daughters at home.

I need some alone time, but to announce that while walking out the door would feel anti-social. Jogging, I say. Everyone approves of exercise.

The beach give me beauty as well as solitude. The sky is luminous, wide and open with a band of pink deepening to red where the sun has set.

It's low tide with a huge area of flat wet sand for running, wider than Wilshire Boulevard.

Sixteen pelicans fly southeast. Venus appears in the darkening sky. Beneath a line scribbled across the low sky to the north, the Santa Monica Mountains are solid blue-gray as if filled in by chalk.

Where there's solitude and beauty, God's presence is usually not hard to feel.

Often I catch hold of some Bible verse and repeat it as I jog. For tonight, Psalm 42 will do:

As the deer longs for the flowing stream, so longs my soul for you, O God.

Then I'm driving home again, taking chicken out of the oven, trying to pry my daughters from television and the computer, John from a playoff game for the World Series, so we can eat together and then retreat to our separate worlds.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fire in the Hills

Not a good day for jogging.

A brown smear across the blue sky erased the Santa Monica Mountains this morning as I began my drive to work.
Usually winds from the ocean blow gas fumes east, but today Santa Ana winds from the Mojave Desert sent soot and smoke directly southwest to my neighborhood.

Taking the 405 north over Sepulveda Pass, I saw a white plume on mountains to the northeast and soon entered the driving smoke storm.

Palm fronds churned and other trees' branches flapped in the wind channel at Nordhoff Blvd., my exit for the CSU Northridge campus.

The campus itself was only occasionally in the direct blast when wind direction shifted but leaves and trash flew through the air.
Don't exercise, don't breathe, the administration advised in an email. I already had something like a smoker's cough just from walking too fast.

With the 210 freeway closed and the 118 just north of campus soon to close, only half the students showed up. It's Columbus Day but not a day off for CSUN.

At 2 pm with the fire about a mile north, my department chair came around to say classes were cancelled. I didn't tell her my husband had called two minutes earlier from the LA Times with that news and a report that two deaths had been caused so far by the fire.

Stopping at a gas station to fill up, I had to shield the tank from drifting flakes of soot.

A year ago yesterday Malibu Presbyterian Church burned to the ground.

It's the old joke, California's four seasons: fire, flood, drought and earthquake.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

October Twelfth

October 12 and time grows short in the northern hemisphere, daylight time, that is.

I arrive at the beach at 6:35 pm, but the sun slipped under the ocean horizon at 6:22. The burst of rose gold on every tree and western-facing building has gone, replaced by grey.

A month ago I could arrive at this time and still enjoy the sunset, but now I must arrive at 6, punto, or jog mostly in the dark.

Every year, every day we have this reminder: the light fades. Darkness grows. Perhaps that's why the earth is tilted, rather than a perfect vertical on the plane of its orbit, so that we will learn to "number our days," as Psalm 90 in The Book of Common Prayer says. If every day were exactly twelve hours of sun and shadow, we might learn to expect sameness, eternal life. Instead our days wax and wane, as our lives do.

Yet we "do not go gentle into that good night." We want the light to continue. Every sunset has sadness as well as glory.

When I texted Marie a few weeks ago, "Today's the fall equinox," she texted back, "Ah :( I don't want there to be less sun."

Last January 10th or so, when the staff of Sunrise Assisted Living finally put away the Christmas tree and decorations, my mother commented, "I don't want Christmas to be over."

I argued with her, "They're just putting the things in boxes--they'll be out again next Christmas."

But she knew there would be no more Christmases for her. The twinkling lights were put away for the last time, and she was sad. Three months later, she died.

I've turned sixty now, and I keenly feel the lesson of the fall months as the daylight hours shrink. Yes, the sun itself will burn out eventually, scientists tell us, but homo sapiens had figured that out thousands of years ago. We had learned to fear that the sun might not come back; we built bonfires to help it return.

As I jog, the full moon stands high in the southeastern sky to my left, and Santa Catalina Island floats purple and serene forty miles across the water directly south. It's a beautiful night.

A pile of fresh flowers catches my attention, lying on the higher sand a few feet from the advancing waves: pink and red roses, orange glads, a touch of yellow too--none with stems, just a mound of blossoms offered to the sea.

The sky swells rose, then crimson, where the sun had been, a parting gift to everyone on the continent's western shore. Darkness spreads from the east.

Near Venice Beach the beat of a drum circle grows louder than the surf as I approach. Someone is swinging blue lights on a six-foot rope, like a juggler.

I pass couples embracing, groups of people sitting on the sand to face the sunset, attentive.

"You go, girl!" a female voice shouts at me, and I smile back, laughing at the implication that I'm a real runner, like my friend Mike Smith who ran the Long Beach Marathon today. Her words remind me that there's a culture here of watching and appreciating jogathons, triathlons, and such events--even my humble efforts, my first jog in two weeks.

At the Venice breakwater, I turn and jog back. It's dark now but there's still a band of red at the horizon. I stumble over an invisible pile of seaweed.

As I pass two dark figures sitting on the sand, the strong sweet scent of marijuana drifts on the air.

I'm still thinking of my mother, who died six months ago, just past the spring equinox, how she wanted to hang on to lights and life.

The lilac bush I planted in Colorado has felt the first soft touch of snow, has shivered under a snowfall of two or three inches by now. Have its leaves dropped off? I wonder.

My mother's ashes lie underneath the lilac, secured by sod, serene. I know she's happy to be there where the wind blows and snow falls, no longer trapped in Sunrise Assisted Living.

And is it light or dark where she is?

The hymn in church today declared,

When we've been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We've no less days to sing God's praise

Than when we've first begun.

She's beyond the waxing and waning of earth time, sun time. Perhaps she is indeed in the presence of great, eternal light.

It's been six months since her death, I say, six circlings of the moon.

But she does not count days and years: if she has consciousness of some sort, she knows only eternity and praise.

I stand gazing at Venus low in the sky, Jupiter, and Saggitarius. Black and grey have replaced the bright sunset; evening chores call me to return to earth time.