QUAIL MUTTERINGS #27. The Color of Clay (February 21, 2014)
Last Friday, I was scheduled to substitute at one of the local elementary schools, but I considered it a priority to get up early enough to squeeze in a hike up to the “Saddle” first. I started my walk just as the dawning light was beginning to descend into the canyon and my dog, Job, was more than eager to join me. We began at a quick clip since I was rather pressed for time that morning. The crisp, clear air filled my lungs as we ascended through the sagebrush and newly sprouted green grass. Job happily flushed out a flock of quail from a bunch of scrub oak sending them fluttering away with their wonderfully recognizable wing beat.
One of my buteo friends, a Red-Tailed Hawk, silently flapped along the canyon rim to land in the top of a sprawling live oak. I nodded my great respect to him. I’ve felt a special bond with these wondrous avians ever since a pair of them were raised in the towering eucalyptus tree across the creek from our house, two years ago. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe them growing up here in the canyon: getting fed rodents and snakes by their parents, clamoring up vertical sides of giant boulders attempting to learn to fly, and carrying on all day long as juveniles do; for six months. I learned a lot from them. They are truly majestic, sentient beings.
I noticed that a few lilacs were beginning to bud out, soon to release their intoxicating fragrance. We walked past the knee-high rock wall that my daughter and nephew assembled when they were kids as a squirrel chirped in the distance. Young yuccas spiked new bright green bases encouraging me to step around them, and at last we reached the summit. The breathtaking views over Kimball Valley, out toward Cuyamaca and the surrounding ridges never cease to inspire me.
Even though I was kind of in a hurry I decided to sit down on a rock, just for a minute. I closed my eyes in silent meditation and immediately got a message from my late mother and grandmother. You see, ten years after the Cedar Fire I’m rebuilding Bamoo’s (my grandma’s) house and mulling over appropriate paint colors. I knew I wanted a shade of dirt, but what? They seemed to tell me that the house ought to be the color of the clay in the clay pit. I opened my eyes. Okay. I don’t have much time, but I better go collect a sample now. I climbed over some boulders and bush-whacked up to the clay pit. Luckily, I had a paper towel in my jacket pocket so I scooped up fistfuls of the dark red clay into the paper and wrapped it. About fifty feet down the rabbit trail I stopped when they seemed to indicate that the color of the trim might lie at my feet. I pulled out my last napkin and grabbed a handful of the dark brown, almost black, dirt mixed with dead lilac leaves. I was excited. Mission accomplished! My dilemma of color decisions was settled.
My dog and I speed-walked down the mountain not quite sure of what time it was getting to be. Once back at the house I threw various greens, fruits and powders into the blender making my morning smoothie to take with me. Kent opened the door, interrupting his morning run, saying that the electrician wanted to talk with me. He needed a check for his work thus far on the rebuild. I rifled through my purse, already on the windowsill by the front door in its ready to go position, and retrieved my checkbook. Completing that task I then tossed my clothes on the bed and snagged teaching attire from the closet. Driving out the gate I took a deep breath relieved that I wasn’t running late. After parking at the school I began walking toward the office when my cell phone rang. It was the roofer needing my driver’s license number in order to cash my check. I ran back to the truck to get him the necessary information and returned his call. Now I was waltzing in at the last minute on that Valentine’s Friday, complete with tests, stories and, of course, a party. All day, even later that evening, I’m practically giddy with the idea of The Colors and how they came to me.
These recent weeks have been filled with choreography. Our dance studio is performing short versions of three story ballets this spring: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast. The music from these is playing an almost constant loop in my consciousness, permeating my thoughts, setting my steps to a particular cadence and affecting my dreams. This is all familiar to me – every year. Some years I go through strange emotions only to find out, after a little research, that the composer had gone through similar stuff. I guess it’s just the nature of the game or perhaps the hazards of the trade.
Speaking of music, I was driving through town one evening, stopped at a stop light, when a fire truck with its siren blaring came through the intersection. There was a truck ahead of me with a Queensland Healer perched out the passenger window. He tipped his nose upward and howled, adding his voice to the symphony’s crescendo at Montecito and Main. You just gotta love Ramona.
A few days later, over at the house site one evening, I’m asking questions and making decisions on details of the next phase. One of the framers is patiently going through pertinent details with me as a California Towhee hops around and chirps at us incessantly under the porch overhang. I can’t help but notice him. Steve says, “Oh, there you are. That one comes around every day and I feed him crackers. There’s another one too, but it’s always this one. Oh look, there he is.”
Sure enough. There’s now two of them hopping and chirping and obviously quite tame. I’m glad the guys are making friends with the animals and fitting into the environment. At least Steve is.
It’s good to know, or at least feel, like I’m doing the right thing – and getting help from the ancestors. Recreating Bamoo’s homestead is a journey in which I’m not always sure which direction the path is going to veer. But it feels good. I’m trying to stay clear and listen for that next piece of advice or idea that comes along.
Chi Varnado is the author of two books. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire; and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail, are both available from www.amazon.com. Chi directs The Ramona Dance Centre: www.ramonadancecentre.com. A sampling of Chi’s Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.