QUAIL MUTTERINGS #46. What The #$@*? (June 2017)

Who, what, when, where, why and how did we get our country, the world and mother earth into such a mess? What the #&%*? I’m sorry. I just can’t go there right now. So instead, I’m going to try my best to focus on my own little neck of the woods and attempt to stay as positive as I can. There is A LOT to be positive about here. Still.

Right now I’m rereading Walden, taking a trip down memory lane, back to simplicity, serenity and integrity. As a teen, before ever reading Thoreau or any Zen Buddhist writings, I felt this way. I may not have been able to put it into words, I still can’t really, but it’s what resonated deep inside me and continues to do so. However, words are far too limiting to describe what really matters. We can only hint at or allude to what’s really important. Or what’s actually real. Or not.

I’ve been observing this beautiful juvenile Red-tail Hawk for the past month or so. He’s as big as his parents, but they continue to bring him food. He cries off and on all day long; a very distinctive call, one I became familiar with while obsessed, for months, with a pair of fledglings several years ago. Almost daily, I walk up the canyon with my monocular and find him perched on some boulder or in a tree along the canyon walls. I love him. From following the others around before, I became more adept at being able to know where to look even if he isn’t calling. It’s a special privilege to be able to catch a glimpse into their world and be allowed to live alongside them.

Going back to Thoreau, this spring I got to visit his old stomping grounds: Concord and Walden Pond. It was March and a thin layer of ice topped the southern portion of this large pond and snow lined the path along that side. A cold breeze blew across the water and I drew a scarf over my nose. Sunlight glittered off the rippling, mirrored surface and small waves lapped at the opposite sandy shore. Nestled amongst the pines was the site where Thoreau’s small abode had been. In another area, a replica of the structure he’d built for himself allowed one to go inside and experience the economy of size and necessities. There was just enough room for a cot, a small writing table and chair, and a wood-burning stove. It was all he needed. Actually, it’s all any of us really need.

Closer to home, after a winter of unusual amounts of rain, our ponds are now full. Wildlife abounds in the continued green of almost-summer, uncharacteristic for this time of year. Spectacular super blooms decorate our spring and I look out at the bright yellow river of Seep Monkeyflowers growing where the creek ran less than a month ago. Stunning. Little Western Toads hop through the tangle of wildflowers sprouting across the creekbed. House Finches, Canyon and House Wrens use the nooks and crannies of our log cabin walls as their condominiums adding grasses and weeds for interior comfort. Daytime choruses serenade us and fill the canyon with voices of many species of birds, too numerous to list. The Western Toads up the canyon, bullfrogs from the pond down the canyon, and owls combine for the nightly symphony. Our windows remain open so we don’t miss anything.

The ravens have returned to the area out by the horses and goats to lay claim to their rightful territory. Back when our beautiful donkey was still around they used to stand on her rump and peck out the wooly hair beneath, which had not been shed yet for the summer. She seemed to appreciate the massage and they, for their labors, took the fur to line their nests. Nothing like the barter system. You scratch my itch and I’ll scratch yours.

I go outside to sit on the porch toting my apple with almond butter, a delicious snack by-the-way, and watch dozens of baby squirrels play on the rocks. They snap their tails back and forth and run away from each other as if playing tag. Lizards sun themselves nearby, lazily aware of probably everything. Aahh, to appear so unconcerned, but be, nonetheless, aware. I find myself taking lessons from them. Studying the Zen of lizards. I decide to practice more, keeping in mind some words of Buddhist wisdom.

I vow to develop understanding

in order to live peacefully

with people, animals, plants, and minerals.


I vow to develop my compassion

in order to protect the lives

of people, animals, plants, and minerals.


I wish you all happy wanderings, peaceful meditations and productive contemplations.


Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.

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QUAIL MUTTERINGS #41. Letting Go and Reassessing (August 22, 2016)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #41.  Letting Go and Reassessing (August 22, 2016)

I suppose there is always some fear associated with a free fall although mine wasn’t, or isn’t, really unplanned. I knew it would be difficult. I would miss the kids as well as creating in that particular art form. After thirty-seven years of teaching dance I had decided to take down my shingle and close up shop. I still loved what I did, but there were other things that beckoned me that there simply wasn’t time for. And there never would be if I continued to hang onto something that I had been doing for so long. Granted, it was huge part of who I was, but in order to grow I needed to get out of my comfort zone and allow myself more time to be available for other things. Things like writing, being an involved grandparent, and sharing our canyon with visitors who needed an escape into nature (our new ecotourism business).
By the end of April The Dance Centre had performed its last story ballet and I had sorted, sold, donated or stored all of the costumes, equipment and accessories which had called the place home since the 1980’s. After taking the last load out and cleaning the studio I fought back tears as I locked the door behind me for the final time. Since then I’ve had to bury my feelings and only allow them to surface in manageable doses, every now and then. In the meantime plenty has happened.
On May 9th my daughter, Kali, gave birth to little Kya and I was thrilled to be there in my motherly/grandmotherly/doula capacity. It was a true honor and privilege to be there to welcome our third grandchild into the family. Kali and Edwin worked well as a team to lovingly bring their new daughter into the world. And the same midwife who had delivered all three of my kids was there to bring it around full circle. A second time. She had also been there to assist Jessie through her labor. Now, both of my daughters had home births, just as they had gone through as babies on the other end of the spectrum. My mom had been in the role which I now am in and I can only hope that my presence is appreciated as much to them as she was to me.
From late May into June Kent and I spent close to a month away. We were on the East Coast with relatives for the first week and the rest was spent in France and Italy where we branched out to experience other cultures. Towards the end of July I went with my sister and a couple of female friends to stay at our cousin’s house in Costa Rica. We managed to squeeze a week in the tropical paradise just before their house closed escrow and would be gone from us forever. Sometimes you just gotta jump on those things!
These adventures have undoubtedly helped distract me from the many mixed feelings surrounding the finished chapter of my previous dancing life. There are certain things which I am definitely happy not to have to spend my valuable time doing. The bookkeeping, for instance, and all the paper/computer work. Cleaning the studio and budgeting for advertizing. Phone calls arranging extra rehearsal times. And, my driving time. Then – occupied by figuring out what I was going to teach in the classes that day, and now – listening to books on tape, music, or better yet: quiet, uninterrupted free thoughts. I don’t have to make myself think up an order of dance moves and then try to retain it all until it could be passed on to the dancers’ bodies. Yes, I really do like having my brain space freed up for extraneous thoughts that come and go.
It’s all about balance. I need time to putter. I think it might be one of my favorite things to do. Perhaps because it’s so rare to snatch a bit of time from our busy schedules and allow ourselves the pleasure of simply drifting from one task to the next. And to use the opportunity to be mindful of our actions during the process. Kent and I like to go to Deer Park every so often to get our dose of Buddhism and practice mindfulness in a supportive community. It’s hard to be mindful when we’re running around in so many directions at once. Yesterday we acknowledged the fourteen mindfulness trainings after doing walking meditation and then listening to one of the nuns give a Dharma talk. We used headsets and listened to a translator since this week’s Dharma Talk was in Vietnamese. The trainings focus on good, honest, compassionate existence with all of creation. Just imagine if every human on the planet communicated with words of loving kindness and inclusiveness rather than dualistic, separatist talk. What a place that could be. As close a thing to utopia as I can see.
So while I continue to struggle with keeping a balance in my life between work, obligations, maintaining community and family, and taking time to just smile and breathe, I realize that it will always be so. I will constantly need to let go and reassess to maintain an equilibrium in life. At least I know that it’s something worth doing. And redoing.

Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.