QUAIL MUTTERINGS #47. Writing: Navigating the Obstacles (September 2017)

I must admit that I’ve been negligent about writing Quail Mutterings lately. My excuse is the same as everyone else’s: no time. But the fact of the matter is we all have the same amount of time available to us in a day and, for the most part, we simply decide, either consciously or unconsciously, how to spend it. For me, besides following my usual “to-do” lists, I’ve chosen to work on my other writing for the time being.

After retiring from The Dance Centre over a year ago, I’ve begun writing a fictional series about a dance studio. Each novel will focus on a different story ballet and include the adventures of some of the dancers. There doesn’t seem to be much available, in this vein, for eight to fourteen-year-old ballet-obsessed girls. There are plenty of books for horse-crazy kids so why not for dancers? They’re just as rabid for stories about their passion and so, I figured, who better to tackle this project than me? Thirty-seven years of fodder ought to keep me going for quite a while, I should think.

Last spring, when I had the rough draft of the first few chapters done, I met with a group of young dancers at a local elementary school. Each followed along on their pages as I, or a former student of mine, read aloud. We had the best time. Some of them contributed ideas about things they would like to see included in the story or ways to make it more interesting. It was a win/win. I got tips from my target audience and they got “extra credit” for participating.

Since finishing the full rough draft of the manuscript I, once again, am attending writer’s groups and classes. Having my work read and critiqued is essential in this process. The endless details to address in the re-writing and editing phases, such as believability, character point of view and arc of plotting, are next to impossible to get right without other’s feedback.

So now, back to the quail for a moment. I can only afford brief visits to mental wanderings while entrenched in my chosen endeavor. There are literally hundreds of quail in the canyon these days. Yesterday morning, during my run, I accidentally flushed out dozens of them from the sumac bushes lining the trail. I panted my apologies and carried on. After cooling down I took a cold shower. Not by choice, just no hot water. I suppose I’ll have to turn away from the writing project again and attend to the demands of a no-longer-functioning water heater. Things were going so well! Why now?

This morning, after a short writing session, it was time for a break. I headed down to the kitchen for a drink of water. Before taking a sip I noticed a fairly large bird lying in the dirt outside. It reminded me of a Porwil, but it was late morning, so that wasn’t right. I guess it startled when I went outside and it took off. Through the leaves of the Red Berry bush I noticed movement on the other side. I held still and watched. It was a big, beautiful doe. While watching her walk toward the trail I looked around for the two fawns who usually come around with their mother. Perhaps this was a different doe. Anyway, she made my day.

Since I’ve committed to this writing project for now, I’m not going to lead any of the docent-led hikes out at Ramona Grasslands Old Survey Road this fall. I will, instead, take walks on my own when I feel the need to break up the writing concentration sessions. Power hikes, walking meditations, trail running… whatever it takes. Plus working, of course. That goes without saying. And then, after looking up the mountain at the wet boulder beneath our water tank, I hiked up there to play detective. Great. It’s just what I thought it was. Our water storage vessel has sprung a leak! The fun never stops. The writing goes on hold once again.


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 #45. To Each and Every One (February 2017)

The creeks are running, wildflowers are beginning to bloom, frogs perform their nightly symphony, and the birds are already courting. The essence of spring is hovering all around, teasing us, as another big rainstorm threatens. Nature is a powerful force, one which is most beneficial to all when we work with it rather than against it.

We are so fortunate for all the caring individuals who’ve continued to spend so much of their time and effort to ensure that large swaths of our natural environment are set aside for preservation. Without the forests we couldn’t breathe. When a species goes extinct there’s no getting it back and we shouldn’t pretend to know the consequences of that. Everything on earth is interconnected in ways that our poor, miniscule brains cannot even fathom. And to pretend to know what we cannot possibly understand can create catastrophic and torturous results. Life is too precious to let short-sightedness guide us.

I was fortunate, last summer, to visit Costa Rica and stay for a week in my cousin’s house. In order to get there we had to put the car in four-wheel-drive to make it up the side of the mountain on their two mile long dirt road. Howler monkeys screamed all around us and toucans perched in nearby trees. The surrounding jungle had its own fantastic and unfamiliar sounds. We kayaked through muddy waters and watched spider monkeys clamor out on the branches above us. Sloths were difficult to spot since they slept high in the trees, remaining very still. Iguanas crawled everywhere and brightly colored, poisonous lizards attempted to camouflage themselves on leaves and rocks. As protected habitat, much of this natural world remains.

Having the freedom to travel to other countries is indeed important. It allows us to experience how others live. Otherwise, we can lead ourselves to believe that our own perspective is the one true vision. What feels like fact actually turns out to be opinion. But we can be so easily swayed by someone who sounds more sure of himself than we are. I was substituting at the local high school last week and overheard a group of boys talking about our changing immigration policies. One of them said, “Only the bad ones are being deported, not the good ones. It’ll be alright.”

I was horrified. But, being a lowly sub and having the charge of thirty or so boisterous teenagers, I didn’t step in. Maintaining some form of control and having a list of things to accomplish that hour, didn’t give me much time to spare. I now wonder what I could have said that would have made a difference. I might have asked, “So, who makes the decision regarding the good ones versus bad ones? You? Me?” Our opinions might vastly differ.

I’ve already noticed a shift in how some people view us women. We have come a long way in regards to personal freedoms including the right to vote, own land, wear pants, and make our own decisions about reproducing. Can’t we all, as a caring and supposedly big-brained species, take a step back and look at the broad view? I think we must in order to stop pointing fingers and getting into the “us versus them” mentality. It’s a no-win situation.

We all want a choice. What to eat, how to live, who to marry or not, how to raise our children… We are all created equal. We’re all immigrants in one way or another. We all want our civil liberties and social justices. Let’s take care of one another and not judge someone just because they may seem different. Instead of contributing to the polarization of people, why not embrace each other and work together in order to help our entire planet survive in as healthy a state as possible – for our children and grandchildren, ad infinitum? I think it’s a worthy goal. Don’t you?


Peace is elusive

Flitting as moths to the light

Searching to find

Chasing to catch

It will certainly escape us

Unless we just be it.


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

You can follow us on www.Facebook.com/gnomewoodcanyon

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #33. Go As A River (February 22, 2015)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #33. Go As A River (February 22, 2015)

Why must we spend the majority of our precious, limited time doing things that really don’t matter in the big scheme of life? Things like repeated phone conversations to various companies or agencies that don’t seem to be familiar with the information that we had just called about the day before. Sometimes a business might have been bought out by a larger one or a merge has occurred or the entity grows to take on more than it is effectively capable of handling. For whatever reason, more and more of my time appears to be eaten up by these fruitless, frustrating endeavors. For me, these repeated conversations to the same person, or someone new, are extremely irritating and should, by all rights, be completely unnecessary.
For instance, one of the local propane companies can’t seem to get their paperwork and billing straight no matter how many times they reluctantly try. No one person is held accountable anymore. The big picture is somehow out of their reach and inaccessible.
“It’s not my fault…”
“Well, what can you do about it?” I ask.
Nothing really, is the underlying response. The maddening, circular conversation continues.
“Go as a river,” says Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.
I’m trying, but it’s downright hard.
Two weeks ago Kent and I went to Deer Park for a “tune-up” as we like to call it. This beautiful, peaceful Buddhist monastery lies in the hills above Escondido. After gathering into a circle and singing some songs together we embarked on the walking meditation. Consciously lifting one foot and placing it in front of the other we become aware of the earth below the soles of our feet and how our movements affect everything around us. It’s wonderful to experience the silence that a group of a few hundred fellow brothers and sisters are capable of when everyone is practicing mindfulness. I love coming here and not having to talk much or listen to unsolicited, endless banter. We’re all working on being more conscious, compassionate individuals.
As we begin our ascent up the mountain trail the familiar fragrance of lilac filled my olfactory senses. I closed my mouth and inhaled deeply. Coming around a bend I saw the source: a Lakeside Lilac loaded with vibrant, dark blue blossoms. I nodded my grateful, appreciation to my fellow earth dweller. Gazing across the valley I began wondering about where the dirt road in the distance went. Was it heading to a new development? Was it a fire road? And then I noticed that I had slipped back into that ‘thinking habit.’ I returned to my breathing again. In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment. I redirected my attention to each step and paid attention to my feet landing on the outside of my instep.
Somehow I’d merged to the inside of the group and found myself bothered that others had closed in around me. I side passed my way toward the outside edge of the moving river – back to my natural comfort zone. Again, I realized my slippage into ‘thinking’, but continued anyway.
This walking meditation seemed a parallel to life. We go along happy and secure and then along comes an illness or event that damages the peace we’d been experiencing. And then, perhaps, we’re content again until we get yet another incorrect bill from the propane company. I mostly wish this wouldn’t happen, but I also wish that I didn’t let it get to me so much and permeate any other peace that I may have been enjoying. But it does. My attempt at this point is to watch my irritation and notice what it does within my body and little by little let it go – until the time comes when I, once again, must do my best to rectify the details with the propane company and sincerely hope that THIS TIME the matter at hand will be settled once and for all. At least for these current invoices.
Kent and I ate the delicious vegan lunch prepared at the monastery, in relative silence, up in the garden by the lily pond. A small sign with Peace is Every Step, written in beautiful calligraphy, peeks out from behind some foliage and I hear a distant bell ring. I stop, close my eyes, and take a deep, appreciative breath.
At a little before 2:00 PM we wandered back down to the meditation hall to take part in the “Deep Relaxation.” The monk speaks softly, off and on, calmly guiding our attention to various organs in our body, to send each one our loving kindness and appreciation for the job they do. Lying on our backs we heard a Native American flute, a didgeridoo, a soft beating drum. Without turning my head and opening my eyes I would have never guessed that all this music came from his expertise playing a long segment of PVC pipe! I closed my eyes and returned to my breathing. In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment…

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. Chi directs the Ramona Dance Centre. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.