Credit: Cynthia Carbone Ward

One day 60 years ago in a bedroom of an East Coast house that is no longer standing, my sister woke up giggling. She had dreamed about an orange, she said, and the color made her glad. My sister was like that. A note of music, a lick of lemon ice, a glint of fireflies in the park … these were just fleeting things within a troubling and complex picture, but she let them wash over her, she let them make her smile. She and I had our own invented words that we simply liked the sound of, and we spoke them like a chant and laughed. When our father took us for a twilight drive, we leaned back in the car, watching a stream of treetops and streetlights gliding by in the sky, enjoying the procession, feeling safe. And if necessary, my sister had the power to summon up orange, that silly bright color, and be happy.

I have a spark of power too. Yesterday I stood outside a bus station as we waited for a friend who was returning from the airport, and I noticed a fringe of grass along a curb, trembling in the wind, and I keyed into it. A small detail, but it was like hearing one’s native language in a foreign city, familiar and reassuring. I watched, feeling grounded, feeling pleased. It’s just a knack I have, or a default inclination, but it helps.

Earlier, I’d met a neighbor in the canyon pedaling his bicycle, exhilarated and sweaty. (It’s hard riding; I remember it well.) But he told me he had glimpsed a pair of falcons and heard them screeching, and that the world was alive and astonishing, and how good it felt to make his way through the narrow winding corridor between tall grass. He was giddy. I recognized the state he was in.

Oblivious to relevance or chronology, another ancient memory landed in my head. Once upon a time, in the days when New York City still had vacant lots, I peered through a hole in a wooden fence and saw a scruffy abandoned yard where a bird perched on the branch of a small, gnarled tree. Nothing more, nothing less, just a glimpse of an elsewhere happening concurrently but somehow also timeless and within its own parameters, separate from the quotidian urban hubbub. I was a little girl in a big city, but I felt a sense of discovery and delight.

Here in Gaviota land, it may be a fragrance that trips me into the zone. Often, it is simply the light. These little spells come over me many times each day, and I’m stoned for an instant, grateful just to be here.

And I pause, as William Stafford would:

Next time what I’d do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I’d stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
or to the air being still.

My reign is brief, but I am emperor of morning.

Happiness happens. It comes in small deliveries, out of context, floating away even in the moment of its appearance. Stand still. Don’t question it. Don’t ask more of it.


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